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Howard Kurtz's Media Notes: Don Imus Joins Fox Business Network
That Imus crack came during a period when the program often trafficked in ethnic humor. "There's some material that we were doing, not racial, that was a little more risque than I was comfortable with," Imus says now. "We were being encouraged to try to compete with the Opie and Anthonys of the world."
Imus apologized to the Rutgers women in person, vowed to change his show -- he added two African Americans, one of whom, Tony Powell, remains -- and does not attempt to minimize his blunder.
"Had I not said it, we wouldn't be having this conversation," Imus explains. "Friends of mine wanted to defend me, they wanted my remarks put in context, which I thought was irrelevant. Then they wanted people to consider what a wonderful guy I was, because I helped kids with cancer. Being a wonderful person doesn't enable you to say whatever the [blank] you want to say."
The bottom line, he says, is that "making fun of black girls' hair" was way over the line, and Imus does not quarrel with the firestorm that followed. "That's what the media does, they overreact to stuff. I'm not going to whine about that. I didn't like it, but I could have avoided it." Nowadays, "we don't make fun of innocent people who don't deserve to be made fun of."
While Imus won't defend the Rutgers slam, he resents those he thinks piled on, including Barack Obama. In 2007, Gregory asked the Democratic presidential candidate whether Imus should be fired.
"I don't think MSNBC should be carrying the kinds of hateful remarks that Imus uttered the other day, and he has a track record of making those kinds of remarks," Obama said. "Look, I've got two daughters who are African American, gorgeous, tall, and I hope at some point are interested enough in sports that they get athletic scholarships. . . . He would not be working for me."
Imus says that Obama "was kind of duped into that. . . . He was being interviewed by that backstabbing, pigeon-looking, gut-sucking weasel David Gregory." Gregory's questions, though, were straightforward, such as whether Obama would appear again on Imus's show and whether the incident should spark a broader racial conversation.
Says Gregory: "Imus used to say those things about me even when he was being affectionate. I always tried to be fair to Don."
Imus hasn't entirely soured on the president: "Politics aside, I kinda like the guy. He seems kinda cool. He can go around the world without people throwing shoes at him. On the other hand, I'm not confident he knows what he's doing."
Since Imus runs a program for children with cancer at his ranch, he was more prepared than most when he learned in March that he had stage 2 prostate cancer. "The kids want to be treated as normal kids -- they don't want to be defined by their disease," he says. With his own diagnosis, "a lot of people acted completely differently toward me -- it could have been my perception -- in a patronizing way."
The diagnosis particularly scared his 11-year-old son, Wyatt, who has gotten to know some children who later died after sharing a house with the Imus family, which spends summers at the ranch.
Imus decided against surgery and radiation, choosing an approach that relies on diet and daily treadmill exercise, a regimen supervised by a Columbia University doctor. Under the watchful eye of his wife, Deirdre, he subsists mainly on uncooked, organic foods such as raw sauerkraut, flaxseed and searingly hot habanero peppers. Imus says this approach has stopped the cancer from spreading, rattling off numbers to show it is under control.