Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Don Imus a blight to anyone who’s ever worked at an all-sports radio station

The Don Imus story that has become a media firestorm is very much a product of all-sports radio (Imus in the Morning is broadcast on the most important all-sports radio station in American, New York’s WFAN (owned by CBS)). Those who are lucky enough to work in all-sports radio fight everyday for credibility, a never-ending battle for respect. Don Imus ended up at WFAN by happenstance, isn’t a sports fan but hosts the morning drive show at the biggest all-sports radio station anywhere. That makes whatever Don Imus does more often than not a terrible reflection of what sports radio should never become.

Imus has been regarded as the first ‘shock jock’. In the mold of Howard Stern, Stern parody’s Imus in his first book Private Parts (which was later made into a movie). In the movie, Stern briefly paints a picture of Imus as a desperate fading radio star desperate to hold onto his fame. Needless to say, Imus has failed at every level. Long ago Howard Stern passed Don Imus. Both men are still on the air, but Stern is the superstar and Imus the also ran.

The last few days may have been the toughest for Imus’ interesting radio career that dates back to 1968. Offensive and repulsive statements regarding the Rutgers women’s basketball team who made it to the NCAA Women’s championship game last Tuesday have created a firestorm that could result in Imus being fired.

On his "Imus In The Morning" show on April 4, 2007, Imus referred to the Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos." Imus initially dismissed the incident as "some idiot comment meant to be amusing" but apologized on April 6, 2007 after hearing calls for his dismissal.

The remarks occurred on Wednesday, April 4 while Imus, Sid Rosenberg, Bernard McGuirk, and Charles McCord were discussing the 2007 Women's NCAA Championship Game in which Tennessee defeated Rutgers 59-46. Rutgers had previously defeated favorites No. 1 Duke in the Sweet 16, No. 3 Arizona State in the Elite Eight and No. 3 LSU in the Final Four.

Imus described the Rutgers women as "rough girls" with "tattoos" and added, "That's some nappy-headed hos there". McGuirk described them as "hard-core hos" and compared the game to "The Jigaboos vs. The Wannabees," apparently referring to "School Daze," a Spike Lee movie that addressed racial divisions on historically-Black colleges through a look at fraternity and sorority life. Rosenberg added: "The more I look at Rutgers; they look exactly like the Toronto Raptors".

Monday evening CBS Radio and MSNBC announced Imus would be suspended for two weeks.

“This comes after careful consideration in the days since his racist, abhorrent comments were made,” NBC News, which manages MSNBC, said in a statement Monday evening. “Don Imus has expressed profound regret and embarrassment and has made a commitment to listen to all of those who have raised legitimate expressions of outrage. In addition, his dedication - in his words - to change the discourse on his program moving forward, has confirmed for us that this action is appropriate. Our future relationship with Imus is contingent on his ability to live up to his word.”

The previously scheduled Imus radiothon in support of the Tomorrow's Children's Fund, the CJ Foundation for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome research and the Imus Ranch will be telecast on MSNBC, as scheduled, on Thursday and Friday mornings.

The CBS Radio statement made no critical comments about Mr. Imus’ remarks. “Due to the events of the past week, CBS Radio will suspend Don Imus and the broadcast of his show for a period of two weeks, effective Monday, April 16,” it said. The program will continue to broadcast this week due to WFAN’s previously scheduled on-air charity fundraisers, which will air, the statement said.

What took place last week isn’t the first time Imus and remarks he’s made as a radio personality have been questionable. Imus and his crew, Charles McCord and Bernard McGuirk, are frequently accused of racism, misogyny, and homophobia. Imus referred to sports columnist Bill Rhoden as a "New York Times quota hire" and PBS anchor Gwen Ifill as a "cleaning lady" (On the April 9, 2007 broadcast of Imus in the Morning, Imus denied he ever made the latter statement). Imus has repeatedly referred to Arabs as "ragheads."

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.

