Is There a Double Standard?

The Double Standard: Do black-oriented shows face the same scrutiny for racist content as white radio hosts Don Imus and Rush Limbaugh? What did the White Guy say?

Luke Visconti's Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.


Question:

I'm curious to get your opinion on whether the current issues with racist comments from Don Imus and Rush Limbaugh will spill over into minority programs such as ["Chappelle's Show"] or the "Mind of Mencia."

Both of these hosts thrive on racist or bigoted content. Are they allowed to get away with this because they are minorities or are they somewhat protected because they have the support of cable networks with deep pockets? Will they ever be held under the same scrutiny [as] Imus and Rush?

Answer:

I think the kind of "entertainment" that has thrived by titillating the bigot in all of us has reached an end point from a financial basis, specifically where commercials must be sold to support the medium.

"Commercials" are the salient issue. Almost all cable, broadcast, print media and content-based web sites depend on advertising for profitability. This is not the case when you buy a book, movie ticket or music. Your purchase completes the transaction and whatever profit the manufacturer is going to make has been made.

This is brought home in the Imus situation. In my opinion, the real factor in getting Imus fired was that Procter & Gamble, Sprint, American Express and General Motors (all DiversityInc Top 50 Companies) pulled their advertising quickly.

These Top 50 companies already had well-developed bidirectional-communications techniques, which have not only raised the awareness and perception of top management but enabled employees to quickly make their feelings known. These major sponsors knew the right business decision to make because their top management already had superior diversity management as a standard business practice.

Neither NBC (nor GE, their parent company) nor CBS are Top 50 companies. Their flat-footed response spoke of an exposure to potential liabilities.

This was borne out in CBS's case when another of their radio shows TWICE aired a racist skit targeting Chinese Americans not long after Imus made his racist comment. How many times does an advertiser have to be burned by bad decision making before they go away for good?

Interestingly, two presidential candidates, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, came out in support of Imus. We're going to have an article on diversity in presidential campaign staffs in the June issue of DiversityInc magazine. The explanation for that support will be readily apparent.

Consistent and superior management prevents bad decisions from happening. Diversity management is a critical part of the mix in today's business environment because our world has changed: White people are quickly becoming the minority in America; 22 percent of American families have a biracial component, per capita immigration is at an all time high for our country, LGBT rights are a prominent national issue, and global communications and business are driving the global economy.

It bears noting that Imus was offensive over a long period of timeâ€"what you're seeing is the tipping point. It's starting with commercial media because progressive companies have proved to be more successful. For example, the Top 50 expressed as a stock index beats major stock indexes on a long- and short-term basis.

I think the people behind "Chappelle's Show" and "Mind of Mencia" should be aware that evolution is critical to survival. I think it is impossible to financially walk a line on offensive humor in a media that depends on advertising.

Here's a note for the "get over it" and "free speech" crowd who have expressed such concern over the recent Imus and Rush controversies: I don't think you have to worry that the market for racist and/or prurient content will go away. It won't because we humans are tribal animals and not perfect. However, I feel this market will be increasingly marginalized because sponsors won't put up with it. It's not good business.

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