The Imus Fallout and Lessons for Black America

05/25/2011 12:05 pm ET
  • Michael Fauntroy Professor, Author, Columnist, and Commentator at

The announcement that MSNBC is discontinuing its simulcast of Don Imus' morning talk show was predictable. So, too, has been the fallout. Cable news and radio talk shows are providing blanket coverage - much of which, by the way, does not include Black women - trying to decipher the meaning of his words and the impact on Imus' career. Blacks are in a tizzy, many of whom believe that Imus crossed one of the lines that White men cannot cross and want him fired. Some Whites are understanding while others are wondering what all the fuss is about and why Blacks are so sensitive. Be that as it may, the Imus fallout will be far-ranging and provides the country an opportunity to speak frankly about the responsibility of those who have such significant access to the public airwaves.

One area of fallout that has to be explored is the detoxification of the public airwaves and Black America's role in that effort. This is where we arrive at a "mirror moment" for Black America to come to grips with its own culpability in this regard. For far too long, prominent African Americans have played lip service to challenging Black "artists" who sellout Black people for money, offering "art" that only serves to enrich themselves while degrading, debasing, and disrespecting women. There is little sadder than hearing young Black boys and men refer to Black women as bitches and ho's, emulating their entertainment heroes. Apologists such as Russell Simmons have defended the efforts of these traitors on entrepreneurial grounds suggesting that society is better because these sellouts have done something other than crime to get by. Meanwhile, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and others have been timid in their efforts to turn up the heat on these "artists" in the same way they went after Imus. They and other prominent African Americans can only have credibility on this issue if they are as aggressive with Black "artists" who are far worse than Imus.

MSNBC's decision to cancel its simulcast is not a big deal. It doesn't produce the show and won't lose much by moving on from Imus. While Imus' ratings were rising on the network, MSNBC's recent success has been driven by its early evening and primetime programming. It will likely repeat it's primetime lineup as it develops a morning news show and already have on staff the people who can fill the void.

CBS, with advertisers beginning to jump ship, has a decision to make: Keep Imus after his suspension ends and run the risk of further negative publicity or fire him. Firing Imus will be costly. After losing Howard Stern to satellite Radio, Imus reportedly accounts for about 20% of CBS Radio revenue. Dismissing Imus will have a significant impact on the bottom line. They have to act quickly or run the risk of having the decision taken out of their hands: affiliates around the country are likely to reassess whether Imus is worth the trouble. If enough decide that he isn't, then they may make the decision as to whether Imus is finished, not CBS.

Hopefully, the Imus affair will send a message to talk radio hosts, of all stripes, who traffic in racial stereotypes and racism to win listeners. Rush Limbaugh, Neil Boortz, and Michael Savage, among too many others, are quick to insult African Americans and other minorities for the sake of entertaining their listeners. Imus' history of racial gimmickry undermined his apology and obscured the good charity work he has done. These radio hosts aren't as untouchable as they think and should consider themselves on notice.

Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the recently published book Republicans and the Black Vote.