This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," August 6, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST: Nationally syndicated radio talk show host Don Imus is known for his caustic sense of humor and controversial comments, but not everyone knows about the work that he and his wife, Deirdre, do every summer in New Mexico.
Now The Imus Ranch is a sprawling 4500-acre ranch designed to resemble an old western town. Now Don and Deirdre, they're taking kids with cancer and their siblings all summer long and give them a taste of life on a working ranch.
And I got the opportunity to visit The Imus Ranch. Ride horses with them and the kids and sit down with Don and Deidre Imus.
HANNITY: You've talked about the ranch for how many years I've heard you talk about?
DON IMUS: 10, 11 years now.
HANNITY: 10, 11 years. You've got 4500 acres. I can't even begin to describe this place. Tell me how you conceived this whole thing and the kids and how you invite them here. Tell everybody the story.
DON IMUS: I — let me tell you part of it, and I'll let the Ayatollah finish.
DEIRDRE IMUS: You're such a jerk.
DON IMUS: No, no, no.
DEIRDRE IMUS: You really are. And that's a kind word.
DON IMUS: No, no. See, here's the point.
DEIRDRE IMUS: No, but you can't — well.
DON IMUS: You think it's funny until it's about you. You're like everybody else. I was just kidding, honey. Well, let me just.
DEIRDRE IMUS: You forgot to iron your face.
DON IMUS: What?
DEIRDRE IMUS: You forgot to iron your face.
DON IMUS: And could you get a tighter t-shirt?
Anyway, well, somebody asked me if I want to raise money for this outfit in New York they call Tomorrow Children's Fund. Years ago when I was at FM radio station, and I thought I don't know anything about them but I said yes, sure. You know after we investigated and found out they're not a bunch of crooks, and weren't like a lot of these charities, where the executives were riding around in limos, hiring hookers and you don't know what they do.
DON IMUS: Anyway, so — so — and then I met Deirdre, as soon as she got out of high school.
HANNITY: Does this go on all the time?
DON IMUS: No, but I was driving by the school and I was like, God, man, look at that.
DEIRDRE IMUS: And I was like, "Wow, Grandpa."
DON IMUS: So I slowed the limo down and held a candy bar out, and anyway. So she started helping out with these radio funds we do every years to raise money for — for Tomorrow's Children's Fund. And we had kids with cancer on. And she noticed. What did you notice about the kids?
DEIRDRE IMUS: Well, what we noticed is that every kid that was diagnosed with cancer had lost their self-esteem, their self-confidence and had been told they can't do things, you know. Some rightly so and coddled by their parents and a lot of the, you know, medical professionals.
But we saw that was a common theme, that they really — a lot of them lost their sense of purpose in life even. And, you know, they were playing sports. Some of them were good athletes or in activities at school and stopped everything.
So he grew up — Don grew up on a cattle ranch. And he — you know, he thought we wanted to do something else, too, to specifically — how could we help those kids regain their confidence? And we saw that no medical professional or psychologist, even, or parent could fulfill that. You know, he talked about the work ethic. Four years old he's out there, feeding all the animals with the ranch hands and his dad and everyone before they even had breakfast.
And he said that's a lot of his self-confidence and work ethic, and really, the cowboy ethic comes from that, that hard work and that discipline, that structure and that sense of being needed in the community.
And he said, "That's it. I got it. We'll build a working cattle ranch for kids with cancer." And that's really how this all came about. It's like a new paradigm that's been created. Before we did this, we were criticized, you know, saying that — doctors telling us that you can't make sick kids work, you can't make them do all these chores. And a lot of the stuff that you're talking about you want them to do is going to be too difficult.
HANNITY: This — this is an exhaustive sun-up to sunset working ranch. These kids get up in the morning. They do chores. Why don't you describe the day for these kids on an average day?
DON IMUS: Well, I just wanted to add what Deirdre said to her discussion of what we perceived in the kids. As they were being defined by their disease, and we instinctively knew then. And I — I really didn't understand how until I — did you know I had cancer, by the way, Sean?
