Imus: The Return of Racist Radio

by Rick Rockwell

Don't you love how our media culture works sometimes? Don Imus insults the women's basketball team at Rutgers in a commentary filled with derogatory racial overtones and in the end, he's rewarded.

Sure, you may remember his headline grabbing firing from CBS and MSNBC in the spring.

But maybe you missed how CBS had to pay Imus as much as $20 million in a settlement over his contract. Or maybe you also missed the announcement this past week that Imus will be back on the ABC Radio Networks come December. Likely Imus will again be paid in the tens of millions of dollars to spew his hateful messages.

Some may mistakenly say Imus has the First Amendment right to say what he thinks even if what he thinks is racist and borders on hate speech. He does have the right to speak whatever horrible thoughts course through his synapses. But he shouldn't have the privilege of using the radio airwaves to amplify those thoughts.

The law from the 1930s onward has said the airwaves are a limited national resource and thus speech on the radio is a privilege, not a right. (And for those who think in the modern age that those laws are antiquated, please go tell the firefighters, police and other first responders in your part of the country why they can't get all the radio frequencies they need to make us safer in the age of terrorism.)

So who's responsible for putting a racist back on the air to pollute those airwaves?

You can blame Citadel Broadcasting, the company that owns the ABC Radio Networks, which distribute programming to 243 radio stations across the U.S. As predicted here immediately after Imus was fired, greed wins out again. Citadel Broadcasting wants to put Imus in the talk radio chair at WABC in New York to attempt to win that market, and of course, his time slot elsewhere. Never mind if he spouts a few racist remarks along the way to earning ratings points and millions in advertising revenue.

You can also blame all the listeners who tune into Imus. And of course, the advertisers too. When advertisers pulled their ads from CBS Radio and MSNBC that's when those networks fired Imus. Anyone listening to Imus when he returns and anyone advertising with the ABC Networks should be ashamed for supporting this racist.

Imus isn't the only offender. Rush Limbaugh, the king of talk radio, has also trotted out racial stereotypes for his own gain in the past. Although ESPN asked him to leave for his comments about black quarterbacks in general and Donovan McNabb in particular, he still kept his radio show. The hundreds of stations which run his program did not drop him. And he continues in his insulting ways, not just smearing military critics of the Iraq War in September, but also running more racially insensitive material. Not only did Limbaugh use stereotypes in discussing the controversial Survivor episodes, which featured racially segregated teams, but his program has also featured an inappropriate song about Sen. Barack Obama. Again, the corporate structure that keeps Limbaugh on the air and his rabid listeners are equally at fault for continuing to support a program that tears down our society and our democratic system, while using racial stereotypes.

If we want racism to recede, we need to pull the plug on the likes of Imus and Limbaugh, who both continue to stoke the fires of prejudice in America.

(The photo of Don Imus is from the talk show host's former employer CBS.)

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Bruce said...

A contract is a contract. So being paid what was due him has nothing to do with your story.
The reward you speak of is to the millions of Imus fans receiving his broadcast again.

Your blog name iVoryTowerz is appropriate. But don't look down at one of the most succesful broadcasters of all time.

Anonymous said...

I'll make a contract with you, Don't listen or watch Imus, and I won't read your insipid blog/comments

Anonymous said...

What about Isiah Thomas? Are we going toask that he be fired too?

Jeff Siegel said...

I hope both of you don't have a daughter who is some day held up to national ridicule. Or, even more intriguing, what if I called that a daughter a name right now? How quickly would you come gunning for me?

But it's OK if Imus does it, because he has millions of fans. How inspid of me not to realize that. Fortunately, you fellows were here to remind me of how insignificant I am because I don't pay homage to a guy whose shtick is based on frat boy name calling.

Talent in our me-first culture has very little to do with success, as Imus so clearly shows.

Rick Rockwell said...

>>>Now, we must deal with insults from anonymous readers who support racist talk radio hosts: well, we will never miss such folks when they fail to return

>>>And so, on to Bruce: Yes, I must acknowledge that Don Imus is in the Broadcasting Hall of Fame and I will never be inducted. And I never want to be inducted if they honor such a person. Imus personifies much of what is wrong with broadcasting. He is not someone to emulate.

