April 12, 2007

Liberals Say Imus Proves the Need for Stricter Regulation of Broadcast Speech Content

Carroll Andrew Morse

In case you’re wondering where the Imus debacle is leading to, Sheldon Drobny of the Huffington Post gives us a hint…

Imus is another example of the degradation of talk radio that has been going on since Rush Limbaugh started this in 1980. Rush was another failed DJ that got lucky in 1980 when talk radio and the AM signal were in deep trouble. So they experimented with a show that had no boundaries as to the kind of racism and hate mongering that could be disseminated in talk radio.

This was followed by the other right wing haters with a mix of the "shock jocks" like Howard Stern and Imus. The fairness doctrine was killed by the Reagan Administration, which was followed by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 signed by President Clinton. That is the short history of why hate and racist talk radio is the rule rather than the exception.
You see, we need stronger government mandates on the content of talk radio (which Reverend Al Sharpton openly called for on the Today show this morning) so that the government is in a better position to clamp down on improper speech before it occurs.

Expect proponents of the fairness doctrine to try to use the Imus debacle to advance their agenda of getting the government to limit the broadcast expression of certain viewpoints, i.e. if people don't want to tune in to Air America or Dave Barber on their own, then government should subsidize them, at the expense of other broadcasters, until people do.

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Imus's downfall, brought on by his public shaming and his rejection by the market (for he has been fired not because MSNBC and CBS are principled but because they stood to lose money), proves the lack of a need for stricter regulation, no?

Posted by: Jon at April 12, 2007 8:05 PM

I think I can count the number of times that I've listened to Imus on one hand. If I recall correctly, the last time I heard his show, Buddy Cianci was a guest on his program.

The whole episode is regretable on a number of different levels. However, I think the free market worked just as intended. If the benefit to the network outweighed the potential cost, the network would have weathered through this and kept him. Since they apparently thought he'd be more of a liability to them, they threw him under the bus. Let there be no mistake about it, radio shows (ones that are not broadcast on NPR) exist solely to make money through advertising and promotions. Any enjoyment which you receive from listening to the show is merely a secondary consideration to the revenue that the show generates for its owners and sponsors.

The only thing that "surprised" me about it was the speed at which they capitulated. I heard something today that the CBS president said something to the effect that "this isn't about money, it's a moral issue" and it caused a case of uncontrollable laughter on my part. Imus has been on the radio for decades doing virutally the same thing, but he was never called out for it until now. Why?

I don't know if you heard the whole clip of the conversation (heard it on Yorke), but a little something in it struck me. As Imus was conversing, he said they (the Rutgers BB players) "are some hardcore ho's, some nappy haired ho's". I'm curious, had he stopped at "hardcore ho's", without continuing his remarks, would there have been as much manufactured outrage over this incident? So much of this episode seems very, very fake to me.

Anyway, it's a little hard for me to feel too bad for Imus. Gee, now an elderly man can spend more time with his family and devote more time to his charity work at the ranch for sick kids. Poor guy. He should be thankful to the network for forcing an early "retirement" on him, though I doubt he'll be "out of work" very long. The only one who is really going to be hurt by this is CBS and its affiliates.

PS I've never been an Imus fan, so I'm not exactly taking his depature very hard. He's pretty liberal; among other things, he supported John Kerry for President and has been vocal against the war in Iraq. Speaking of affiliates, 920 WHJJ is now going to have some air time in need of filling. I wonder if they might be considering someone more Laf... local to fill the newly vacated time slot (I'll let your imaginations run wild). I think it's an opportunity for them. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Posted by: Will at April 13, 2007 1:24 AM