HANNITY: Yes. I was going to ask you about that.
DON IMUS: Sure you were. The second I announced I had cancer, people started to treat me — it was ridiculous the way they were treating me. They said, "How are you feeling?" Nobody cared how I feel. I mean, I don't have any friends. Why would they care how I feel? So — and can you still get on the treadmill?
So when I talked to the kids about that, they all nodded in agreement, because they get patronized by their peers. And, you know, kids can be horrible to one another, as can adults, by the way.
So, anyway, so that was part of our motivation to bring them out here and give them an opportunity to restore their dignity and their self- esteem, by proving — by letting them prove to themselves that they can do anything any other kid can do and not to let somebody tell them that they can't.
HANNITY: But this is important to you, though. Because you have a whole list of rules here. They get up in the morning. They do their chores. Then they clean the stalls.
DEIRDRE IMUS: You're up at 5:30 a.m. We wake them up.
HANNITY: Which is — that is torture, by the way. If I was a kid at 5:30, I would not get up at 5:30 in the morning.
DON IMUS: First, we run it like an old 1880s cattle ranch. There are no electronics, no televisions. They can't bring their cell phones or iPods or Gameboys, any of that junk.
DEIRDRE IMUS: None of that.
DON IMUS: Enough of this junk. But I mean, they can't bring any of that stuff here. They have to say, "Yes, sir, no, sir." They can't make fun of each other. Can't call each other names. They can't — they have to work, but real ranch jobs. I mean, we're not killing kids.
But — and then we teach them to be cowboys and cowgirls. We run the ranch, by the way, 50/50.
DEIRDRE IMUS: Right.
DON IMUS: And if we don't agree, then we do what she wants. That's the way it is. Anyway...
DEIRDRE IMUS: I just wanted to make this point, because people make the mistake when someone is diagnosed, and especially a child. We take children 11 to 17 years old, and they end up feeling sorry for them. And sympathy and feeling sorry for someone never helps somebody. So — and patronizing somebody. So we don't patronize, and we don't feel sorry for these kids. We do have compassion and empathy. There's a big difference.
HANNITY: The ranch hands are not even allowed to mention their illness.
DEIRDRE IMUS: No.
HANNITY: They don't talk about it.
DEIRDRE IMUS: No. If a child brings it up, that's different. We're here to listen. But we're not here to get around the campfire and you know — like my husband — actually, there's a mantra here. This isn't Camp Happy Face. You know? We're not here to show your feelings, and let's talk about it. And...
HANNITY: And get in their sandbox with all this other psychobabble.
DON IMUS: They don't get any of that. They don't want that either. They don't want...
DEIRDRE IMUS: No, they don't.
DON IMUS: I mean, they may want it at camps they go to and stuff, but this is — I mean, we were initially criticized because we built this magnificent facility, and we took 10 kids at a time. Well, the hacienda, the way she designed it, it was built for 10 kids at a time. Their bedrooms are down there, and ours are right next to them.
Because I mean, I know it sounds corny, but we wanted it to be like a "Bonanza," where the family living on the ranch, and we'd be their parents, and in this case, from hell. And...
DEIRDRE IMUS: At least you.
DON IMUS: So, you know, here it is, we're coming up on 1,000 kids that have been through here.
HANNITY: So you don't have the reputation of being Mr. Sweet and Cuddly, but you've invested an enormous amount of time, energy. You built this place. You live here the entire summer with the kids. That's a little bit different than maybe the Don Imus that people hear on the radio or that people have come to know over the years or that people that are listening to you banter with your wife here.
DON IMUS: Well, you know, I'm still not, you know, Mother Teresa or Pope Joan or that she is, or I am. And you know, I get on the kids. And I don't get on them quite as much as I used to. But they don't — they don't want to be coddled. They want to be treated like regular kids.
