Thursday, April 12, 2007

The beginning of the end of Don Imus career

It has been eight days since WFAN morning host Don Imus made uttered his infamous statement regarding the Rutgers Women’s basketball team and Wednesday evening Don Imus faced the beginning of the end of his 39-year radio career.

Given that Imus comments were directed at one of the finest women’s basketball teams in the nation, and Imus hosts the morning drive show on most important all-sports radio station in America, this remains a very important sports media related story and therefore one of the most significant sports business stories of 2007 (and we’re just past the quarter mark on the calendar). No matter what Imus was thinking at the time, no matter how apologetic his follow-up comments have been the sting from his racially insensitive comments aren’t going to be forgotten by anyone for a very long time. And on Wednesday night MSNBC admitted they have had enough of Imus in the Morning, ending his time on their airwaves.

"He's crossed the line, he's violated our community,” Bruce Gordon, former head of the NAACP and a director of CBS Corp said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "He needs to face the consequence of that violation."

Gordon, a longtime telecommunications executive, stepped down in March after 19 months as head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one of the foremost U.S. civil rights organizations.

"When I look at it from my position as a director, where my responsibility is to represent the best interest of the shareholders, it's more complex. ... But at the end of the day, the image of CBS is at risk." Gordon told the Associated Press

"We should have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to what I see as irresponsible, racist behavior," Gordon said. "The Imus comments go beyond humor. Maybe he thought it was funny, but that's not what occurred. There has to be a consequence for that behavior."

Wednesday evening MSNBC who earlier in the week along with CBS radio announced they would suspend Imus for two weeks (starting Monday, April 16) decided they had had enough of the Imus

In a statement, NBC News announced "this decision comes as a result of an ongoing review process, which initially included the announcement of a suspension. It also takes into account many conversations with our own employees. What matters to us most is that the men and women of NBC Universal have confidence in the values we have set for this company. This is the only decision that makes that possible."

The network statement went on to say, "Once again, we apologize to the women of the Rutgers basketball team and to our viewers. We deeply regret the pain this incident has caused."

MSNBC TV is wholly owned by NBC Universal. MSNBC.com is a joint venture between NBC Universal and Microsoft.

The network’s decision came after a growing list of sponsors — including American Express Co., Staples Inc., Procter & Gamble Co., and General Motors Corp. — said they were pulling ads from Imus’ show for the indefinite future.

Meanwhile as of Wednesday evening Imus was still employed by CBS Radio, and WFAN would move forward with their planned suspension of Imus. That suspension begins after Imus show on Friday, bringing to issue how serious CBS are when they announced Imus two-week suspension Monday night. Imus is hosting a two day radio telethon Thursday and Friday (programming designed to raise money for various charities, in support of the Tomorrow's Children's Fund, the CJ Foundation for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome research and the Imus Ranch), but why Imus was allowed to host his program on Tuesday and Wednesday is questionable at best, until you look below the surface. Once you look at the dollars and cents of the impact Don Imus has, you begin to understand the sense as to why his suspension hasn’t begun yet.

Imus has evolved into a money-making machine for the media companies who choose to hire him. A USA Today report offered some mind-numbing numbers relating to dollars Don Imus has generated in recent years.

According to the USA Today article: Advertisers spent $11.3 million last year on his show at just one station, New York 's WFAN, according to Nielsen. That accounted for nearly 24% of all the station's ad sales. And remember WFAN bills more ad sales than any other radio station in the entire United States . Overall a New York Times report suggested Don Imus generated more than $20 million in sales for the 70 radio station syndicate that broadcast Imus’ morning drive show.

Sponsors paid MSNBC an additional $8.4 million last year for spots on Imus' show, according to TNS Media Intelligence. An average of 358,000 viewers tuned in to watch the show in the first quarter.

According to a New York Times report, earlier Wednesday (before MSNBC announced they where dropping Imus) General Motors and American Express joined the list of company that said they would not advertise on the simulcast of Mr. Imus’s radio program on MSNBC.

American Express was the fourth largest advertiser on the simulcast of “Imus in the Morning” on MBNBC, spending $1.2 million during the show in 2006, according to estimates from Monitor-Plus, a unit of the Nielsen Company. And the credit card company was also among the top spenders on the radio program aired by CBS Radio.

