The Fox Business Channel faces stiff competition for business eyes with Bloomberg and CNBC covering financial affairs on Wall Street and around the country. My own habit for early morning viewing is to put the TV window on multi-program where I can easily switch from one to the other or watch them all at once. When Fox Business Network came to DirecTV, I was already attached to CNBC’s morning trio of Becky Quick, Carl Quintanilla, and Joe Kernan.
In the morning hours of its Squawk program, CNBC has a subdued, businesslike, and thoughtful presentation which is highly popular with serious investors. Fox Business Network is also serious but trying hard to rise in the ratings, looking for the right fit. The Fox Business Network hires brainy women like Jenna Lee, Dagen MacDowell, and Sandra Smith and free-market entrepreneurial stock analysts like Charles Payne, a soft-spoken African American guy who looks like he could be just as home in a boxing ring as in a financial firm.
The dust had not yet settled down on the Fox Business Network nor formed a permanent identity when it hired Don Imus a few weeks ago. When you hire Imus, you get his entire crew which includes his engineer Bernard, his bounce-back news guy Charles Cord, his sports guy Werner Wolf, and an assortment of regular and irregular special guests.
Charles Cord is the “straight man” and reads the news straight. Cord is an Imus intimate, a comforting side-man, as was Ed McMahon on Johnny Carson. It’s a funny thing to watch a bunch of old cronies mixing it up. While Sirius radio shock jock Howard Stern makes a regular habit of busting Imus’ chops, Imus chuckles and says he appreciates the attention and like sStern. Imus is a fossil, a dinosaur, a shriveled prune, Stern is inclined to say. Imus doesn’t take offense and praises Stern as a talented funny man. Imus’ deprecating humor turns as much on himself as it does on others.
Alluding to a period of time when he suffered from alcohol and substance abuse, Imus has been marching for a long time to a different drum. He described himself today as “an old drunk” though that is is past. When things are not going well, Imus livens the show by attacking his crew with blunt put-downs. Like an aging Lord of the Flies the crew returns the verbal jibes by attacking their chief, usually for his appearance.
“Look at you. You’re a ridiculous figure with your cowboy hat. Who wears a cowboy hat in New York City? Only an idiot would do that,” Bernard taunts Imus.
Imus squints beneath bushy old man eyebrows and frowns at his guy.
“Look who’s talking you bald-headed idot!” Imus retorts.
“And button up your shirt, Imus. Who wants to look at an old guy’s chest. You’re so old that it looks like you have breasts. Don’t sit sideways to the camera like that,” Bernard retorts.
It’s sophomoric, certainly, but there’s more to it than that. The underlying effect comes from a sort of historical familiarity with media and with America’s loose living baby boomers. Imus is one of New York City’s oldest hipsters, and you can be sure that the Roger Ailes, Fox News CEO, was aware of Imus’ extensive historical connections into the New York and American media world when they hired him. You can get some idea of Imus’ media reach on the Imus.com website where he has links to two distinct categories of media connection: Sites That Don’t Suck as Much and Sites That Don’t Suck. There you’ll see a compilation of active blogs and media channels ranging from left to liberal, from conservative to right.
One of the reasons the Imus hiring on FBN is showing early signs of success is that the man is stuck in no one single ideology. He’s a liberal-green-flagwaving-rightwing-conservative, depending on the issue. He wears a cowboy hat and cowboy boots, an affect of the Southwestern ranch he runs with wife Deirdre, half or less his age. Unlike other morning show pundits, Imus plays a lot of country music, with a smattering of rock and other music. Last week, the show featured the Leven Helm Band; one of tomorrow’s guests will be Tanya Tucker.
Today’s show is typically wide ranging. In addition to comedian/impersonator Rob Bartlett who did a godfather parody of gays in the military (you’d have to see it), Imus today entertained a sonorous Dick Cavett, former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey, and Mike Wallace of Fox News.
Bob Kerrey’s appearance today is coincident with his editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal in support of the Afghan war. Imus asks Kerrey why he’s not worried that Afghanistan will not be like Iraq where “somebody else will end up gassing the Kurds.”
In spite of having prostate cancer, Imus seems to be having a good time on the Fox Business Channel. For its part, Fox Business Network seems to have found a winning strategy in grabbing the “I-man.” I don’t know how the Fox Business Network created its graphics, but the colors are active, and the format pleasing, the product of a good layout artist. With a medium-size flat screen TV, you can watch Imus manage fast-moving transitions from business news to entertainment guests to tidbits of daily media gossip and it all seems to work. All the while, basic business information appears in easy-to-read blocks at the sides of the screen. Price-earnings ratios, stock prices, the financial indexes-it’s a busy screen but it represents the shift from programming to “content.”
What Imus has most of is fluidity. While it sometimes looks as if he’s going to break to peaces like a fragile Smithsonian museum piece, Don Imus is as slick at moving through mainstream media moments as Whoo-Kid is in gangsta’ rap circles. In fact, a really strange nexus occurred between the two media poles when Imus was fired and banned from broadcast for an extended period because of his “nappy-headed ho” remarks about a women’s college basketball team.
Roundly condemned by the liberal media pundits, gangsta’ Whoo-kid was an unlikely champion of Imus’ free speech on his Saturday morning radio show on Sirius’ Shade 45. Whoo-kid is “bad”, he’s raunchy and obscene, insulting and anti-social, and most of what he says cannot be printed her or listened to in venues other than Sirius radio. But Whoo-Kid is also wise in the ways of his world and, in the week after Imus lost his job, he launched into a defense of Don Imus that would make your ears bleed. It wasn’t the kind of free speech defense you were going to hear at the annual Press Club luncheon, but it was real, honest, and perceptive, based on common realities. It was also unprintable as Whoo-kid lambasted the hypocrisy of the media, including hyper-sensitive black media figures. Nobody tried to tell Whoo-Kid he wasn’t “black enough,” in a radio show where, instead of italics or bold keys, emphatic remarks are punctuated by gunshots. Blam-blam….
For his part, Imus apologized for the “nappy-headed hoes” remark, recognizing it as something that a geriatric white shock jock might not have said. Yet, the lines between what passes muster in the media these days are blurred, and some remarks pass through the gates of public taste while others are given a free pass.
Imus just soldiers on, and appears to be having a great time. He tells his sound and video engineer to cue up a video of President Obama dancing onstage with Latina hottie Thalia at the White House hosting of Fiesta Latina. In the reaction shot after the dance, it’s pretty clear that President Obama was getting no respect from Michelle whose face was locked into a frozen mask, determinedly looking away.
Imus laughs at the video, carefully says that the president is a “lovely guy” and that “we’ve all been caught out there, haven’t we?”
Yeah Imus, we’ve all been caught out there, but we’re all not the president of the United States .
Live broadcast of Imus in the Morning on the Fox Business Network
AC writer Valerie Ferrari