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Imus antidotes: a coach and a candidate accentuate their positives

Impressive showings: Barack Obama and C. Vivian Stringer

The multi-faceted black faces of America obviously aren't restricted to presidential candidate Barack Obama and Rutgers University women's basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer.

Still, both helped to neutralize the tasteless aftertaste of Don Imus with their impressive appearances on national stages. They had the grace and presence of mind that he so sorely lacks.

Obama effortlessly parried with David Letterman on Monday night's Late Show, both jokin' about his smokin' and seriously discoursing on Iraq.

Stringer spoke from the heart, and for her team, during an impassioned and unscripted presentation carried live Tuesday morning on the cable news networks.

Her reaction to Imus' crude, racially charged remarks perhaps went on a little longer than it should have. It clearly came from her heart, though, not a TelePrompTer. Stringer's 10-member team sat to her left in their warmup suits while Stringer described them as "God's representatives in every sense of the word." She didn't lash out, though, even when describing Imus' comments as "horrible, despicable and abominable."

"Is there malice in my heart?" she asked. "No." But there's "hurt."

The Rutgers team soon will meet privately with Imus at an undisclosed location in hopes of getting an explanation from him. It's far more than he deserves.

Team captain Essence Carson said players initially were of a mind to "just let it slide." But then the media onslaught began, robbing the underdog team of the afterglow it had earned by getting all the way to the NCAA women's championship game before losing to perennial powerhouse Tennessee.

Instead it suddenly became all about Imus, whose "nappy-headed hos" bile on last Wednesday's radio program reduced him to the level of a plantation slaveholder. For that he should lose his job. It's not about political correctness. It's about restoring the badly splintered underpinnings of basic human decency. Imus can apologize all he wants, but this time an example needs to be made.

CNN and MSNBC covered the entire 70-minute Rutgers presentation without commercial interruption. Fox News Channel cut away shortly after Coach Stringer's comments in favor of intrusive analysis, commercials and an update on "Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis. He's been been sued by some of the girls who went wild, all of them minors at the time.

By early Tuesday afternoon, all three networks had returned to the sorry business of covering who might be the true father of the late Anna Nicole Smith's baby daughter. Psst, it's Larry Birkhead.

On Monday night's Late Show, Obama had to mess around a bit before he could get serious. Letterman greeted him by asking, "Are you still smokin' cigarettes?"

No, he's chewing Nicorette gum, Obama said amiably. He's done so ever since his wife outed him as a smoker during a 60 Minutes interview. She then told anyone who caught him puffing to turn him in.

"I'm terrified of her," Obama joked before his host deadpanned, "It might be fun if we had a president who smoked."

"The gum's workin' good. I could use some now," Obama riposted before they segued to a lengthy session of the ongoing war in Iraq and what to do about it.

"I don't think we can be as careless getting out as we were careless getting in," Obama said to applause. Four years after the U.S. invasion, "there are no good options in Iraq," he added. "At this point there are bad options and worse options."

Letterman later complimented him on his navy blue suit, worn with a white shirt and powder blue tie.

"That is an electable suit," he told Obama before a commercial break interceded.

The host later wondered whether Obama and opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton eventually might team up and run as the Democratic ticket.

"Which order are you talking about?" Obama shot back, getting big laughs.

Letterman puzzlingly didn't ask him about Imus, and whether he'd ever want to do his radio show again. Hopefully that was an error of omission, not a prearranged agreement between host and candidate.

It's also hoped that Imus chose to watch the Rutgers media event for an up-close look at the young women he so egregiously branded. They in turn took the high road, which should be more than enough to make their attacker feel all the more repentant.

Good for them, and good riddance to him. Putting faces on the people he disparaged served to make Imus seem all the more repugnant, too.