Thursday, April 12, 2007

Imus Fans Now In Mourning

When MSNBC dropped its simulcast of the Don Imus Show, it was big news in the mainstream media, but not as big a deal in the talk radio business. However, now that CBS, which has syndicated the legendary shock jock on over 60 terrestrial radio stations, has confirmed that they have also cancelled his show-- that's another story.

This is the first time that we can recall that a syndicated talk host has been canned on the spot for a comment made on the air. Certainly, it has never hppened to anyone with Imus’ status and standing in the talk radio business.

Yes, Howard Stern abandoned terrestrial talk radio after the FCC hit him with some huge fines. However, he was not fired by CBS and only made the move to satellite radio when he received a compensation package of over a half billion dollars from Sirius Satellite Radio. Imus will not even be allowed to do a final show tomorrow! (We knew that we should have recorded his show today.)

When we selected The I-Man as the worst talk show host of week on Friday (see column right), we had no idea that our choice would generate such a firestorm.

By Tuesday his radio show syndicated by Westwood One (owned by CBS) and the TV simulcast carried on MSNBC had suspended Imus (without pay!) for two weeks.

On Wednesday several huge advertisers like Proctor and Gamble, General Motors, and American Express had told NBC they were not only going to pull advertising from the MSNBC Imus show, but also from some daytime programs on the Peacock Network. Also, the Rutgers women’s basketball team held a press conference adding human faces to controversy, which started when Imus called these young women "nappy headed hos." By yesterday, NBC threw in the towel and cancelled the MSNBC simulcast. And today’s cancellation announcement by CBS was the deathblow for long running show.

Of course, both NBC and CBS claimed it wasn’t about the loss of advertising revenue but rather a response to the outrage expressed by their employees, community leaders, and the Rutgers student athletes.

Here’s the statement that MSNBC released to press yesterday:

"This decision comes as a result of an ongoing review process, which initially included the announcement of a suspension. It also takes into account many conversations with our own employees. What matters to us most is that the men and women of NBC Universal have confidence in the values we have set for this company. This is the only decision that makes that possible. Once again, we apologize to the women of the Rutgers basketball team and to our viewers. We deeply regret the pain this incident has caused."

And here’s the statement issued by CBS President Leslie Moonves today:

"From the outset, I believe all of us have been deeply upset and repulsed by the statements that were made on our air about the young women who represented Rutgers University in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship with such class, energy and talent. Those who have spoken with us the last few days represent people of goodwill from all segments of our society – all races, economic groups, men and women alike. In our meetings with concerned groups, 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. That consideration has weighed most heavily on our minds as we made our decision, as have the many emails, phone calls and personal discussions we have had with our colleagues across the CBS Corporation and our many other constituencies."

Now if you think for a minute, that NBC was more concerned about the erosion of the "confidence" held by their employees or that CBS was troubled by the "goodwill from all segments of our society" than they both were about the erosion of advertising revenues, than I have a bankrupt liberal talk radio network that I would like to sell you.

According to the New York Times, while the Imus Show is not a big revenue source for NBC, it is a very big one for CBS.

WFAN, CBS’ flagship station in New York receives a $4 million fee from NBC for the MSNBC simulcast. In addition WW1 generates nearly $20 million in advertising and syndication revenue from the show; the show’s individual radio affiliates, collectively, earn another $20 million in revenue.

This is not pocket change, and there is no way that CBS would walk away from this revenue windfall unless they were genuinely fearful of an advertising boycott that could spread to other segments of their station and syndication business.

Remember that WW1 also syndicates the Bill O’Reilly Show and he is known to offend people from time to time.

After all, wasn’t O’Reilly the guy who called the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith "an extremist group that finds offense in pretty much everything" and told its president Abraham Foxman "to go back to Israel" if he didn’t like it.

Is this just a case of chickens coming home to roost?

For years we’ve heard apologists for right wing talk radio say that radio is just business. That the reason why there are 13 hours of conservative talk for every one hour liberal talk is that ratings and advertising revenues call for this ridiculous imbalance. Now that the marketplace is turning against the racism, misogyny, and homophobia espoused by right wing talkers, what will their position be?

"We have right to say anything we want and advertisers should be required to subsidize us."

Maybe it is appropriate that Imus was the target off this backlash against hate talk radio. After all he is personification of the conservative talk demographic -- aging white men.

It will be interesting to see how the "Imus factor" plays out in the coming weeks.

Will we see a backlash similar to one that occurred on network TV (and to a certain extent on hot talk radio) after the Janet Jackson’s naked breast appeared in the Superbowl half time show last year or when CBS was fined millions of dollars by the FCC for Howard Stern’s antics?

Already there are other victims. Today we learned that Gary Smith of the Gary in the Morning Show on WSBG-FM in Stroudsberg, PA, was fired by Nassau Broadcasting Partners yesterday for holding an on-air contest in which listeners were encouraged to say "nappy-headed ho." Somehow I don’t think that Smith will be the only victim of the Imus fall out.

How about the right wing talker who shared worst talker honors with Imus this week. When KSFO in San Francisco talker, Melanie Morgan told her cohost Lee Rodgers "Do you remember when [Al Sharpton] was on that rolling fast for peace with Cindy Sheehan ... and I went on television and offered him ... a loaf of bread? He did not like that, Lee.” Rodgers replied: "Well, thank God you didn't offer him watermelon."

After all, as our friends on the right always remind us, " don’t take it a personally, radio is just a business."


raccoonradio said...

Is Imus really a conservative? He palled around with folks like John Kerry, Mike Barnicle, and MainStreamMedia folks from NBC, etc.
Conservatives like Laura Ingraham found themselves disinvited in recent years.

New England talk host Howie Carr said "Imus is a liberal; perhaps the only successful liberal talk host". Though Imus did make some nasty anti-Clinton(s)
comments at a White House correspondents' dinner a few years ago.

NYLefty said...

Not everybody fits neatly into the "conservative" or "liberal" boxes. I wouldn't call Imus either.

But to many right-wingers, including Raccoon, all the media (with the exception of Fox News, a few fringe publications, and most talk show hosts) are "liberal."