This Week’s Column:


by Philip Nobile

The following is the first in a series of guest columns by a variety of writers commenting on literary matters of their own choosing. Their views do not necessarily represent those of MobyLives. Comment is welcome.

October 7, 2002 — I once sought to write about Spike Lee's fake conversion to Islam for the New Yorker. Charles Michener, the commissioning editor, gave me one piece of advice. Regarding the magazine's style circa Tina Brown, he said, strive for "ironic distance."

The title of this article was fashioned with the New Yorker's standard in mind. It is meant to gently signal the reader to the ridiculous position that David Remnick finds himself in as Don Imus's buttboy. *

"I love David Remnick, I just have to tell you that," Imus said on Friday, September 27, setting up his treasured guest.

Imus tends to fawn over the celebrity journalists who perfume his anti–gay, anti–black, anti–Asian, anti–Semitic, and sometimes anti–handicapped ridicule. Remnick is especially dear. In 1998, the flattery took the unusual, some might say tasteless, form of a $50,000 payoff––via a one–time Imus Book Award for "King of the World." From that moment on, Remnick has kept his Gentlemen's Agreement, pretending that Imus's merde is meringue.

For instance, during the prologue to Remnick's appearance on September 27, The New Yorker was used to slur lesbians. "You'd rather be down there in Guantanamo Bay being beat with a rubber hose by marines," Imus said, doing shtick on his aversion to the forthcoming New Yorker Festival.

"Turkish prison time," piped up Charles McCord, Imus's Ed McMahon.

"You won't be able to get into any of these events," the host continued. "They'll be all my neighbors. They'll be there, all of them."

"Drenched in quiche," said McCord.

"Aging lesbians from the upper West Side," cracked Bernard McGuirk, Imus's producer and all–purpose Le Pen.

"And Remnick's right in the middle of it," said Imus. "And Remnick, by the way, is a regular guy. And somehow he's gotten himself into this mess in which he's, well, we'll talk to him about it."

A few minutes later, following "The Scum Report," a daily feature on the foibles of the famous, Remnick phoned in. Since he publishes the work of gays like Susan Sontag, Paul Rudnick, Hilton Als and others, you would expect to hear some word, any word, of indignation. Yet the editor of The New Yorker turned a deaf ear to McGuirk's smear.

Nor did he correct Imus's sudden uncertainty about the $50,000. During a long and obsequious intro that would choke Charlie Rose, Imus covered up the bribe. "... Then he wrote the book, 'King of the World,' about Muhammad Ali, which was a great book," he said. "I believe it was one of our finalists in the bogus Imus Book Awards."

The interview transcended embarrassment as Remnick flogged the Festival and feigned bonhomie with his bowing benefactor. In a final, out–of–leftfield exchange Imus remarked on his surprise at reading "the f–word" in the magazine, citing faux concern for his four–year–old son.

"I don't think you'll find Rick Hertzberg using it in political commentary pieces unless things get really bad," said Remnick.

"Always nice to talk with you," said Imus. "Thanks for taking the time to do this and have fun tonight [at the Festival]."

"Oh we will and I'll keep the door open for you," replied Remnick.

Then, as always, the grateful host airkissed the departed guest. "David Remnick, who is the editor of The New Yorker. That's a big job he took. And he's just done a magnificent job and it's a great magazine."

Why does Remnick, a literary Mr. Clean, get dirty with Imus? Controlling for the mid–five–figure bribe, Imus is a guilty pleasure for a large ratpack of media folks including Anna Quindlen, Jim Lehrer, Tim Russert, Tom Brokaw, Bill O'Reilly, Tom Friedman, Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd, and Andy Rooney who don't mind propping up a dry drunk who calls black people "niggers" in private and whose crew routinely reviles black athletes as "gorillas," "missing links," "pimps," and "knuckle–dragging morons" in public. Not to mention regular references to gays as "homos," lesbos," "load–swallowers," and carpetmunchers."

Their shame is without limits. Consider Leslie Stahl. A couple of years ago Imus angrily called her "a beat–up old bag" in need of a "facelift." For a sixtyish woman, what could be meaner or more unforgivable? Yet Stahl appeared on "Imus in the Morning" after Remnick. She touted her debut as anchor of "48 Hours" and promised to buy her past tormentor an electric bull for his ranch for cancer kids in New Mexico.

I have been unsuccessful in rousing Imus's white journalist and political friends against his KKK act. The standard reply is no comment. I have had more luck with former black guests like Gwen Ifill, Ed Bradley, Stanley Crouch, and Al Sharpton. Each of them has pledged not to appear on the show again.

While white critics are usually soft on Imus (e.g., Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post, Dan Kennedy of the Boston Phoenix, David Hinckley of the New York Daily News, Ken Auletta of The New Yorker), black columnists have agitated against him (e.g. Les Payne of Newsday, Derrick Jackson of the Boston Globe, and Jack E. White Jr. of TIME).

Ishmael Reed keeps a sharp eye on Imus from San Francisco. A couple of months ago, Reed ambushed The New Yorker's Jane Mayer on C–SPAN with a call–in targeting Remnick's tainted Imus prize. "Mayer answered, feebly, that she didn't know anything about Imus," Reed recalled. "But she could vouch that Remnick was no racist."

But who knows? Howard Kurtz blew the whistle on the straight, white boyz club in "Hot Air" when he wrote that "Imus's sexist homophobic, and politically incorrect routines echo what many journalists joke about in private."

*"Buttboy" is Imus's generic term for a man's male friend or supporter, as in "Paul Begala is Bill Clinton's buttboy."

Philip Nobile has been an investigative journalist for the Village Voice, a media columnist for New York magazine, and is the author of the book "Intellectual Skywriting: Literary Politics and the New York Review of Books."

Last Week’s Column: KEVIN SAMPSELL AND FUTURE TENSE BOOKS He started with simple chapbooks in small print runs, and after many successful books, publisher Kevin Sampsell hopes to keep it to . . . simple chapbooks in small print runs.


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