I have a story, in which Don Imus is the unintentional hero.
During the mid-1990s I was part of a team working against the worst aspects of popular culture. The team leaders were Bill Bennett, Senators Joe Lieberman and Sam Nunn and the late C. Delores Tucker. Their primary targets were the exploitive daytime TV shows such as Ricky Lake, Jerry Springer, etc; and the filthy and misogynist lyrics of “gangsta rap,” such as Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tupac Shakur, and others.
As I recall, it was C. Delores Tucker and her husband Bill who got the project rolling. Ms. Tucker simply said that she had had enough of hearing young black men and boys calling women “hos and bitches.” These women, Ms. Tucker reasoned, were their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts and wives. These women deserved respect. If you had met the Tuckers you would have understood — a more gentlemanly and ladylike couple could not be found.
A team was born with former Secretary of Education and Drug Czar William Bennett, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, C. Delores Tucker, chairwoman of both the National Political Congress of Black Women and the Democratic National Committee Black Caucus, and was later joined by former Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia. The group used to joke that they had all the bases covered: Catholic, Jew, Protestant, black, white, Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative. And they did — this was clearly not a partisan mission.
So the leaders’ staffs (that’s where I came in) set about the background work necessary to launch such a campaign. We taped daytime trash TV talk shows; we bought rap CDs and transcribed their lyrics; we reproduced album covers as posters; and we helped with the operations to get the message out.
The purpose of the campaign was to call attention to the slime going out over the air and through music. The leaders were asking the industries to rein themselves in and to practice some self-censorship and self-control over what they were willing to do for money. So Bennett, Lieberman, Tucker and Nunn held press conferences; they had the rap lyrics read out loud; they showed the worst clips from trash TV; they put out TV and radio commercials — all to ask the industry leaders to take a look at what they were doing.
Of course there were cries of “Censorship!” I recall riding an escalator with some young and well-uninformed protesters who kept repeating that they would not stand being censored by me! They had no understanding of censorship itself.
Clearly these ignorant youngsters would not stand for self-censorship either, for after all our efforts, not much happened. A few of the worst of daytime trash talk shows disappeared, and Time Warner broke with the aptly named Death Row Records; but sex and violence and “hos and bitches” went on unabated.
Until…Imus! With only a few chosen words from the man his sycophants call The I-Man, everything changed. Suddenly Al Sharpton, while going swiftly after Imus, heard the cry, “Go after hip hop too!” So Sharpton proposed to take on rap lyrics by leading boycotts and buying stock in music companies in order to voice his opinions on rap at shareholders meetings. (That is exactly what Delores Tucker did in 1995 — she read rap lyrics to the shareholders of Time Warner — long before Al Sharpton saw the light.)
Next thing you know, the “godfather of hip hop” Russell Simmons says he wants to “redefine” rap (without the B, H and N-words), the NAACP wants to “bury” the N-word, and the Federal Communications Commission is asking lawmakers for regulations against TV violence. Wow! The involuntary catalyst Imus has accidentally done with a few words what others could not do with an entire campaign. We’ll see how it goes, but for now, C. Delores Tucker must be smiling in Heaven.