Imus -- Lessons Learned

Now that CBS has pulled the trigger and fired Don Imus, the story can fade out of the headlines and Anna Nicole Smith can return to its proper place in America's new flow.

It's over.

Now, the lessons:

First, about media companies and the "right thing":

Don't underestimate the power of spineless media and advertising executives who got caught in the controversy they helped to create. They're on your side one day and against you the next. I would have been more impressed if MSNBC was so outraged by Imus' remarks that they fired him on the spot. Same for CBS. Not days later when the heat was being turned up. Then perhaps they'd have some credibility when they talk about their own integrity and doing the right thing.

Lesson: The sooner you do the right thing, it's the right thing to do.

A lesson about apologizing:

When you make a mistake, admit it quickly and emphatically as Dale Carnegie used to say. Imus was slow in apologizing and equivocal in wiggling out of trouble (introducing the double standard with hip-hop artists).

No one apologized soon enough.

The apology should have happened within seconds of being utter by Imus on the air. If he had done so, NBC and CBS might have been able to stand by their man longer.

About special interest groups:

Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have always been forces to reckon with, but now they are superstar status. They got Imus fired and did it with surgical precision. Sharpton even got Imus to submit to his "courtroom" on his terms and frame the debate on the Sharpton radio show.

They were on the right side in the Imus case.

They were on the wrong side in the Duke rape case.

Lesson: even activist leaders can be wrong.

About freedom of speech:

One of my readers asked if the same thing would have happened if Imus was on satellite radio. I believe it would have assuming the satellite channel had enough listeners to be outraged. All it takes is one, but a million and a half is more damaging. Terrestrial radio has gotten itself in a pickle. Between the FCC, mismanagement by the media companies and an increase in power of activist groups, talk radio will be changing.

To quote Al Sharpton: "It is our feeling that this is only the beginning. We must have a broad discussion on what is permitted and not permitted in terms of the airwaves."

You asked for it!

Lesson: don't think for one minute that every radio talker is now intimidated and will watch what he or she says on the air. This is good if it prevents a repeat of the Rutgers slurs and bad if it inhibits free and diverse expression of thought.

About the next generation and Imus:

They could care less.

Imus, Stern and the others are great examples of what the next generation doesn't want to listen to on the radio. Most of my students think Imus was both right and wrong. Wrong in attacking the Rutgers women's basketball team and right that he was being held to a double standard. And they're damn glad they own iPods so they don't have to listen to attack radio.

About comebacks:

The entertainment business loves comebacks. Imus has had at least one after he left New York and returned to his Cleveland roots.

Imus is done, finished, through.

For now.

He'll be back.

Hey, Joel Hollander is out of work the same time Imus is. They go way back. Who knows, an Imus return by a syndication company other than Westwood One could make a lot of affiliates happy. But it's a long road back to the success Imus just squandered. He's going to pay for this with his career and reputation. He won't want it to end like this. The new Don Imus is only a few promos away -- in time.

Lesson: careers like life are like roller coasters. It's all about how you ride the ups and downs.

The future of radio:

I've been asked by reporters how does the Imus debacle affect the future of radio.

Well, it doesn't.

It affects CBS because it lost Howard Stern's morning advertising and hasn't fully replaced it even to this day -- now $15-20 million lost on WFAN. But think on the bright side: it gives CBS CEO Les Moonves something else to tell analysts about if he reports another bad quarter. MSNBC was seeing higher ratings for Imus In The Morning but it is not hurt financially.

The old listeners will be irked when they can't hear Imus, but that's it.

The advertisers -- well, they're here today and gone to someone else's show tomorrow.

What a mess.

What an embarrassment.

How unnecessary.

The next generation of listeners that doesn't really like attack radio shows is not being served by terrestrial radio. Imus doesn't matter to them. They're waiting for universal WiFi and constant Internet connectivity. WiFi capability is coming to some autos next year.

Activists are basking in their glory -- a swift, decisive victory for them,

NBC and CBS are spinning out of control for the PR high ground.

Consolidators are back to business as usual -- create controversy and help us sell advertising until you go too far and then we bail out.

The next generation continues to tune radio out as radio has tuned them out.

What we have here is a failure to communicate and we're all in the communication business.

How tragic, indeed.

To get the bad taste out of your mouth, read this article written by TV talk show host Dick Cavett -- Imus In The Hornet's Nest.

And Time -- The Imus Fallout -- Who Can Say What?