>>>The Isiah Thomas question is a bit of a non sequiter. Imus wasn’t found guilty or liable in court, and so some have argued he has been punished enough. But the court of public opinion, at least in some quarters, has heard the evidence and the apologies, and the long record of other problems and knows what they are getting when Imus is brought back to the airwaves.

As for Thomas, I am no fan of sexism and sexual harassment either. Some companies would have dismissed him or asked for a resignation. And as the case revealed, they would have had cause. His case is going to be appealed so I suppose we will see what happens. The comments Imus made were not only racist, but sexist, and that’s about as close as these cases come. They are very different.

The men in these cases have different responsibilities to the public. Various teams in various sports employ athletes and managers with questionable records when it comes to how they treat women. This is not something to emulate either. But the difference is that the Knicks who employ Thomas are not using the public airwaves to promote his behavior and his personal philosophies.

>>>Finally, thanks to my pal Jeff for getting to the heart of this better than I could.

Anonymous said...

Where is the OUTRAGE about Isiah Thomas? We ACTUALLY heard what HE said in his deposition! Isaiah Washington has ANOTHER JOB on the Bionic Woman! He got hired AGAIN! Get your facts straight! How many of you ACTUALLY listened to Don Imus’ show? Once isn’t enough! I’m an African-American female who listened to Imus in the Morning since the 2004 election! He supported John Kerry. How can he be racist when he supported Harold Ford’s run for the US Senate? DON IMUS GOT DEATH THREATS AND WAS CALLED A N*GGER LOVER FOR DOING SO!!!!! Last time I checked, Harold Ford was a BLACK man! How can he be a racist when he was one of the FIRST people who said the folks in New Orleans were treated badly because of their race? How can he be racist when he was friends with Rev. G.E. Patterson, played his sermons ON AIR, and interviewed his wife AFTER he passed away? How can he be a racist when he helped to raise MILLIONS of dollars for sick children and wounded soliders of ALL COLORS?! Some of these children had BLOOD DISORDERS, which include SICKLE CELL ANEMIA! WHAT RACE HAS THE MAJORITY OF CASES OF SICKLE CELL? If he was a RACIST would he even care? What about the time he interrupted his return to New York and flew a sick African-American boy and his mother where they needed to go in HIS private jet? What about the time he attended the funeral of an African-American teenager who had once stayed on his ranch? You could hear the sadness in Imus’ voice as he told us how he wanted the child to win the cattle roping event because he knew that the child had a terminal disease and his time was running out! I THINK OUR COMMUNITY HAS TOO MANY PROBLEMS TO WORRY ABOUT INSTEAD OF GOING AFTER DON IMUS! PEACE!

Rick Rockwell said...

>>>I believe all of our facts are straight. I see nothing in your comment that actually challenges facts, just questions opinions. I have said I do not agree with Isiah Thomas’ actions, but I think the Imus case and the Thomas case are different. (And please do not equate appearances on an entertainment program with having a national talkshow. Those are also very different.)

It also makes no difference what Imus has done in the past for various communities. That’s like using the line: “Some of my best friends are….”

What matters in this case is that Imus made remarks that denigrate the African-American community and then racists who listened to his show smiled along in agreement. Just because Imus has supported some liberal causes does not mean he truly believes in equality.

I am reminded of what Clarence Page of The Chicago Tribune said about Imus this year. Page had been a regular on Imus’ show. But Page said he now believes he was used as a token. Page and others in the African-American community have expressed enough outrage for me to believe what Imus did in the Rutgers incident (and that wasn’t the first time Imus had used racist remarks) was wrong and he should not return to the air.

P.S.: What you are reading above is what I originally wrote as a response, then someone pointed me to this group of Imus fans who are apparently bombarding the ‘net with what amounts to a cut and paste form letter campaign. That last comment was apparently aimed at condemnation of the return of Imus by the National Association Black Journalists (NABJ) and writers at BET’s website. This may explain why some of these comments don’t seem to be carefully directed at what was written here. You’ll note if you go to that link, the writers also don’t seem to understand broadcast law.

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