Thursday, April 12, 2007

Over and Out and the Black Eye

CBS, WFAN, and Viacom have caved to pressure from the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and canned Don Imus. Eight days after Imus uttered that reprehensible phrase (transcript here), CBS determined that it went over the line and fired Imus.

CBS has been down this road before (see Rathergate). They wanted to test the waters. They didn't act to force an apology the day after the incident happened, and Imus was claiming that it was a joke gone awry. Then the likes of Sharpton and Jackson got involved and things took on a life of its own. Executives apparently didn't think there was much of a problem after the segment happened and only began to consider the situation to be serious once Sharpton and Jackson got involved.

Just a day ago CBS President Les Moonves was considering the options. What changed between yesterday and today other than the fact that they axed Imus in the middle of the annual telethon that supports the foundation founded by Imus to help kids with cancer among other charities? More sponsors decided to pull out and MSNBC canceled their simulcast. Money was quickly becoming an issue, but the sponsors were reacting to what Sharpton and Jackson were doing, not necessarily because they had a problem with Imus - who's been paid handsomely over the years because he generated tens of millions of dollars a year for all involved.

Imus made his apology (multiple times) however forced or coerced it may have been. He was supposed to meet with the Rutgers team that he denigrated to discuss the matter face to face. That goes by the wayside (and was not canceled because of despite a completely unrelated incident when Gov. Corzine was injured in a car crash on his way to attend the meeting).
"There has been much discussion of the effect language like this has on our young people, particularly young women of color trying to make their way in this society," CBS President and Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves said in announcing the decision. "That consideration has weighed most heavily on our minds as we made our decision."
If that was the consideration, he should have been fired long ago for various other indiscretions and hateful statements made on various broadcasts. Yet, no action was taken then, and none was taken until today.

Why did Moonves act now and not against others within the organization that have engaged in other acts that affect young people, minorities, and women?

CBS canned him because he supposedly violated some kind of standards. This is what I find so incredible distasteful. If he violated the standards last week, CBS should have fired or suspended him on the spot. They chose not to until pressure from outside sources became too great.

So much for standards. That's just cover for the fact that the suits thought that the network might suffer more economic harm by keeping Imus on than by letting him go.

Then, there's the issue of applying those standards to other aspects of CBS and CBS sister companies. How about applying those standards to the other divisions of Viacom (CBS's parent company). Movies? Music? Television?

CBS had no problem considering a season of the show Survivor where the participants were split along racial lines and didn't change its tune until people complained about the concept. No action was taken against the people who thought up that idea.

CBS had no problem trying to defend the wardrobe incident at the Super Bowl where Justin Timberlake ripped a portion of Janet Jackson's top revealing her nipple for all the world to see over and over and over again on TiVo. How long did the network stonewall on that one? No action was taken by the network against those involved.

Imus claimed originally that it was part of a joke gone awry. To him, it was art. Is that any different than Snoop Dogg saying nasty things about women? Oh, is there a difference because Dogg lived in the neighborhoods about which he sings and writes exploitative lyrics and Imus is an Upper Manhattan rich white guy?

The problem here isn't solely Imus. The problem is the way CBS operates. We saw problems with the way the network handled Rathergate. That was a big black eye for the network, and yet network executives are still tone deaf over crisis management.

There's a larger issue over the way people react to indecency and repugnant speech. Everyone has a right to free speech and a freedom from government interference in that right, but that doesn't prevent companies from acting to fire people who make stupid comments. I don't agree with the firing or its timing, but the company was well within its right to do so. Demanding that the FCC get involved or having politicians getting involved demanding he be fired were uncalled for here since there were no laws broken. This is one of many gray areas that people like Imus have inhabited for years. That doesn't just include talk show hosts, but cable television programs and other media outlets.

The inconsistency over standards and what people find decent or indecent is the issue. Consider that ABC has no problem allowing Rosie stay on the air despite the despicable and hateful things she's said (not to mention stunningly stupid things relating to 9/11 conspiracies). No one called for her to be fired.

Opie and Anthony got run off regular radio and ended up on satellite radio because of an on-air stunt that. Now they're back on regular radio. Bob Grant was also fired and ended up back on the radio some time later, but never recovered from the incident where he made insensitive comments about Clinton era Commerce Secretary Ron Brown who died in a plane crash.

So, who will replace Imus in the morning? That's going to be none other than Mike Barnicle, who was a frequent guest on Imus's show. Barnicle has issues of his own, including being involved in a plagiarism scandal and fabricating a story. This is who CBS thinks is a suitable replacement? Then again, they just fired one of Katie Couric's producers for plagiarizing a piece on libraries. They must have a blind spot for folks who have ethical or moral problems.

Actually, Paul at Wizbang has the kicker of the day: Don Imus was fired and Mike Nifong still has his job.

UPDATE 4/13/2007:
Despite Gov. Corzine's serious car crash, the meeting between Imus and the team went on for three hours and was described as being very intense and productive.

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