Don Imus and Other Great Moments in Bigoted Slurs


Jackson protesting against Imus at the NBC Tower in Chicago Monday.Photo: Getty Images

And so the “nappy-headed hos” remark has cost Don Imus his job. The final denouement, which came with CBS Radio’s canning the I-Man last night, a day after MSNBC dropped the simulcast of his show, has seemed inevitable for most of the week, as protests had intensified, advertisers had balked, and the great and august Ana Marie Cox had announced she would never again deign to appear on such a juvenile broadcast. (Cox first gained fame as the editor of Wonkette, where she was known for her anal-sex jokes.) But it has not always been thus; many, many public figures have uttered bigoted slurs and lived to tell the tale. After the jump, a look back at some Great Moments in Bigoted Slurs.

February 7, 2007: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” —Senator Joe Biden, Democrat of Delaware, explaining Barack Obama’s popularity to the New York Observer. BACKTRACK: “I deeply regret any offense my remark in the New York Observer might have caused anyone. That was not my intent, and I expressed that to Senator Obama.” SUCCESS? Biden is still running for president. Poorly.

August 17, 2006: “They ran the ‘mom and pop’ stores out of my neighborhood … but you see, those are the people who have been overcharging us selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs; very few black people own these stores. ” — 74-year-old civil-rights leader and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, hired by Wal-Mart to preach its virtues, on why it’s good for Wal-Mart to displace local businesses. BACKTRACK: “The way this came out it makes me sound like I’m refuting everything I’ve done over almost 70 years, frankly.” SUCCESS? Young promptly resigned from the Wal-Mart gig. He hasn’t really been heard from since.

September 28, 2003: “I think what we’ve had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t deserve.” —Rush Limbaugh, suggesting on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb got more credit than he deserved. BACKTRACK: “My comments this past Sunday were directed at the media and were not racially motivated.” SUCCESS? Of course. Yes, he was forced to quit the ESPN gig, but otherwise he just kept on being Rush Limbaugh.

December 5, 2002: “I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.” —Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi, praising Strom Thurmond’s segregationist bid for the presidency at a 100th-birthday party for Thurmond. BACKTRACK: Lott was complimenting the man and his career and chose his words poorly. SUCCESS? Even Bush condemned him. Lott was forced to step down as Senate majority leader. But this year the Republican caucus returned him to the leadership as their Senate whip.

March 4, 2001: “There are white niggers. I’ve seen a lot of white niggers in my time. I’m going to use that word. We just need to work together to make our country a better country, and I’d just as soon quit talking about it so much. —Senator Robert Byrd on Fox News Sunday, saying that race relations were the best he’d seen in his lifetime and arguing that people talk about racial issues too much. BACKTRACK: “The phrase dates back to my boyhood and has no place in today’s society.” SUCCESS? Yup. He’s still in the Senate, he’s still liberal, and he still doesn’t make much sense.

January 27, 1995: “I like peace and quiet, and I don’t have to listen to Barney Fag — Barney Frank — haranguing in my ear because I made a few bucks off a book I worked on,” — House Majority Leader Dick Armey, speaking to a group of reporters about openly gay Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank. BACKTRACK: Armey blamed a slip of the tongue. Retorted Frank: “I turned to my own expert, my mother, who reports that in 59 years of marriage, no one ever introduced her as Elsie Fag.” SUCCESS? Indeed. Armey remained House majority leader until 2003.

August 16, 1988: “That’s Jebby’s kids from Florida, the little brown ones.” —Presidential nominee George H.W. Bush, introducing Ronald Reagan to his grandchildren. BACKTRACK: “Those grandchildren are my pride and joy, and when I say pride, I mean it.” SUCCESS? Bush won 40 states; Dukakis won 10.

February 13, 1984: “In private conversations with reporters, Jackson has referred to Jews as ‘Hymie’ and to New York as ‘Hymietown.’” — the Washington Post on the Reverend Jesse Jackson, then seeking the Democratic nomination for president. BACKTRACK: First Jackson denied making the remarks. Then he said he was being “hounded” by the Jewish community. Finally, two weeks later, he fessed up in a Manchester, New Hampshire. “When press reports circulated, brewing up a storm about the word ‘Hymie,’ I was deeply disturbed,” the Post reported he said. He was “shocked and astonished” at the reaction to an “ethnic characterization made in private conversation, apparently overheard by a reporter.” SUCCESS? Jackson helped lead this week’s protests against Imus. —Jonah Green

Don Imus and Other Great Moments in Bigoted Slurs