Gwen Ifill Hits David Brooks, Tim Russert for Silence on Imus

By: E&P Staff Gwen Ifill, formerly of The New York Times and now host of PBS's "Washington Week," appeared with Times' columnist David Brooks on NBC's "Meet the Press" today. The discussion turned to the Don Imus firing this week. Ifill wrote an op-ed for the Times several days ago recalling when Imus had mocked her with a racial stereotype about ten years ago.

Today she criticized Russert and Brooks -- frequent guests on the Imus show -- for saying little this week about the controversy. Many other print journalists also appeared often on the program.

Brooks explained today, "Well, you know, I did the show about a half a dozen times, and Gwen and I have talked about this. But I, I, I have the lamest excuse for why I did it, which is I didn?t know what he said. And when I did the show, it was like C-SPAN. You?d go on, you?d talk about Iraq. And I confess, I didn?t listen to the show except for the five minutes before when I went on, I?d hear it over the phone."

Russert said that on the show Imus poked fun at him being Irish and "husky." While he agreed that Imus's remarks about the Rutgers basketball team were distasteful, he added, "I also feel sadness for Don Imus and his wife and his family. I think he said a terrible thing. I think he regrets it. She?s a former college athlete. They?ve done a lot of good things for a lot of good people. And I think the discussion was not whether or not he said something terrible or offensive, but what should be the magnitude of his punishment, which I think is a fair discussion to have."

Ifill's comment follows.

You know, it?s interesting to me. This has been an interesting week. The people who have spoken, the people who issued statements and the people who haven?t. There has been radio silence from a lot of people who have done this program who could have spoken up and said, I find this offensive or I didn?t know. These people didn?t speak up.

Tim, we didn?t hear that much from you. David, we didn?t hear from you. What was missing in this debate was someone saying, you know, I understand that this is offensive.

You know, I have a 7-year-old god daughter. Yesterday she went out shopping with her mom for high-top basketball shoes so she can play basketball. The offense, the slur that Imus directed at me happened more than 10 years ago. I would like to think that 10 years from now, that Asia isn?t going to be deciding that she wants to get recruited for the college basketball team or be a tennis pro or go to medical school and that she is still vulnerable to those kinds of casual slurs and insults that I got 10 years ago, and that people will say, I didn?t know, or people will say, I wasn?t listening.

A lot of people did know and a lot of people were listening and they just decided it was okay. They decided this culture of meanness was fine ? until they got caught.

My concern about Mr. Imus and a lot of people and a lot of the debate in this society is not that people are sorry that they say these things, they are sorry that someone catches them. When Don Imus said this about me when I worked here at NBC, when I found out about it, his producer called because Don said he wants to apologize. Well, now he says he never said it. What was he apologizing for? He was apologizing for getting caught, not apologizing for having said it in the first place.


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