Judy Tenzer, a spokeswoman for American Express, said the company pulled its commercials because Mr. Imus referred last week to the Rutgers women’s team, most of whose members are black, as “nappy-headed hos.”

"He's a bigger player by association," says Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which is about to conduct a poll to determine what the public thinks about the controversy. "It raises the profile of his mistakes."

It wouldn’t be an understatement that Don Imus has evolved into one of the strongest media franchises on terrestrial radio since the self proclaimed King of all Media Howard Stern made his move to satellite radio a year ago. Stern moved not only his radio program to Sirius Satellite Radio but created his own pay-per-view cable network. Imus remains on conventional radio and on regular cable TV.

Both the New York Times and Washington Post reported Wednesday several Imus advertisers and sponsors are beginning to distance themselves from Don Imus. Staples, the office supply chain, as well as Miralus Healthcare, a pharmaceutical company that makes a headache medication called HeadOn, said yesterday that they had asked MSNBC to remove their advertising from the television simulcast of Mr. Imus’s radio program and run their commercials elsewhere.

Some advertisers had left the Imus program before last week’s remarks. AT&T stopped advertising in January, and General Motors stopped its radio ads (though it still broadcasts TV commercials with the simulcast).

Procter & Gamble went a step further Tuesday. According to the New York Times Procter & Gamble said that, for now, it had withdrawn all its advertising from MSNBC’s daytime schedule — a potential loss of more than $560,000 on an annual basis for the Imus simulcast alone, according to figures from Nielsen Media Research.

“We have to think first about our consumers,” said Jeannie Tharrington, a spokeswoman for the consumer products manufacturer, “so anyplace where our advertising appears that is offensive to our consumers is not acceptable to us.”

“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Bo Dietl, a former New York police detective who appears weekly on the program to plug his private security business. “I do the show because the power of that show is enormous. But I’ve also lost a lot of business for being on that show.”

Through what has been a ‘perfect’ storm the Rutgers women’s basketball team have been the personification of the word class. Tuesday, the Women of Rutgers Basketball held a media conference on the Rutgers campus reacting as a team, speaking as one to the deplorable comments Imus made about their team last week. The women of Rutgers basketball trying not to show the obvious strain from Imus distasteful comments have agreed to Imus request for a private meeting where Imus will attempt to apologize.

It wasn’t clear, but if you listened and watched carefully (the press conference was covered nationally by CNN, MSNBC and Fox News) you sensed the University and the Athletic Department wanted nothing to do with offering Don Imus an opportunity to say he was sorry. Nonetheless respecting the wishes of the ten women who made it to the NCAA women’s championship basketball game there will indeed be a meeting in the very near future.

"It will take place at an undisclosed location, away from the media, away from everybody so that everyone involved can express themselves and will subsequently be made public afterwards. This came about because of a requests made through me to the team and the team discussed it." Rutgers AD Bob Mulcahy announced. At the same time Mulcahy made it clear the terms and everything associated with the meeting would be determined by the school.

Some of the most heartfelt comments came from Rutgers women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer. Coach Stringer challenged her players as basketball players and as women after the team got off to a 2-4 start to their season, which included losing to Duke’s women’s basketball team by 40 points. Stringer pointed out the team gave up their Christmas holidays in favor of using that time to work eight to 10 hours each day on becoming a winning basketball team. Needless to say the teams’ results speak for themselves.

"I see 10 young ladies who have accomplished so much that we, the coaching staff, and the State University are proud of. These young ladies who sit before you are valedictorians of their classes, doctors, musical prodigies, and yes, even girl scouts. These young ladies are the best the nation has to offer and we are so very fortunate to have them here at Rutgers . They are ladies of class and distinction; they are articulate, they are brilliant. They are God's representatives in every sense of the word. What you have to realize is less than a year ago half of these ladies were planning to graduate from high school. There are five freshmen who, as they graduated from high school, thought about the opportunity they would have by coming to Rutgers University and by playing basketball at the highest level. Before you know it, everyone here found themselves on a national stage playing for the world to see, playing basketball at the highest level. This group of women is bright, gifted, hard-working and has persevered through so much.