Late Monday, the media storm Imus created shows no sign of subsiding. MSNBC issued a statement regarding Imus saying, "While simulcast by MSNBC, 'Imus in the Morning' is not a production of the cable network and is produced by WFAN Radio. As Imus makes clear every day, his views are not those of MSNBC. We regret that his remarks were aired on MSNBC and apologize for these offensive comments."

Imus issued a statement on Friday to apologize for his remarks.

"I want to take a moment to apologize for an insensitive and ill-conceived remark we made the other morning regarding the Rutgers women's basketball team, which lost to Tennessee in the NCAA championship game on Tuesday," the statement read. "It was completely inappropriate and we can understand why people were offended. Our characterization was thoughtless and stupid, and we are sorry."

The apology was not enough for some, as calls have continued to be made for his dismissal. By far the brunt of the criticism fell squarely upon Imus' shoulders, despite the fact that both Sid Rosenberg and producer Bernard McGuirk had made what were arguably the most offensive declarations.

Imus appeared on the Rev. Al Sharpton's syndicated radio talk show on Monday, April 9, 2007 to address the Rutgers controversy. He said, "Our agenda is to be funny and sometimes we go too far. And this time we went way too far. Here's what I've learned: that you can't make fun of everybody, because some people don't deserve it."

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting offered a long list of humorless bits from Imus and company on their website. Sid Rosenberg was temporarily fired in 2001 for calling tennis player Venus Williams an "animal" and remarking that the Williams sisters—Venus and her tennis player sister Serena—would more likely be featured in National Geographic than in Playboy. Rosenberg insisted to New York's Daily News (6/7/01) that his comments weren't racist, "just zoological." In 2004, MSNBC had to apologize when the rehired Rosenberg referred to Palestinians as "stinking animals."

"All too often in the media, overtly harsh and inflammatory comments are made on shows like Imus in the Morning simply for shock value, without thinking of their meaning or implication," said David Brock, President and CEO of Media Matters for America. "While we appreciate his apology in this instance, this is nothing new for Imus. It is just the latest in the string of racial slurs by Imus and those on his show that Media Matters has documented. We hope he will take this opportunity to re-examine his behavior."

Newsweek editor Howard Fineman, appearing on the April 9 edition of Imus in the Morning, did his best to confront Imus Monday morning: “Just before I came on the show, I was coming upstairs and my cell phone rang, and it was some listener who called me out of the blue. I'd never heard of the guy before. I'd never heard his name. He called me and he said, "Are you going to go on the show and finally confront this Imus guy? Are you going to quit enabling him?" And, you know, I thought about that, and I said to the guy, "You know, I'll puzzle that through on the radio." And I would like to continue to enable you to do a lot of the good things you do. Including, you know, talking about stuff happening in the world, which you do a very good job of on this show.

"It's a different time, Imus ... it's different than it was even a few years ago, politically," and added that "some of the stuff that you used to do, you probably can't do anymore." Fineman continued, "I mean, just looking specifically at the African-American situation. I mean, hello, [Sen.] Barack Obama's [D-IL] got twice the number of contributors as anybody else in the race," and added, "Things have changed. And the kind of -- some of the kind of humor that you used to do you can't do anymore. And that's just the way it is."

Mediamatters.com is calling for Imus to be dealt with once and forever in the harshest possible terms: “When Michael Savage made anti-gay remarks on MSNBC, the network took swift action with his firing. They even characterized the decision as an 'easy one,'” said Jamison Foser, Managing Director of Media Matters. "The media should be asking MSNBC to explain their tentative response to Imus' remarks. If Savage's outburst led to an 'easy' decision, we'd love to know why reaching a decision on Imus has been so difficult."

The progressive media watchdog organization also called on MSNBC to stop treating Imus' recent racist comments as an isolated incident and acknowledge his long history of bigoted commentary.

"It would be disingenuous for MSNBC or members of the media as a whole to discuss the controversy surrounding Don Imus' recent remarks without noting his long history of racist, sexist, homophobic commentary," Foser said.

Marvin Kalb, lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and a senior fellow at the school's Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy appearing Monday on Fox News' The Live Desk believes its time for Imus to resign.

