WHY IMUS GOT FIRED
THE PERFECT STORM
"So, what do you think of the whole Imus thing?"
I'm surprised at the number of people who've asked me that question, I guess believing I have some sort of insight because I work in "the industry." I'll offer a few perspectives.
Let's not rehash what he said. Can we all agree it was bad and he shouldn't have said it?
Let's move on to why dude got fired for it. It was a perfect storm. A lot of conditions combined to create the inevitable demise of Don Imus. Not necessarily in this order, they are money, hubris, and lack of anything else going on.
Let's start with the last point. If the horrifying tragedy at Virginia Tech had happened a week ago, Don Imus would still have his job. If the Northeast had been flooded a week ago, Don Imus would still have his job. In part, the Imus story was such a big story because it was the only story for a week.
The national morning shows in particular fixated on the controversy. The more it was discussed, the greater attention people paid to the reaction of Imus' employers. In these cases the heat only subsides when the media is distracted by something else. There was nothing else.
That brings us to the other point, hubris. Local media critic Tim Cuprisin hit on this immediately, pointing out that despite the "suspension" that was handed down as punishment to Imus, he remained on the air immediately after the offending moment. Imus, and the people who employed him believed he could keep talking about the incident.
The more he talked, the larger the hole into which he dug himself. Every time he said something new about the incident, the media had a new peg to advance the story. His critics had another opportunity to respond. Imus kept the story alive. The textbook damage control move is to stop the bleeding immediately. Shut it down. Say you're sorry, then go away for a while.
The final nail in the coffin, so to speak, was the act of multiple advertisers pulling out. This, perhaps more than anything, is what it came down to. A company can find ways to excuse bad behavior if it believes the person in question will still bring in the cash. When advertisers began pulling out, Imus ability to make money for his employers became suspect. The moment that ability began to escape Imus, it was no longer worth the baggage to NBC or CBS to keep him hanging on.
The national discussion turned to this in the aftermath. How come an old white dude makes racist comments and gets fired, but African American hip hop artists and others are honored with awards and hired to promote products? I'll address the phenomenon in my next entry. Is it a double standard? Perhaps to some degree, but there's an important distinction in this case that I'll offer next time around.