It’s pretty well known that Don Imus and Tim Russert have, historically, been rather chummy with each other. And during yesterday’s “Meet the Press,” almost all of Russert’s standard “Devil’s advocate” questions took the side of Imus. And Russert only twice said anything that even slightly reprimanded Imus:

    “I don’t think anyone felt that what Don said was defensible, including himself.”

And…

    “I think he said a terrible thing.”

But almost all of the other points raised by Russert seemed to deflect attention away from Imus’s responsibility:

  • “MR. RUSSERT: But he also would say he’s equal opportunity, and I got, of–one who went on a lot on “Imus,” poked fun after for being Irish, for being Catholic and a whole lot of other–for being “husky,” as my mom would say.”

  • “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.”

  • “MR. RUSSERT: And, and because you participated in political discussions that for, at least from my perspective, you couldn’t have anywhere else, or you couldn’t hear anywhere else. ”

  • “MR. RUSSERT: It is interesting how times have changed. Imus, as you know, was inducted into the Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Here’s the cover of Time magazine in ’97. The most influential people in America. Newsweek: “The Importance of Being Imus: How the King of Irreverent Radio Turns Politics into Entertainment.”

    Is–those, those recognitions were done in a very public way, Gene.

    MR. RUSSERT: Yeah.

    MR. RUSSERT: But if he’s inducted in the hall of fame, he’s on the cover of Time and Newsweek in the late ’90s when people were very aware of the content of the show.

  • “Is it appropriate for these rap stars, who use the words like ho and bitch and the N-word, to be raising money for politicians, the same politicians who are condemning Don Imus?”

  • “MR. RUSSERT: And it was fair to ask Jackson about Hymietown, and it was fair to ask Sharpton about Tawana Brawley.”

  • “MR. RUSSERT: Gwen Ifill, you mentioned turning off the, the rap music. How do you respond to people who say, “Turn of Imus? If you don’t like him, turn him off”?

  • “MR. RUSSERT: Well, but to others, if people want to watch it, they watch it.”

  • “MR. RUSSERT: ‘If you don’t want to watch it, you turn him off. It’s the marketplace that should govern.’”

  • “MR. RUSSERT: And if Don, Don Imus takes time off and comes back and says, you know, ‘I was an addict, and I embraced that and tried to educate people about that and educate people about Autism. I’m now going to dedicate my life to racial reconciliation and healing, and I’m going to talk about that on my new program’?”

    MR. ROBINSON: Well, people will decide whether they want to sponsor, you know, whether they want to put it on the air, and whether they…

    MS. IFILL: Would you go back on his program if he did that?

    MR. RUSSERT: I, I–I’d, I’d certainly listen to it. Absolutely. I mean, if he is dedicating himself–if the, if the Rutgers women’s basketball team said they have forgiven him and they’re trying to seek reconciliation, and he dedicates himself to racial healing, that is, to me, is a very positive step.

  • “MR. RUSSERT: John McWorter, a young black academic from The Manhattan Institute who’s been on this program, said that this is debate about street theater and takes away from a discussion of real issues affecting the black community. What would you say about that, Gene?”

  • “MR. RUSSERT: But I, but I also think–it’s also people–one person who’s been on the program a lot said he got hundreds of e-mails from the very people who then–who are now calling him an enabler for going on. When he went on, people praised him for his performance.”

  • “MR. RUSSERT: I had, I had one black American say to me, you know, ‘He’s got to go off.’ And I said, ‘I understand your view, you’ve laid it out very clearly.’ And I said, ‘Do you listen to the program?’ ‘Regularly.’ He said, ‘I love when Bernard McGuirk puts that FedEx box on and mocks the cardinal.’ And I said, ‘You do? You think that’s funny? Those are my people.’”