“And I think that Imus, by the way, ought to be congratulated for the wonderful work that he has done for poor children over the years. He's a very wealthy man, and he uses money to good effect in that way. I would think, at this point, he would be making an even larger statement about himself, his own value system, if he simply resigned. Simply make a statement to the entire industry that there are limits to what ought to be said, ought to be tolerated. All kinds of people go on his program. They can find another anchor. That's not a problem.”

The National Association of Black Journalists remains outraged after the racially inflammatory insults made by radio personality Don Imus, even though the shock jock offered a two-line apology days after he called members of the Rutgers women's basketball team 'nappy-headed ho's.'

NABJ is calling for the immediate removal of Imus and his WFAN producer, Bernard McGuirk -- who referred to the players as "jigaboos and wannabees" -- by Monday morning.

The association also questions if sponsors of his show -- which include the New York Stock Exchange, Simon & Schuster and Random House -- will want to continue to be associated with the program.

"What he said has deeply hurt too many people -- black and white, male and female," said Bryan Monroe, NABJ president. "His so-called apology comes two days after the fact, and it is too little, too late."

"As journalists, we firmly believe in the First Amendment and free speech," Monroe added. "But free speech comes with responsibility, and sometimes with consequences. His removal must be that consequence."

"These were nothing but hard working student athletes — young women, just trying to do their best. After 40 years on the air, it is clear that he has lost touch with all that is decent and honorable in America," said Monroe. "It is time for him to go."

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 has 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 the next two weeks, those 70 radio stations and MSNBC will be forced to live without Don Imus.

In a joint statement, NCAA president Myles Brand and Rutgers president Richard McCormick said, "It is unconscionable that anyone would use the airways to utter such disregard for the dignity of human beings who have accomplished much and deserve great credit."

And what about the Rutgers women’s basketball team? The Rutgers Women’s basketball team made it to the Final Four, made it to the championship game, and stunned everyone by nearly winning a national championship. Rutgers athletic department director Robert E. Mulcahy III released the following statement Monday evening:

“When the Rutgers women's basketball team returned from the weekend, President McCormick and I met with Coach Stringer and the team.

“We wanted to make sure they understood the position of the University and of the Athletic Department that the comments made by Don Imus were reprehensible and disgusting, as were the comments of the show's producer. They abused the unique privilege they have of speaking to the country over the airways, and assassinated the character of 10 exceptionally talented and hard working young women.

“We expressed to these outstanding women that we understood the depth of their hurt to the degree that we could and that they were unfairly characterized in a vile, despicable and racist manner. They, and their families, are feeling terrible about it. We share their anger and indignation and want to express fully our pride in them. They did absolutely nothing to deserve this treatment. I don't want anything to tarnish the magnitude of the team's accomplishments this year.

“I have relayed the message of Don Imus and his offer to apologize in person to the students and asked them to let me know how they wished to respond if at all.

“It is time we all understand the lack of civility and sensitivity in our relations and that this should serve as a stunning reminder to everyone that before they make frivolous comments of a sensitive and hurtful nature that they consider the consequences.

“You cannot erase the hurt but you can have people change their ways.

“These are outstanding young women who represent their university in a magnificent and classy manner. They deserve the admiration of everyone.

“We are in the process of considering our options so that the country can see what this University stands for and the quality, strength and character of our women's basketball team.

“We would ask the media to stop trying to call or text message them and remind them that we have departmental policies about contacting student-athletes and the media understands any requests for contact must come through the Athletic Communications Office. Nothing should tarnish the magnitude of the team's accomplishments this year.”

If there is a line in the sand Don Imus has stepped over it, but this isn’t the first time. If Imus isn’t fired history clearly has shown he will step over that line, time and time again. Enough is enough, Imus do what’s honorable ‘retire’. If we’re waiting for CBS or MSNBC to fire Don Imus don’t hold your breath waiting for that to take place – it isn’t going to happen.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: Media Matters, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting and The National Association of Black Journalists.

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