"You have all come to talk about this story, this Don Imus story, but we've lost what this is all about. At the beginning of the year we were humiliated as we lost to Duke, the number one team in the country. But through perseverance and hard work and dedication, through eight to ten hours working and going through film and studying, ultimately they alone became what they could be when no one else believed in them—that's the greatest story. It doesn't matter where you come from but where you're going. It doesn't matter where you started but how you end because that is the story. Perseverance, hard work, determination. This group of classy young women represents all of us. I have pride and respect for them. What's amazing is less than 24 hours after they accomplished so much to have people insult us. We are all physically, emotionally and mentally spent. We are hurt by the remarks that were uttered by Mr. Imus. But these girls understand that no one can make you feel inferior unless you allow them to. My role as a coach is one to love, nurture and discipline these ladies to leadership roles in this society. In all that we do, this group of young women have been represented as nothing less than class in every aspect of all that they do. While they worked hard in the classroom and accomplished so much and used their gifts and talents, you know, to bring the smiles and the pride within this state in so many people, we had to experience racist and sexist remarks that are deplorable, despicable and abominable and unconscionable. It hurts me.”

But it was Essence Carson the teams’ captain who showed why she is considered the leader of a team that excelled both on and off the basketball court: I would like to express our team's great hurt, anger, and disgust towards the words of Mr. Don Imus. We are highly angered at his remarks but deeply saddened with the racial characterization they entailed. Not only has Mr. Imus stolen a moment of pure grace from us, but he has brought us to the harsh reality that behind the faces of networks that have worked to convey a message of empowerment to young adults, that somehow…someway…the door has been left open to attack your leaders of tomorrow. You must not forget that we are students first and then athletes…and before the student lies the daughter. On collegiate athletics' grandest stage, under the brightest lights, with the focal point being nothing other than a trophy that symbolizes the hard work and perseverance of a team so deserving, the curtains were closed on an act that deserved nothing short of an encore. This Rutgers Women's Basketball team has made history. We were the first team in the school's history to reach a national championship final game. We are a team full of bright-eyed youth that aspire to be great…not only great on the basketball court, but in the fields of medicine, music, and psychology. I would like to pose a question…not a question of insult, but one of pure thought…Where were these major networks when the youth were making history for a prestigious university? Now we are bombarded with cameras, phone calls, and emails that invade our privacy and place us between a rock and a hard place. We haven't done anything to deserve this controversy, but yet it has taken a toll on us mentally and physically. Driven to a point of mental and physical exhaustion, we ask that you not recognize us in a light as dimly lit as this, but in a light that encompasses the great hurdles we've overcome and goals achieved this season.

Now with that said, we have agreed to have a meeting with Mr. Don Imus. This meeting will be a private meeting at an undisclosed location in the near future. We just hope to come to some type of understanding of what the remarks really entailed, his reasons why they were said. And we'd just like to express our great hurt. The sadness that has been brought to us is more than the game of basketball, is more than the Rutgers women's basketball team.

As Coach Stringer said, we realize that it's about women across the world, across this nation. It just so happens that we finally take a stand. And we ask that you continue to support us and not look at it as we're attacking a major broadcasting figure. We're attacking something — an issue that we know isn't right. And we just continue to ask for your support and thank you for your support thus far.”

As has been well documented Imus comments demean women everywhere, a terrible reflection on our society.

"I know that rap, hip-hop and music of that genre has desensitized America and this world to some of the words that they choose to use in their lyrics. I understand that, but it doesn't make it any more right for anyone to say it. Not only Mr. Imus, but, if I was to say it, it doesn't make it right. It doesn't make it right if you're African-American, Caucasian, Asian, it doesn't matter. All that matters is that it's wrong. As a society, we're trying to go and trying to surpass that to the point where we don't classify women as hoes. We don't classify African-American women as 'nappy-headed hoes'. Or anything other than that. Other than they classy women that I believe every woman at this press conference is." Carson related.

What was interesting, Carson’s (Carson and Stringer appeared on the Today show Wednesday) reaction to two other issues, what she expects of the networks that carry Imus’s program and the impression accepting an apology will give to people across the country.