I mean, here's something — here's something that's a stunning statistic. We have kids here. They have a rodeo competition they have to compete in. They have to ride a horse through an obstacle course. They have to jump off the horse, rope a steer and then tie a steer. So — and here's what we've noticed.
That — because we take kids here who are cancer siblings, and we take siblings of kids who have lost their brother or sister to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Not one of those groups of these kids who, they have no physical ailment, has ever been able to beat a kid with cancer, ever, ever, in terms of time.
HANNITY: All right. Here's the question I have. Is there a split personality of Don Imus? I'll ask — I mean, I'll ask her this question. Because you know his reputation.
DON IMUS: Well, what reputation? What is this?
HANNITY: No, no.
DON IMUS: Are we going to have me on "Hannity" and then make me feel bad because — as I battle my cancer here?
DON IMUS: I also have emphysema.
DEIRDRE IMUS: You mean healing your cancer?
DON IMUS: That I'm older than dirt?
DEIRDRE IMUS: But this is the whole Don Imus, you know?
HANNITY: Wait a minute. But here's a guy that a lot of people know as, you know, pretty acerbic, controversial, hard-hitting, and then he builds this, you know, 4,500-acre, you know, paradise for kids, invites them in. You're the surrogate father.
DON IMUS: But I would have never done that myself. We did it together.
HANNITY: But are you any — is there — in other words, is there a different side to Don Imus than maybe other people know, and this is it here? This is the Don Imus that people don't know?
DEIRDRE IMUS: Definitely now they will know who don't know this. But this — I mean...
DON IMUS: You know, what it is, I wouldn't have done it myself. I mean, I may have gotten the idea, but I would have never done it. I would have never — I wouldn't know how to do it. So — so but we — and I'm not patronizing her, believe me. Because if I could get her in a wood chipper, I would. But...
DEIRDRE IMUS: He has the pamphlets.
DON IMUS: That's not true. You know, I know I'm not — but I mean, she's on her best behavior.
DEIRDRE IMUS: You laugh, but...
DON IMUS: Let me tell you what happened. I swear to God.
DEIRDRE IMUS: That's why I have my knife here. He couldn't get me in the wood chipper. I mean, yes, right. Try it, honey. Try it.
DON IMUS: If she — if she had not met me, she'd probably be out in Hollywood having sex with people, trying to get in movies.
HANNITY: Oh, jeez.
DON IMUS: Which is what I told her I would do when I met her, but anyway...
HANNITY: I've lost all control of this interview.
DON IMUS: So to answer your question.
HANNITY: This is a first, by the way. I'm usually in total control.
DON IMUS: No, we're just answering your questions.
HANNITY: And I — and I appreciate that.
Let me ask you a hard question, because you've become the surrogate parents for the time that they're here. These kids build their self-esteem. They learn how to — they do their chores. I saw you having them making their beds every day. They get up at 5:30. They learn how to ride horses. A lot of these kids have never met a horse before. They've never been around horses.
So then you have a rodeo at the end of this, and one kid will emerge the winner of this rodeo contest. It's not like back in New York, where everybody wins and the score is equal.
DON IMUS: No.
HANNITY: Which is the right way to do things. But then these kids leave, and some of them you know are not going to make it. And a lot of kids that have come through this ranch have gone home, and they have not made it. How hard is that for you?
DON IMUS: Well... it's hard.
HANNITY: It's hard. You get close to these kids. You really...
DON IMUS: Well, you know, the thing that's the worst — I mean, it's horrible the kids who die. But it's worse the kids who, when we find out what a horrible home environment they have.
The divorce rate for kids with cancer is around 80 percent. Same with kids who are brothers and sisters, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
And, I mean, we had a kid here a couple of go-rounds ago. I mean, the kid was just impossible. And, you know, you can only be so tough on a kid. And I mean, he wasn't just — he was a big kid. He was just refusing to do whatever, you know. And he wanted to go home.
