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Case Study: Don Imus

Radio personality Don Imus launched the program Imus in the Morning on WABC in New York in 1979, a show that was to endure 28 years on the air. For the last dozen years of the show, Imus's program was syndicated to 60 stations across the country via CBS's Westwood One network and was simulcast on cable television network MSNBC. From the beginning, Imus was known for satire, parodies, and off-color humor. Initially known as a "shock jock," Imus shifted attention to politics and commentary as the program matured. Guests on the show in its later years regularly included senators, congressional representatives, and other well-known politicians.

During the past decade, Imus was the center of a number of controversies stemming from on-air remarks. In 1998, Imus referred to Washington Post writer Howard Kurtz as "that boner- nosed ... beanie-wearing little Jew boy." In 2004, he referred to publisher Simon & Schuster as "thieving Jews," later calling the remark redundant. In 2006, Imus referred to the Jewish management at CBS as "money-grubbing bastards."

His remarks on April 4, 2007, reached a new low. On that day, substitute sportscaster Sid Rosenberg reported on the University of Tennessee's women's national championship victory over Rutgers University. While MSNBC aired highlights of the game, Imus said, "They're some rough girls from Rutgers ... they got tattoos .. [they're some] nappy-headed hos ... " Within 24 hours, several notables called for Imus' resignation. MSNBC and CBS were facing a serious publicity crisis.

Although there was little if any defense for Imus's comments, listeners-and Americans in general-were divided on whether or not the show should be eliminated. Some argued that his comments were overtly racist and should not be a part of any radio show. Others, however, argued that listeners should be the final arbiters of Imus' fate, fearing a chilling effect of free speech if Imus were not allowed to continue his show. Imus issued multiple apologies, appeared on civil rights leader Al Sharpton's radio show, and met with the Rutgers women's basketball coach and team to apologize as well.

CBS initially suspended Imus from its radio program for 2 weeks. MSNBC followed shortly thereafter by canceling its television simulcast of the program after firms began to pull their advertising from the show and consumers threatened boycotts of other firms and the networks. Several days later, CBS fired Imus from the radio show, marking an end to the crisis. In the end, pressure on the show's advertisers-not the moral argument- seemed to place the networks in a difficult situation. CBS suffered financially as a result of the crisis, with net income falling 5.9, partially due to Westwood One's problems with Imus.

One can debate CBS's reluctance to respond when Imus made offensive remarks on numerous occasions preceding his comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team. In the end, however, Imus was removed and CBS was faced with the task of recovering from the crisis.

1. In a narrative format, summarize the key facts and issues of the case.
2. Update the information in the case by researching it on the Internet. Focus your response on the specific issues in the case.
3. Given the history of controversial remarks by Mr. Imus, should management have been prepared for a potential crisis? Why or why not?
4. Within many industries, such as radio, television, and other entertainment venues, there is always potential for an on-air broadcaster to make an offensive comment, whether intentionally or unintentionally. How can the strategic planning process help these organizations plan and prepare for these potential on-air crises?
5. Assume the role of an executive of CBS's Westwood One network. It is now six months after the crisis and several advertisers have communicated that they would be interested in sponsoring a revised Imus show (with a 10-second delay to allow any offensive remarks to be deleted). Would you bring Imus back?
6. You are the director of programming for a satellite radio network. You have just received a proposal for an Imus show on your subscription network. Marketing research shows Imus's apologies have softened opinions and some, not all, of the anti-Imus sentiment has abated. Would you pick up the show?

Barnes, B. (2007, April 10). Imus suspended over race slurs. Wall Street Journal, p. A16.
Barnes, B., & Ovide, S. (2007, May 4). CBS's radio woes drag down profits. Wall Street Journal, p. C6.
Bauder, D. (2007, April 10). Racial slur gets Imus 2-week suspension. Washington Post. com. Retrieved December 2, 2008, from
CBS statement on Imus firing. (2007, April 12). Wall Street Journal Online.
McBride, S., & Steinberg, B. (2007, April 16). Finding a replacement for Imus won't be easy. Wall Street Journal, p. B1.
Steinberg, B., Barnes, B., & Steel, E. (2007, April 12). Facing ad defection, NBC takes Don Imus Show off TV.
Wall Street Journal, p. B1.
Steinberg, B., & McBride, S. (2007, APrilll)._~~G, _~~:e~~ :U~I~US ads. Wall Street J~U~n:l, .:' B~.

Solution Preview

1. Don Imus started the radio program Imus in the Morning on WABC in New York in 1979. The program was so popular that it continued for 28 years. During the last twelve years, the program was syndicated to 60 stations across US through CBS's Westwood One network and was also simulcast on cable TV network MSNBC. When the show started Imus used parodies, satire, and off-color jokes to hold audience attention. Later, the focus of the program shifted to politics. Famous politicians, senators, and congressional representatives were featured on the show. Imus was embroiled in a number of controversies. He offended President Clinton with remarks during a Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner speech. During the last ten year of the show Imus controversies increased. In 1998, Imus abused the Washington Post writer Howard Kurz "beanie-wearing little Jew boy". He called the publisher Simon & Schuster as "thieving Jews" in 2004. Again during 2004 Imus referred to Democracy Plaza at Rockefeller Center as "Hypocrisy Plaza". In 2006, Imus called the Jewish management at CBS as "money-grubbing bastards". Finally on 4th April 2007 at 6.14 a.m. Imus remarked that "They're some tough girls from Rutgers. They got tattoos". Imus also added "happy-headed hos" and compared the match to "the jigaboos versus the wannabes". These comments of Imus were found unpardonable. There was a strong demand that the show should be closed down. These comments were racist. Even though Imus apologized several times and even though he said sorry on Al Sharpton's radio show, there was strong resentment against him. He was suspended, the television simulcast was cancelled and when advertisers withdrew from CBS, Imus was fired (1). The main issues were that Imus had a tendency to make remarks that offended and insulted people. Such incidents continued till the advertisers pressurized CBS to fire Imus. Did the offensive remarks draw audience to the show? How could the public relations disaster for CBS have been avoided?

2. After Imus was fired there was a tussle to settle the contract between CBS and Imus. The lawyer for Imus claimed that Imus was not responsible for the airing of the offensive program because it could have been edited. He threatened to sue CBS for $120 million in damages and unearned salaries. There were negotiations between WFAN and Imus. However, Imus decided not to return to WFAN. There was a settlement between Imus and CBS in August 2007. On the 1st November 2007, WBAC, the New York based talk-radio station announce his return (2). Imus was back to morning radio. The show commenced on 3rd December. There was a deal of $40 million for a 5-year deal. Those who were with Imus at CBS notably producer Bernard McGuirk, engineer Lou Rufino, and Charles McCord, joined the new show with him. Top politicians flocked to his show. These included Senator John McCain, Senator Christopher Dodd, and Democrat James Carville. In March 2008 Imus was used ...

Solution Summary

Airing of offensive remarks is examined in this response. The answer includes eight references.