"I can't quite characterize the suspension. I believe that his employers have done a great job, especially with the apologies that they have sent out to the media. At the same time, the situation isn't over. There is still work to be done.

"As far as his employers, the radio station that broadcast the show, we all know it's about how many people are listening and your ratings. I can't blame them for supporting his show prior to this incident. He does have pretty good ratings, so I've heard. I believe they have taken action with his suspension. I don't know what else will happen. We haven't really come to the conclusion on what we'd like to happen, that's still up in the air.

"We haven't really discussed accepting his apology. That's what I believe the meeting will be for and that's what we'll cover. I think then we'll get a better understanding of his apology that has been released to the press. There's still a lot more contemplation that has to go on. We have to discuss it as a team, as a program, as a university, together, because this has not only affected us, but women across the nation.”

What was even more interesting how Carson and her teammates initially reacted when they heard about what Imus had said? None had heard the racially insensitive comments when they were made the morning after the team lost the national championship game to Tennessee .

"At first, as a whole, I believe our first thought was to let it slide. But after reading the transcript of the conversation, it hit a little too close to home. The remarks that were made were unacceptable. Not only because he's a broadcaster that gets his show across to so many people because he's in the nation's biggest media market in New York, but because he reaches so many people, can you imagine how many people may have really did think there might be truth behind his joke? Just growing up in a society as a 20-year-old, I've seen a lot of things. I've seen things happen to women and I've heard about things that happen to women—you learn about them in school. You don't get too many opportunities to stand up for what you know is right, I know we're at a young age and we know what's right and what should be done. We're glad to have the opportunity to stand up for what is right.”

Imus offered this Wednesday morning (remember his two-week suspension) on his radio program starts Monday.

“I'm going to go talk with the women at Rutgers if I can. And then I'm going to serve my suspension, and then I will come back and we will make this a better program, and we will make me a better person so that while I say I'm a good person, I did say that -- and it's irrelevant whether or not I was trying to be funny. I mean, where did I think that was all right to make fun of --?

“So, and there's a lot of stuff that we can do, but at some point, I stop playing. So I don't deserve to be fired. And I am not going to be fired without consequences. So, I should be punished and I'm being punished and not insignificantly, by the way. I'm not whining, because I don't feel as bad as those kids feel, and I've said that several times. But, I'm not going to play forever.”

Imus has suggested he would add an African-American to his staff. If Don Imus record of working with women on his program is any indication, adding an African-American voice to his program will be a complete waste of time. He has berated many female newsreaders, most recently Contessa Brewer, which caused her to leave the show. After she left the show, Imus went on a tirade, saying, “With that fat ass she’s got, she wouldn’t be one of ‘em,” (a beautiful woman). Imus said on the air, "That skank has to spend three hours with makeup in the morning." The tirade was also tied to comments that were overheard of Contessa's calling Imus “a cantankerous old fool” at a dinner in a restaurant in 2005, when she was still newsreader.

This isn’t a matter of free speech. As has been said before, with free speech comes responsibility. When is enough, enough, when does when someone says something and claims their sorry is that not good enough? Firstly how and why has Imus who clearly has someone with a track record of deviant behavior that shouldn’t be considered acceptable in any decent society remained on the radio? Imus is a ratings winner for CBS radio. For MSNBC Imus in the morning is inexpensive programming on a third-rate cable news network.

Imus, 66, is a member of the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame. His program, which showcases his politically incorrect and biting comments, is syndicated to more than 70 stations. In the last year MSNBC's simulcast of Imus in the Morning had surged 35% in the past year. According to a USA Today report it was a factor in rival CNN's decision to switch anchors on its competing American Morning. At least for two weeks starting Monday, those 70 radio stations will be forced to live without Don Imus. As for MSNBC, the third rate cable news network has yet to announce who will be replacing Imus during is 6 to 9 AM programming slot.

So the real question should Don Imus be offered that one last chance, that one last opportunity to prove he can change? The answer, Don Imus take your microphone and your attitude, head back to your ranch and retire before you ruin whatever is left of your Hall of Fame career.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: USA Today, New York Times and Associated Press

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