Friday, April 13, 2007

Imus and Free Speech

Yesterday and today, the big story on talk radio has been the backlash against Imus' firing, including hate mail being sent to the VICTIMS of his "joke". Radio is abuzz with angry, pro-Imus callers, asking: Is "political correctness" killing freedom in America? Why is there a double-standard, in which there are words which are “verboten” only for white people? Where's Imus' right to free speech?

There IS no “free speech” issue in the Imus story. Imus isn’t arrested. His property isn’t seized. Despite many complaints, the new “tougher” FCC, which arose as a result of the Janet Jackson dust-up, didn’t even level any fines. The State is not suppressing anything.

Imus was dismissed by GE and Viacom, giant, sprawling corporations that viewed supporting him to be a liability for their shareholders and their other employees. It’s ironic to me that many of the same people who most fervently praise the free market and supply-side economics are the first to call “foul”, when this decision is so obviously the product of supply-side economics.

Imus made a ton of money, bringing in millions of dollars for CBS Radio, while costing them only his salary, staff and studio. He spoke to affluent white men, a desirable market for advertisers. If CBS Radio was a SOLITARY company, a “radio only” company, chances are, Imus would not have been fired. “Blacks are offended? Who cares! They don’t listen, anyway!” Imus could go on a rant about political correctness run amuck, and emerge a hero to his key “demo” of affluent white men.

But, in the wake of media de-regulation and consolidation, radio is not Viacom’s only business. And CNBC is a troublesome speck on the blotter of the giant GE. Do you think GE wants to lose market share in lightbulbs and appliances over Don Imus? What do you think the money he generates – enough to keep a decent-sized company in the black – means to GE, who makes – in profit -- around 1.5 billion a QUARTER? It’s NOTHING.

Imus is an employee, on a contract. I have the freedom of speech (which I’m exercising right now) – but I’m not doing it on company time or with a company computer. Workplaces can limit all kinds of “liberties”. It’s apples and oranges.

Two giant corporations with massive media holdings, Viacom and GE, decided that racism and sexism are bad for business – whether that is measured in loss of ad revenue, fear of a worsening P.R. disaster or merely in terms of internal strife, racism and sexism was viewed as a LIABILITY.

All of the corporations that decided to pull ads from Imus’ show decided that racism and sexism were a liability.

And that’s the story. Racism and sexism, at least in this case, were rejected as being bad for the bottom line. That’s how America changes: when values are reflected in the marketplace. When Bill Cosby proves that white people will watch a show about a black family, the market responds. When Eddie Murphy proves that a blockbuster can star an African-American comedian, the market responds. When Shania Twain proves that a woman can outsell established, male country music artists, tons of women flood the market.

Imus’ dismissal is not the erosion of free speech, but proof of a growing sensitivity to diverse “markets” – groups of people, black, brown, female, non-racist whites – on the part of Fortune 500 companies. That’s something to be celebrated.

If you agree with me, thank these companies for not supporting sexism and racism:

General Motors

Sprint Nextel

Bigelow Tea


Proctor & Gamble

PetMed Express


American Express (Ron Stovall/SVP Investor Relations)


A Voice said...

VERY true. If I were to make a racial slur about a customer at work, I would lose my job too! That doesn't mean that my freedom of speech has been violated!

Anonymous said...

Dear Parent’s


The Committee for the Celebration of the Ethiopian Millennium (CCEM), invites you to come to Washington D.C. to participate in welcoming the Year 2000 of the Ethiopian calendar. A new millennium!

In a few months, Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans will celebrate the dawning of a new millennium. It is equally exciting and humbling to find oneself at this juncture of Ethiopian history. It is exciting because we are part of the unique Ethiopian/human civilization since the time of Lucy/Dinqnesh and are coming up to close another millennium. It is also exciting to know that we are the only nation on earth with our own unique calendar and will have another millennium that is intimately ours. Yet again the coming of the third millennium is humbling. It is humbling because although so much has been accomplished in the millennium to pass, Ethiopians face daunting challenges from the onset in the Third Millennium.

Thus, recognizing that the coming New Year is distinct and needs to be accepted with confidence, a committee is organized to celebrate the Year 2000 E.C. The Committee for the Celebration of the Ethiopian Millennium (CCEM) is a registered non-profit organization and comprised of active community members across the United States. The place will be in Washington D.C. from Saturday September 8 – Wednesday September 12, 2007.

At the moment, the CCEM is putting together the necessary thoughts and organizational frameworks to arrange a five-days long festivity and other important social, historical and cultural reflections of the past, present and future ideals of the Ethiopian Millennium. The CCEM expects 50,000 Ethiopians to participate in the five-days event.

As an adaptive parent(s) of an Ethiopian child(ren), CCEM thought that participating in this once-in-a-thousand-year event with your child(ren) will be historical for your entire family. In addition, if you have the desire and capacity to be part of the millennium celebration effort, you can support CCEM with financial donation or solicitation of sponsors. CCEM has a PayPal system in its website or you can mail your check or money order to:
Ethiopian Millennium
1115 U Street N.W
Washington DC, 20009

For more information visit us at or e-mail us at


Nick & Holly said...

I appreciate this posting.
I did find it interesting, though, that the companies took nearly 2 weeks to actually fire him, while garnering a ton of free publicity in the meantime (and we all know there is no such thing as bad publicity). If they had really felt strongly about the racisim/sexism charges, they would have fired him immediately. I feel that they just held out to see what the market reaction would be before taking a stance. Once that was obvious, their actions were obvious.
I wonder how long before Imus shows up on satellite radio, a la Howard Stern? Unfortunately, I think there are people out there who would actually pay to hear this man speak...
-Holly (New Jersey resident and Ethiopian Mom)