Thursday, May 24, 2007

Corporate hypocrisy at its worst during Imus controversy

By now, the Don Imus controversy has been picked apart from almost every conceivable angle.

Imus, who was one of the most powerful broadcasters in the country, lost his job last month after making a racial and sexist slur against the Rutgers University women's basketball team.

Imus issued an apology that was accepted by the team, but by then, he was out of his job.

Last week, he was back in the news when it was reported that he may sue CBS for terminating him.

When looking back at this event, there are many lessons to be learned. Words are a mighty powerful weapon and when folks in the media misuse them, it is often impossible to heal the damage.

Imus has nobody to blame but himself. He made his living for years taking shots at people, and he more than anybody should have known that there are certain lines that cannot be crossed.

However, there are more people than Imus who deserve criticism in this controversy.

Besides him, perhaps the most outrageous behavior in this mess was by CBS Radio and the MSNBC cable channel.

CBS broadcasted Imus' show on the radio and MSNBC showed it each weekday morning on television, and both made millions of dollars because of his popularity.

Executives at both networks showed once again just how quickly they can wet their pants when faced with the possibility of losing a sizeable revenue stream.

Obviously, they stalled and hoped the controversy would go away. However, once big-time sponsors like American Express and General Motors dumped the show, it became apparent Imus wouldn't survive.

My biggest beef is the self-serving way CBS dismissed him. CBS President and Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves made statements that included concern about how language used by Imus effects young people, particularly African-American women.

He said that weighed heavily on his mind as this decision was being made, according to the Associated Press.

What? Imus has a long history of making provocative statements. Moonves had no problem cashing the checks generated by Imus' program when there was no controversy, but now he has this crisis of conscience? Very convenient.

Imus has been ripping people for years.

At one time, I was a viewer of his program. When MSNBC first started broadcasting it, I watched it for a while because I was looking for a good morning program to watch as I started my day.

While I did enjoy the politicians and journalists that he had as guests, I was turned off by the frequent cheap shots the show took. Frankly, I thought the show was mean.

Maybe this qualifies me to be the head of CBS because Moonves was obviously not in touch with this show's style if we believe his comments. Then again, maybe he suffers from a nasty case of selective amnesia.

Of course, the next obvious question is: what becomes of Imus? My guess is that he will be fine. In a few months, he will likely follow Howard Stern into the land of satellite radio where anything goes.

He will definitely be back. Though I believe he should have been fired for his comments, I don't believe he is a racist even though his statements can definitely be classified as that.

He was a vocal supporter of black politician Harold Ford, Jr., when he ran against Bob Corker in last year's senatorial election in Tennessee. Of course, Ford didn't utter a word in support of Imus during all this.

He also helped shine a much needed light on the slow response to post-Katrina New Orleans. He believed people there were being ignored because they were black and poor.

Like all of us, Imus appears to be a complicated person, and it is important to view him not just as he has been presented to us through the media filter.

Forgiveness is important even when people say remarkably dumb things. He apologized to the Rutgers team, and they accepted his apology.

Certainly, he has paid a big price for his folly and will continue to do so in the coming months.

He is at a crossroads in his life, and let's hope he chooses wisely.


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