So Deirdre was talking to him, and we were out in the kitchen. So I just put my hand up on his head like you would pet somebody. And it was — the kid looked at me like — I mean, nobody has ever done that to him. He's a big kid. He's taller than I am. And, you know, nobody had ever — and then I just kind of was petting his arm — I mean, pet is not the right word, but — and the kid — then he told us how his father beats him. But you know, you want to go to somebody's house like that and pistol whip them, you know.
So — but the kid did a complete turnaround. And then, of course, he wanted to stay here.
And so as hard as it is to go to these kids' funerals, which we do, it's a lot harder — well, not a lot harder, but it's almost equally hard to send them back to these homes that we know they're going to, you know. After they've been here, you know, I mean, we would be better parents for them. They know that. And so they try to get us to adopt them. Not all of them, but I mean — that's tough. It's tough to talk about.
HANNITY: This year is a little bit different, because this is the first year — you were diagnosed this year. You have cancer.
DON IMUS: Prostate cancer.
HANNITY: You have prostate cancer, and you've been very public about it. But the first thing you did was go on the air and, almost from day one, you were making jokes about it. And do you have a different perspective based on the fact that you're now battling this yourself?
DON IMUS: Completely different, because — well, I don't know about completely different. I just — I knew what these kids thought, that they were being defined by their disease. Because, as I explained to them, bad stuff happens to everybody. Nobody goes through life undefeated, nobody.
HANNITY: Nobody. I agree.
DON IMUS: So — so — but cancer has a certain stigma to it. And so if you allow people, which I refuse to do, to — I mean, you can't change the way people think, but you can — you don't have to allow it to change the way you think.
HANNITY: Let me ask you a question. Because you know we discussed and the whole country discussed your firing way back when. And we covered it a lot on our show. As a matter of fact, I debated Al Sharpton at the time, and we had a knock-down battle over, you know, the issue of things that he'd said in the past.
Here you have this ranch that you literally — you personally have put in a considerable amount. I don't know what the finances are. And the kids that you invite here, you've had over 1,000 kids at this ranch, many of them minority kids.
This issue with Rutgers comes down at 6:15 in the morning. You make these comments. And all these things that you have done for all these kids of all backgrounds and all races, et cetera, should that have — was there no context and no texture given to your life? Is that fair?
DON IMUS: No, I think it is.
HANNITY: You think it is fair, that there shouldn't be any context, the fact that you...
DON IMUS: Not in this case. I mean, I went and talked to those kids, my wife and I did, the Rutgers kids. And I talked to their parents, and I talked to their grandparents. They — they're playing basketball. They're playing for the national championship.
They had no — they didn't know who I was, and they didn't care and shouldn't. They weren't listening to me. And suddenly out of the blue somebody makes a comment about their appearance.
But something that speaks so basically to the African-American community that African-Americans among themselves signify on one another. And it is — it's a defining description of an African-American woman's hair.
And so when they told me — so I never thought — and I never offered the excuse, that anything I had done in my life entitled me to say that about those women.
HANNITY: No, and nothing entitled you to say it. You were genuinely sorry. You were already fired, and you still went to meet with them, which I thought all those things were the right thing to do. Apologized.
But I'm just wondering if — we're living in a political world now where there's zero context, zero texture to who you really are. Now, I talked to...
DON IMUS: Well, see, I would argue that I just don't think that entitles me to say what I want to say...
HANNITY: I'm not saying...
DON IMUS: ... and have such a dramatic impact on their life. I mean...
DEIRDRE IMUS: And life isn't fair. I know what you're saying: why didn't anyone cover that, or wasn't — why wasn't that the context of all that because of, you know, all the good work? But, you know, I mean, frankly, that's not why he's doing it. We're — that's not why I'm doing it.
HANNITY: You're not doing it to get brownie points.
DEIRDRE IMUS: No. I mean...
DON IMUS: NO. There are no two people who are bigger fans of yours than us, and now you're badgering me and beating on me, and it's ridiculous.
By the way...
