Some days, you pick up the newspaper, and wonder whether media executives read the same news that we do. I'm talking about last week's report from The New York Times that Don Imus may be slated for a return to radio. Yes, the same Don Imus who capped a career peppered with sexist and racist rhetoric with his ever-so-memorable comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team. At least, I felt that his comments were unforgettable, until I read that Citadel Broadcasting Corporation, owner of ABC Radio Networks, was in negotiations with Imus about a possible return to radio.
The phone calls and emails came fast and furious. Women we worked with earlier this spring to address this situation where appalled that, just weeks after the U.S. House of Representatives hosted a hearing titled "From Imus to Industry: The Business of Stereotypes and Degrading Images," Citadel and ABC would be considering providing a new platform to Imus.
The Women"s Media Center was an early and vocal critic of Imus's racist and sexist comments regarding the Rutgers women. When CBS Radio and MSNBC refused to do the right thing themselves, we worked together with the Women's Coalition for Dignity and Diversity in Media to educate advertisers on this issue. The language of dollars proved once again to be universal, as CBS and MSNBC responded to lost revenue by canceling his show and contract.
It was an important moment for the media; an opportunity to examine and address the root problem of the lack of women and diversity on the airwaves. Unfortunately, it proved to be an opportunity squandered. Imus was replaced by more white men (Joe Scarborough and Boomer Esiason), while the radio industry did nothing to address the severe imbalance of women and men who work in this medium.
The numbers are telling. In 2007 it is still, shockingly, a man's medium: at least 85 percent of radio managers and programmers are white men, as are the voices we hear over our publicly owned airwaves. Women and minorities own somewhere in the 3 percent range of radio stations (Source: Mentoring & Inspiring Women in Radio). In a medium that seems to care little about its women listeners, it is no wonder that hosts find themselves crossing the line into sexism, or, in the Imus case, sexism and racism.
But it's not just radio. We see the same problem in television, where all seven of the Sunday morning shows that determine what is news are hosted by men. The same can be said for the late night shows that give us clever interpretations of that news. Across the board, women hold just 3 percent of clout positions in mainstream media, according to studies from the Annenberg Public Policy Center.
Citadel"s response, that Imus has already paid his dues for this lack of judgment, is a red herring. After canceling his contract, CBS reportedly agreed to a settlement that paid Imus $20 million to avoid a breach of contract suit. This new deal - the details of which are not public - will undoubtedly be highly lucrative for Imus.
Speaking for the Women's Media Center and our partners at the Women's Coalition for Dignity and Diversity in Media, I urge anyone thinking of advertising on Imus's show to carefully consider his comments regarding women and minorities, and to do their homework before funding this kind of inflammatory speech.
Turning to the executives who are considering bringing Imus back: please, think carefully. You have the opportunity once again to do the right thing, to take a step toward true equality and diversity by instead investing in one of the many talented, progressive, women of color whose local radio shows would provide a fantastic counterpoint to the all-to-common conservative white men who today dominate the airwaves.
This problem has gone on long enough. It is far past time for women -- and fair men -- to agree to include the "invisible majority" of women in media.