Thursday, November 1, 2007
Imus hiring again shows radio's dark side
On television Rush Limbaugh claims that African American Donovan McNabb gets a pass from the media because of his race -- and he's fired -- but remains the most popular talk host on radio.
On television, Michael Savage calls a caller a sodomite and says he hopes he gets AIDS and dies, and he's gone from MSNBC in the blink of an eye -- but keeps a healthy radio audience.
And now, Imus, who stirred the national discussion on race and was fired April 12 when he called the Rutgers University women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos," will be back on radio December 3, on ABC radio's New York outlet.
ABC, which was bought from Disney by New York's Citadel Broadcasting, owns San Francisco's top radio station, news/talk KGO-AM (810) and conservative talk station KSFO-AM (560). There was no word on whether Imus would be picked up out here, but the station's operations manager Jack Swanson was in New York for meetings this week.
Citadel CED Farid Suleman recently defended Imus in the New York Times.
"He didn't break the law. He's more than paid the price for what he did," said the executive who once oversaw Howard Stern at Infinity Broadcasting, as the assistant to Mel Karmazin, who left to head Sirius satellite.
African American and women's groups are rightfully outraged at the return of a demon they thought was exorcised by national outcry and protest.
Imus fans have found no replacement for the host, whose ratings weren't great, but who had top flight political figures as regular guests.
Suleman, no doubt following in Karmazin's tradition of taking on controversy, must figure that with election season approaching, Imus may be able to attract an audience and syndication. Maybe he figures that the public is so numbed by the constant barrage of hate speech and lies by the likes of Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly, that it will accept anything.
Contract details weren't announced. Imus had signed a five-year, $40 million contract with CBS before his firing and settled privately with the network after threatening a $140 million lawsuit. His show was on 70 stations.
Originally, I thought Imus would be back, possibly on satellite, because the radio world is so starved for talent and attention that someone would take a shot. When it didn't happen, I was relieved, like the medium was gaining a moral compass.
But apparently not.
The $64,000 question is whether the big name politicians will return. One would think not, but one of the most unlikely voices, Al Sharpton, said he thought Imus "had a right to make a living."
The other question is why is radio so much more tolerant of intolerance and bad taste, then television? Is it because TV is a forefront medium that requires full attention, while radio is a red-headed (not nappy headed) stepchild, that serves mostly as aural wallpaper during a drive? Or that TV has so many more viewers and higher stakes ads?
I've never accused TV of having highbrow taste, but at this moment, the comparison with radio is helping it look that way.
These are scary times. As enlightened as we think we are, the level of public discourse seems at times no more enlightened then it was before the Civil War.
The same day the Imus announcement was made, news outlets are playing a tape of a call made by the star of cable television's "Dog, the Bounty Hunter," Duane Dog Chapman, to his son, laced with hate talk and the N-word.
The A&E network has suspended production of the popular show.
In the phone call, released by the National Enquirer, Chapman was irked that his son was dating an African American woman and said it could hurt the family, because the family often used the N-word and they didn't want it misconstrued as racist.
Maybe Suleman timed his release perfectly. Nappy-headed ho sounds positively Disney compared to the Dog's rant.
Or maybe Suleman can hire Dog, after he's fired from television, as a cohost with Imus. The duo could help bring listeners who left the medium after KKK wizard David Duke lost his radio show.
There will be plenty of people defending Imus's right to freedom of speech, and I hope, plenty of people using their own freedom to boycott the station and its advertisers, who are again confusing hot talk with hate talk in the name of upping the bottom line.
PS: i'll be on KTVU Channel 2 Friday at 8:15 talking about the Imus decision with Ross McGowan.