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Marvin Kitman Headshot

The Rising of Imus in the Morning

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The return of Don Imus to the air could be most widely anticipated return since Gen. MacArthur came back to the Philippines in World War II.

By the end of this week, the negotiations between CBS and Don Imus' people will be over. The two parties have been arm wrestling over settlement terms on the huge unpaid proportion of his salary after being fired in April, barely three months into his five year $40 million dollar contract with CBS Radio.

Then there will be the excitement over where the disgraced morning show host will be landing.

While waiting for the I-Man's return from Coventry, or wherever he's been hiding out, I have a few observations about the media crime of the century.

Did the punishment fit the crime? In this day and age, no racist and sexist comment goes unpunished. But Leslie Moonves and Sumner Redstone, the media barons who rule the Viacom-CBS evil empire won the White Hypocrites of the Week award for the way they threw Imus out of the house and left him as road kill for the hypocritical vultures.

The CBS entertainment conglomerate tolerates far worse racist and sexist material on its BET network, and its record companies that have grown fat on rap music. Didn't one of their platinum records even win a Grammy for singing the virtues of pimping? If Imus had to go, shouldn't he have been preceded by its hip hop record business executives who make possible the pollution of the public's airwaves? Sure, its hard out there for a pimp -- I mean, pimping, raping, drugging, gang-banging , murdering, killing, beating, stealing from women, and whatever else they do in the way of entertainment.

Imus died for all our sins. For years, sponsors were well-fed and the networks swallowed millions in cheap profits, squeezing the juice out of Imus' tired radio format. While Imus and crew were encouraged to stockpile ever-cruder jokes about Jews, Catholics and blacks, the listeners lapped it up. The future looked great for hate talk, ho talk and hows-yo-mamma-Obama talk.

Imus was a garden-variety racist compared to a Michael Savage. His show wasn't going to create pogroms or race riots in the inner cities. He talked to his kind of people, sucking up his every word as hip and cool, the straight Wall Street brokers, the money set, the hi-rise movers and shakers in need of racial or religious or political pick 'em ups in the early morning.

I wasn't one of them. Imus wasn't my favorite guy in the morning. I found him to be petty and nasty. Watching him talking with his guys he always seemed to be trying to act like he was on coke or whatever substance he may still be abusing, such as power. I didn't enjoy his wanting to be the go-to guy for the star fuckers who had his ear.

Nevertheless, I still think CBS was stupid in the way they dealt with the crisis caused by Imus' "nappy headed ho's"

Imus set the record for apologizing for stupid remarks on the public's airwaves. Wherever I turned in the week of April 4-11, there was Imus apologizing, live, or in taped excerpts on the news. The first two of the four parts of the mini-series of mea culpas that I caught seemed insincere, one at 6 a.m., the other wearing sunglasses. By the 13-minute, full blown, third apology that day, I could tell he finally realized he was in trouble.

Al "Tawana Brawley" Sharpton and Jesse "Hymietown" Jackson said they were appalled by his remarks. So was I. But his right to do or say something stupid was infringed. There are a lot of stupid people in broadcasting. If we fired all the openly stupid, not to mention the closet racists and bigots, there would be a lot of dead air. Furthermore, we wouldn't have today's Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

Imus was doing what he always did, walking the tight wire in tastelessness and irreverence. He fell off the wire in his commentary on the Rutgers women's basketball team.

The two Mister Cleans, Moonves and Redstone, and their massed corporate flack corps panicked. They couldn't stand the heat in the kitchen and threw out Imus with the garbage.

But that was no excuse.

And now they are going to pay for their mistake.

Representing Imus in the negotiations is Martin Garbus, the legendary First Amendment lawyer whose roster of clients included Lenny Bruce, the rap group Public Enemy and filmmaker Spike Lee. If I know my Marty Garbus it's going to cost CBS a pretty million to clear up the mess created in the panic.

But, heck, what's $40 million to them in today's entertainment biz. It's walking around money, except if you're Sumner Redstone or his daughter.

What I would have done, if I was Moonves or Redstone, is suspended Imus, sentence him to a couple of weeks of house arrest on his ranch in New Mexico where he could have called his cattle disgusting names, make him do PSA's advocating a return to civility in public discourse, gone from American society, as reflected in CBS-Viacom's programs, records, radio and films.

Or if I really wanted to get tough, required him to spend time at his old radio show in Cleveland. But that might have violated the cruel and unusual punishment provision in the Constitution.

Meanwhile, I would have called for a period of cooling down the passions. I would have forced everybody involved -- especially the scalp-demanders -- to attend a screening of Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks' 1974 historical and hysterical commentary on the state of race relations during the building of the transcontinental railroad in the post-Civil War period.

The worse thing about what CBS did to Imus is what it did to Imus.

I worry about what Imus will be like when he returns to the air.

Will he be the same Imus that everybody loved or hated?

No, Imus is going to be more careful. He will be watching his words and thoughts. It's not going to be the same "Imus & Andy Show."

He has been wounded in the shootout over his Rutgers remarks. Whatever he says in the press conferences on his return, he knows he has been hit. He's not going to have the same kind of freedom in his own mind that made him so, well, Imus. He's older now, perhaps even wiser. There will be degradation in his talent, such as it is. He won't be the same.

Once you've plunged through the ice, if I can mix metaphors here, you think about the consequences of skating too close to the edge. He is not as invulnerable as he had been before.

You don't take a bullet like Imus did without an impact.

And where will Imus be landing on his return from Coventry? Everybody is expecting him to wind up on the planet of Sirius satellite radio, the home of the brave and free and Howard Stern. A kind of Radio Free Washington, a pirate radio station free of federal (FCC) regulation, satellite radio has been a refuge for Stern and other freedom fighters.

I will go out on a limb here, however, and predict that he will be rediscovered by MSNBC, his home on cable for his simulcasts before he was so rudely interrupted by technical difficulties of being fired. I look forward to hearing MSNBC proudly awarding themselves the John Peter Zenger medal for supporting a free press and free expression by bringing back the all-new, improved, better tasting "Imus in the Morning," giving the I-Man another shot at becoming the voice of disgruntled America.