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Imus Supporter Weighs In

Bill O'Shaughnessy, chairman of Whitney Radio (WVOX and WVIP), is a veteran New York radio executive who is both a big defender of the First Amendment and concerned about the state of media content, weighed in Monday with his take on the Don Imus controversy . 

His commentary is reprinted below:

 Imus Misfires

“Don Imus is a performer, a disc jockey, a humorist, a social commentator and a benign provocateur with a rapier, sharp wit.

Unlike several of our colleagues, he does not deal in raucous vulgarity or incendiary right-wing rhetoric directed at immigrants, illegal aliens and other familiar targets of our tribe. 

Throughout his brilliant career, Imus has been an equal opportunity offender … poking fun at the high and mighty as well as the rest of us for our foibles and pomposity.

He may have on occasion gone too far during a remarkable 30-some year career.  Were his comments about the Rutgers basketball team racist or mean-spirited?  Only Imus knows for sure, but we doubt it.  Were they funny?  No.

His mea culpa and apologies seem sincere.  We hope his sponsors and the elders at WFAN, MSNBC and all those many stations across the country that carry the I-Man will stand up to the intimidation and pressure we’ve read about.

So many performers who have achieved his kind of success take … and put nothing back.  Imus has been extravagantly generous to a number of worthy causes – some of it publicly known and some of it done very personally, anonymously and without fanfare.

Imus says he’s been active in our profession for 30 years - actually, it’s more like 40 since he came roaring out of Cleveland.  By our calculation, that’s about 8,000 broadcasts, during which he has probably uttered some 2,400,000 ad libs.  Not all of them as inartful, insensitive and wide of the mark as his fleeting reference to the Rutgers team.  

There’s no question this was a misfire.  And it is to be hoped that the elders at CBS will see this for what it is. 

We’re not so concerned about his corporate masters at MSNBC, which is now run by Dan Abrams, son of the legendary First Amendment champion Floyd Abrams.  As young Abrams has those good genes, we trust he’ll instinctively bring some fortitude to bear on the controversy and stand by his performer.

Imus is also well advised to plead his case with our friend Al Sharpton.  Reverend Sharpton, for all his flamboyance, is very much to be dealt with on sensitive contemporary social issues.  Only good can result from their dialogue.

With the possible exception of overnight work, from dusk till dawn, morning drive is the toughest shift in Radio.  And when Imus plops those well traveled bones into a chair, straps on his earphones and throws his voice out into another dawn armed only with his humor, wit and irreverence, he is not, I think, unlike a Franciscan priest dragging himself up into a pulpit after 30 or 40 years to pronounce the Good News before a sparse, sleepy congregation at an early Mass.  

Imus’ mission is not quite as noble or majestic.  He has only to make us laugh and make us think. 

I think that’s a pretty good way to make a living.  And he should thus be protected from those unforgiving critics abroad in the land who are heaping scorn and derision on the I-Man as a result of this controversy.

However it plays out, it is very much to be hoped that the contretemps will not impede or diminish this particular performer’s brilliant - if occasionally irreverent and provocative - mind and tongue.

The guy misfired.  But he shouldn’t be … fired.”

Posted by John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.