Imus Returning? Who Said he Ever Left
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Get ready for Don Imus's return! The talk is that Imus could be back on the airwaves within the next few months or even weeks. The rumor stirred by the New York Post that Imus will return touched off a mild flutter of hope among Imus lovers and outrage among Imus bashers. CBS hasn't done much to take the air out of the rumor. In fact, when asked whether there was any truth to it that Imus could be back on the air, CBS officials didn't exactly answer with a ringing denial. Silence was their watchword.
Even in the midst of the national furor over Imus's crack that the Rutgers women's basketball players were nappy headed 'hos', the signs were glaring after that his ban to media Siberia might not last. There was the way he was dumped. CBS and MSNBC did it under extreme duress. They had an angry Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton saber rattling them, fanning the anti-Imus mania, and threatening everything from sit-ins at the network headquarters to advertiser boycotts if Imus didn't get the boot.
The predictable happened and a slew of advertisers bailed out from the sponsorship of his show. That appeared to be the final nail in the Imus coffin. CBS executives then engaged in a frenzy of moral pontificating. They solemnly declared that they stood on principle in canning Imus, and hinted that there was a moral crusade afoot to cleanse trash talk from the airwaves. That talk was quickly dropped. Then there was fleeting hope that CBS and the other media bigwigs would see the light and swing their doors wide open to the legion of black and minority reporters and broadcasters who railed that the network radio and TV was a white guys zero sum game.
That didn't happen either for the simple reason that the Imus ouster was a business decision, period. If a show loses money the show is soon ancient history. But did Imus really lose money? The sponsor pullout was an image face-saver, and not necessarily a permanent bye-bye to Imus. He made money for CBS, and he can make money for them again. A June fan poll in the New York Daily News confirmed that. The clamor from Imus's large and rabid fans to get their guru back on the air was overwhelming. Nearly 100 percent of those in the poll demanded that he get his morning show back.
It's tempting to dismiss the poll as little more than raucous Imus cheerleaders stuffing the ballot box for their man. But that's too easy. In polls taken during the Imus blowout, a majority of whites said that Imus should not have been fired. His apology, his humbling himself on Sharpton's radio show, his pilgrimage to Rutgers to seek absolution from the Rutgers lady cagers, not to mention his oft cited charitable work, was more than enough in their eyes to rate a pass. In other words, the man had suffered enough, and the punishment (firing) didn't fit the crime.
GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney and former Democratic presidential contender John Kerry from time to time had bantered with Imus. When his trouble hit, Romney didn't utter a word condemning his slurs. And Kerry issued a tepid statement through a spokeswoman in which he merely branded it "a stupid comment" and praised him for owning up to it. Senators Joe Lieberman and John McCain gave no indication that they wouldn't go back on his show. They also went mute about his remarks.
Imus's fervent boosters, and his silent defenders, are right. He should have kept his show. Not because of any soapy sentimentalism, fan loyalty, or he's suffered enough, but because a repentant and chastened Imus would be the perfect poster boy reminder to talk jocks who routinely trash, demean, and ridicule minorities, women, gays that they could also could get the Imus treatment.
Now back to the money. CBS could fire him, but they still have to pay him. Imus wasted no time in threatening the network with a whopping breach of contract suit. If he won, CBS would have to cough up millions to pay off a jock that's been a cash cow for them for years but they can no longer milk. Or can't they? When the network's flagship New York station WFAN recently played tapes of old Imus shows, the execs didn't utter a peep of protest.
The bitter truth is that as long as negativity is the hallmark of politics and discourse on the airwaves, Imus will be tailor made for the times. That won't likely change any time. The question then is not whether Imus should return, but rather did he ever really leave.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press and Hispanic Economics New York) in English and Spanish will be out in October.