I find myself pretty torn by Imus' fate. On one hand, it's great to see him (and the overaged frat boy ethos of the show he allowed himself to get caught up in - his producer actually dropped the "H" word before he did) held accountable and expressing regret for his actions. On the other, anything that gives credibility to that pomade-doused charlatan Sharpton isn't entirely good.
In listening to and reading the coverage over the past 24 hours, I find myself in agreement with Washington Post columnist (and frequent Imus guest) Thomas Oliphant, who has suggested a "white backlash" is forming. The presence of Sharpton and Jesse Jackson doesn't help - Rutgers coach C. Vivian String was a much more eloquent and effective advocate for the injured parties than those two camera hos (I frequently use the word "ho" to describe politicians and lobbyists, regardless of race, and don't plan to stop). I just fear this week we have let loose a force that could have a chilling effect on free speech in this country.
As for the argument about rappers: 50 Cent is a thug, but he doesn't have a daily broadcast program in which he features prominent politicians, journalsists and presidential hopefuls, either.
P.S. Will, I would not classify Imus as a liberal - he's hard to pigeonhole (a strong supporter of candidates as diverse as Harold Ford and Kinky Friedman). Joe Lieberman and Rick Santorum are even more his "peeps" than Kerry, he has a pathological hatred of the Clintons, and he was as rah-rah about the Iraq War when it first broke out as anyone in the media.

Posted by: Rhody at April 13, 2007 11:48 AM

Contrary to Will's assertion that the free market system was applied in this case, I believe that it played no part in the decision.(Sorry Will, we usually agree...) The speed with which the decision was made points to something else.

I know that my opinion will draw ire from the PC among us and I want it known that I worked with gang bangers for years. The term used by Imus was used by our population frequently and I find it equally disturbing whether used in the street, on a rap album or by a seventy year old white guy on the radio.

Never-the-less, my letter to MSNBC:


Add me to the list of former viewers. Your handling of the recent Imus controversy has shown me that your execs are more content reacting to the news than they are in reporting it.

I find it abhorrent that a news agency would cave to pressure from interest groups and the clown like punditry of Al Sharpton, who has engaged in activities far more egregious than Don Imus ever would. While I find Imus' comment disturbing when taken out of the context of his radio show, juxtaposed against some of his previous comments, it is merely part of his radio persona.

Do I find it humorous that an older white man would mimic the ghetto slang of the Rutgers team members' contemporaries? No. Nor do I find it humorous that ghetto slang has become part of our national culture. My reaction to you is not about that, however.

I am more than dismayed that we have reached a point where your news agency has caved to pressure rather than to an eventual decision by the free market. Had you let it play out, you may have found that listeners and sponsors alike defected in droves. I am certain that would not have been the case, as the telethon results have been proving.

I am more dismayed that your organization has turned around, after caving to interest group pressure, and reported the story front and center. You are now part of the news and are no longer fit to shape the story. It appears to be a last ditch effort to garner some revenue off of what was surely a terrible financial decision if I am correct in my above assumption about free market forces.

Your executives may have believed that standing up for the interest groups in the name of political correctness was a brave thing to do when, in fact, true bravery would have been displayed by supporting free speech and free markets.

When it comes to future viewership count me out.


Jonathan Scott

Posted by: Jon Scott at April 13, 2007 12:01 PM

Wait--isn't it the right side of the political spectrum that bewails the "trash" and "filth" amd "liberal" values foisted upon them by those horrible Hollywood movie-types?

Didn't conservative commentator D'Nesh D'Souza just publish a book claiming that the immoral values of Hollywood & TV directly cause the attacks of 9/11?

Did I just wander on to the wrong website?

Guess it's a matter of whose ox is being gored, isn't it? Or, are we saying that racist speech should be protected, that Rush should be able to call Hillary a murderer, that what's-his-name should be able to say that all gays should get AIDS and die, that Ann Coulter should be able to call for the assasination of a sitting US Senator, but the Als (Sharpton & Francken) somehow poison the discourse?


Posted by: klaus at April 14, 2007 1:30 PM

I agree with you, klaus. Nicely said.

Now, when will Lush Limpbough be held accountable?

His undies are all knotted up because Media Matters has countered some of his crap. That's especially interesting, since Media Matters was started by someone who used to be a right-wing shill, and used to fax Lush "talking points" back in the Anita Hill days. Lush can't stand that a former crony is calling him out.

There's a morning radio jock in my market who long ago was Lush's program director, when Lush was starting out. He tells the story how every day, Lush would call to ask him "How are my ratings? What are my numbers? Do I still have a job"?

Then, and now, Lush was and is an insecure whiny slob, who was lucky enough to find his niche. He's a zillionaire now, but still a whiny slob.

Posted by: Drettmann at April 19, 2007 10:18 PM
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