All About Don Imus

The news about MSNBC dropping Don Imus' simulcast is not surprising. From a purely business standpoint, Imus is no longer worth retaining. Regardless of what audience he may command in the future, sponsors have backed off and a radio/television program without advertising is an expense, not a business proposition.

This story was written and published before CBS cancelled the "Imus in the Morning Show" in the late afternoon on April 12.

The news about MSNBC dropping Don Imus' simulcast is not surprising. From a purely business standpoint, Imus is no longer worth retaining. Regardless of what audience he may command in the future, sponsors have backed off and a radio/television program without advertising is an expense, not a business proposition.

What is astonishing to me is that it took this long for MSNBC to make a decision. I have to believe that this is a "Joe Biden" moment—I can imagine the conference rooms stuffed with white guys who imagine they're "hip" and "colorblind" scratching their heads in confounded amazement over the furor and taking the half measures that seal their fate to having this incident cause more damage than a quick and righteous decision would have made.

Imus clearly hit a nerve. In almost 10 years of publishing, we've never received more e-mails on any other subject—thousands of e-mails, most of them demanding Imus be fired. I think he hit the perfect storm of sensitivity:

·         The final game of women's college basketball, which overall has enjoyed a sharp upswing in popularity

·         The scholar/athlete Rutgers players embodied what most parents hope for in a daughter

·         The Rutgers coach is an especially charismatic woman leader who demands high academic and athletic standards from her team members

·         Rutgers itself has become newsworthy, having its first good college football season since I was an undergraduate (more than 25 years ago)

·         Imus looks bizarre and the Rutgers women look wholesome, making this good fodder for web and television video

·         A slow news week

There are several general lessons our corporate readers can take away from this:

·         Racial incidents will always transcend the race of the victim(s). Why? Twenty-two percent of U.S. families have a biracial component, more than 28 percent of our population is people of color, and almost half of the children in our country under 10 are children of color. "Mainstream" is dead—it's not 1965 anymore. 

·         Your sponsors will leave. The more progressive the company, the quicker they'll drop you, and the more time you take to make a decision, the wider the impact will be out of concern about further incidents due to retro-minded management (note that the DiversityInc Top 50 list contains many of our nation's largest advertisers)

·         What you say is relevant; what other people have said (i.e. rap artists) is not relevant

·         Michael Richards and Imus have comprehensively proved that you do yourself no favors by going to a pundit's show to "apologize"

·         Quick and forthright action can be positive

·         Delayed response and half-measures only serve to infuriate people

It is worthwhile to note the reasoning behind the e-mails we received from people who support Imus.

Rap artists came up often. A double standard (where some people can use certain lingo, but others cannot) is not sustainable. Words like "ho," the N-word and other hate speech should be reprehensible to everyone. People who feel the same way should focus on music companies who profit from the sale of music with garbage lyrics and make efforts to not support any of their products. We'll be producing some articles about this in the future. It is my impression that there is a growing consensus over this subject—across racial communities.

Another common theme was "get over it" and that churlish phrase's cohorts "freedom of speech" and "politically correct." If you have these sentiments, you may want to take a more pragmatic approach because they are not going to lead to understanding the market/community/world you're in and will lead to bad decisions. Even if you can't wrap your arms around the ethical argument, consider it from a purely business standpoint. In this case, sponsors "got over it" by going away. Yes, you have "freedom of speech," but the first amendment provides no protection against repercussions. "Politically correct" is the last gasp of people who don't understand that our society has moved past the time when the majority could trample on the rights and feelings of other people without substantial backlash.

One more thing about sponsors leaving: The progressive companies in the DiversityInc Top 50 average 45 percent people of color (POC) in their new hires compared with 28 percent POC in the work force. Twenty-four percent of their management is POC versus 12 percent nationwide. Racial incidents are no longer a side issue for companies like this. What these companies do and how they're perceived affect everything, including employee morale and retention. It's really hard to be proud of a company that exhibits no moral fiber, and in our "YouTube" society, you have a "New York minute" to make the right choice.

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