DON IMUS: ... that was my — that was my beef with President Obama, who I think is a hypocritical phony about this, because the first — as soon as Reverend Wright jumped up, the first thing the president wants to do is he wants us to put all of Reverend Wright's good works into context. And to...
HANNITY: What good works?
DON IMUS: Well, whatever he thought. And to put his life into context, when he wasn't — Obama wasn't willing to do that with me. And talk about — I mean, shut up.
And then he couldn't throw Reverend Wright under the bus quick enough. And thank God there was enough room. When his grandmother made some comment, he had her under the bus.
So — so, you know, I don't think Reverend Wright should have ran his mouth like he did, and we're not going to put into context his life. And I don't think anybody should have done mine.
And I — what I told those girls at Rutgers is I said, "I do — I will never — in your lifetime, you won't be sorry that you forgave me, because I will never embarrass you. And I will never say something like that again about anybody, about you or anybody else."
Plus, what I've done in the past year and a half is I'll make an effort to have a discussion about — a legitimate, not a phony — a legitimate discussion about race relations and make it as amusing as we can" and so on, which I've done.
So I — and I love you and other folks who are defending me the way you did, but I just don't think anything I've done in my life entitles me to say whatever I feel like saying.
HANNITY: Well, but it is amazing that the president hung out with this guy. You had a funny line.
DON IMUS: Well, you scared us to death. Because we're thinking — I'm thinking when the president gets elected, he's going to name to his Cabinet people like Angela Davis and Reverend Wright, and all these — and Bill Ayers and all these nuts. And then — then I come to find out he just got everybody in the Clinton administration. So...
HANNITY: But he's got a few extremists in there, too.
DON IMUS: Well, and all these Wall Street crooks, you know.
HANNITY: I think I would argue that I turned out to be pretty accurate about how radical he'd be. But you disagree with me on that? You don't think he's pretty radical on the economy, on health care, on his reckless spending, his weakening of our defenses? You talk about these things every day.
DON IMUS: Well, not like you do, though, because you actually know what you're talking about. I mean, my job is just to...
DEIRDRE IMUS: He's looking for the yucks.
DON IMUS: Really. My job is to be — is to be the commentator on the freak parade.
HANNITY: It is a freak parade.
DON IMUS: So you know.
HANNITY: All right. But let me ask you this. Because one of the things that — you're committed to this whole thing, and this is a big part of your life. Politics is a big part of your life.
Is this the most — is this — when you look at your entire life's story, Don Imus, one of the biggest radio hosts in the world and one of the most successful, are you most proud of this? Is this what gives you the most joy?
DON IMUS: That and, on a serious note, my relationship with Deirdre and what we've been able to — because...
HANNITY: You're ruining the interview now. Because it was up to this point the fighting was really great for ratings.
DON IMUS: I wasn't — I wasn't riding around in a limo looking for somebody to help. I really wasn't.
DON IMUS: And this really was an accident. That I did it was an accident. The fact that we were able to raise $40, $50 million, that we — that she and I worked together as well as we do and were able to...
DEIRDRE IMUS: He looks puzzled now. I mean, with all the fighting, that's kind of like our relationship, too.
HANNITY: Well, guys, I know I've taken a lot of your time. The ranch is beautiful, and what you're doing for these kids are phenomenal. And I won't ask — the worst thing you could ever do to Don is ask you him, "How are you feeling? How's the treatment going?"
Do you ever get a response on that?
DEIRDRE IMUS: Oh, well...
DON IMUS: It's fine. But we — we raise money for The Imus Ranch. We encourage people to come out here. We operate entirely on donations. We contribute our own money. It's one of the best-run public charities on the planet, The Imus Ranch, and people can feel comfortable contributing to it, and we want them to.
HANNITY: I've got to tell you folks, having been out there, it's amazing stuff they're doing out there. And these kids are having a wonderful time, and I enjoyed my time out there.
Many thanks to Don and Deirdre.
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