In his novella, Doctor Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Party, Graham Greene looked at the extent to which people will degrade themselves to get a reward and what happens when someone won’t degrade themselves. The return of Don Imus and the flood of announcements from those who hope to benefit from publicly handing him their integrity and respectability for publicity and book sales brings Dr. Fischer and his guests to mind. While Greene probably intended his book as a picture of capitalism it also does as a mirror of the American media.
Greene’s story is narrated by Alfred Jones, Dr. Fischer’s son-in-law, married to Anna, his estranged daughter. Dr. Fischer, being very wealthy, holds ritual dinner parties in which the rich and famous allow him to humiliate and degrade them in exchange for valuable prizes he uses as bait. He considers this research. Anna, who wants nothing to do with her father, refuses to accept the invitation to a party which comes unexpectedly after she married Jones. She calls those who go to the parties her father’s “toads”, obviously short for “toadies”. Her husband, interested in meeting his father-in-law, does go but won’t play along and after putting up with a lot of abuse about his having lost a hand in the war. Having stood up to the abuse, he isn’t asked back until after the death of his wife in a ski accident. Dr. Fischer announces what will be his final dinner party in or on New Years, giving Jones an invitation which he accepts. This time the victims have to take a Christmas cracker from a bucket, they are told that inside all but one of them is a large check but inside that one cracker is a small bomb. If it wasn’t such a good story I’d be tempted to ruin it by telling you how Jones keeps his integrity.
Rory O’Connor has a catalog of Don Imus’ “toads” and the excuses they are giving for going back to the racist ritual where they exchange their honor for a lot less. James Carville, Bob Kerrey, Bill Richardson, Clarence Page, Tim Russert... Imus might taunt them, especially if they happen to be black, but he saves his worst venom for members of other minorities. Unlike Dr. Fischer, no one pretends it’s research and no bravery is required of his stooges. As we can see with Imus, himself, there is no permanent price to be paid for promoting bigotry, sexism, racism, homophobia, if you’re profitable enough.
Dr. Fischer made his fortune by inventing a perfumed toothpaste which one assumes was good at covering bad breath. Imus’ guests should stock up on hygiene products. After his racist, sexist attacks on the basketball players, there’s no more denying what Imus made his fortune on and what they are finally proving themselves to be. They’ll need lots to cover the stench.