Jack Myers' Think Tank: Imus' Firing Was More Economics Than Ethics
Imus' comments about the Rutgers' female basketball team were considerably less incendiary than many similar remarks he makes almost every day. The issue was not the remarks, but whether CBS and MSNBC were prepared to fight the good and noble free speech and anti-censorship fight on his behalf. After surprisingly little internal debate, the powers-that-be in two of the largest media corporations in the United States of America simply backed down and chose the path of least resistance.
It's just too bad that Imus was not worth fighting for, because the precedent set by the actions of MSNBC and CBS Radio are a concern. Combined with the FCC fines paid by CBS for "indecent" actions by Janet Jackson and Howard Stern, this quick reaction should send shivers down the spine of anyone who believes the First Amendment is worth fighting for.
Of course, I recognize that it's not government action that caused CBS and MSNBC to fire Imus. It was "repulsion" at his choice of words to describe an exceptionally classy and extraordinarily talented and skilled group of student athletes. In their press conferences and relationships with the press, these women were poised, intelligent and refused to stoop to the low level of Imus or of the reactionary blowhard Al Sharpton. In reality, though, the unexpected and surprising response to Imus' words -- that, again, paled by comparison to descriptions he has used for people and groups many times in the past -- were a catalyst for MSNBC and CBS to pull a plug on an embarrassing has-been talent who had strayed off the ranch one too many times.
Obviously, Imus' loyal fans would disagree, and his loss is another blow to the once-impressive CBS Radio talent stable. But the Imus format was inconsistent with the core format of many of his stations, including his flagship WFAN in New York, an all-sports station except in the key morning drive period. The loss of Imus is a win-win for "The Fan" -- they dump his salary and replace him with a sports talk show that is likely to generate higher ratings and revenues. Unlike the loss of Stern, who had a huge following and a true national presence, Imus' star faded many years ago and revenues were following.
The great shame is that his firing will now be used as precedent every time a politically incorrect comment is made in any context on radio or television. It sends a clear message to talent: there is zero tolerance for inappropriate content, in any context and by any standard. There is no excuse for Imus' comments, but his firing was more economics than ethics. There needs to be an equally compelling and strong statement that the CBS and MSNBC decision on Imus should be recognized as a one-time decision and should not give the moral high ground to those who believe there is no place on radio or television for comments that might be disagreeable to some. Again, Imus was wrong and his comments were stupid. His insensitivity is reprehensible and his actions caused pain. It was far from the first time. The real question we need to ask is, what exactly have broadcasters and talent learned from this? What do you think?