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It's Just Business - Broadcasting & Cable

It's Just Business

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Please, let's not hear any more about all the soul searching that went on at CBS and MSNBC about kicking Don Imus to the curb. Forgive me, but I don't believe this was a decision made after hearing how upset so many people in those organizations were about the latest in a long line of unfunny racist, sexist remarks that Imus or one of his sidekicks Bernard McGuirk or Charles McCourt meted out on his show.

Plain and simple, these were decisions made with the bottom line first and foremost in mind. It's no coincidence that within 24 hours of a bunch of major advertisers' pulling out, Imus got pink-slipped twice.

One knee-jerk supposition is that the unemployed shock jock might try getting a job in satellite radio, toiling for his old boss Mel Karmazin on Sirius, where Imus could yammer on commercial-free. But Karmazin has a merger with XM he wants approved in Washington, and Imus would be the ultimate buzz kill on that deal with lawmakers.

I get the attempt to make lemonade out of this particularly sour lemon; it's only natural to try to put the best corporate face forward. First, NBC News President Steve Capus says axing Imus came after discussions with countless employees and buckets of e-mails from viewers but it has nothing to do with advertising (a good guy, Capus probably believes it).

CBS then issues a statement, with its Chairman Leslie Moonves offering that canning Imus is “a significant opportunity to expand our record on issues of diversity, race and gender.” Well, I guess we're in an age where hope does spring eternal.

There are, however, a few rays of hope visible after one slogs through the ton of coverage over the Imus affair. Part of why advertisers dumped Imus over his now-too-often repeated maligning of the near-champion Rutgers women's basketball team is that the market they want to reach has evolved with the times. Pity the same can't be said for Imus, his cohorts, and many a member of the political and media establishment who kowtowed for his affections. A significant part of the audience has changed, and to increasing numbers, his shtick has long grown tired and old. Indeed, a growing number of the public seems more advanced than the power players who were frequent Imus guests.

As my colleague Andrew Tyndall has noted, the Imus imbroglio—much as the Scooter Libby trial did—brings into stark relief the often too-cozy relationship many journo powerbrokers have with those folks they should be keeping a more distant eye on covering.

It would be nice to think that these pundits and politicians, who gave Imus legitimacy for so many years, may now look a little closer before pandering to the next public figure who might help them court votes, sell books or draw viewers to the small screen. But we know better.

Don't get the wrong idea here. I've never bought into the whole Imus thing, but I'm a frequent enough guest on TV and radio shows, and I laugh at a lot of stuff the political-correctness police would have me booked for. The stewardship of B&C means honoring 75 years of staunch defense of broadcasters' First Amendment rights, something that quite frankly is a pleasure and an honor to do. We are no fans of censorship here and wouldn't want any government body being the one putting the end to Imus' career.

But this wasn't the Feds doing. This was the market telling Don Imus to get lost.

E-mail comments to bcrobins@reedbusiness.com

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