Monday, April 9, 2007

CBS Radio, MSNBC Suspend Don Imus; Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama Abandon Fox News Debate

It's a busy night for Cable News networks making news. These are the kind of days that keep great Cable News blogs like TV Newswer and Inside Cable News in business.

First, Don Imus has been suspended both from his daily radio show (broadcast by CBS) and from the simulcast of the radio show on MSNBC for two weeks for his out-of-line comments about the Rutgers Women's Basketball Team which don't need to be repeated here (needless to say, they were borderline racist at best, racist at worst, and incredible offensive in any case). Gregg Henson's Blog had a link to a video on You Tube which was a CNN report describing the controversy. For those who unfamiliar, the clip is below.

According to MSNBC:
While CBS made its announcement without comment, MSNBC said Imus’ regret at making the inappropriate comment and his stated dedication to changing the show’s discourse made it believe this was the appropriate response.

“Our future relationship with Imus is contingent on his ability to live up to his word,” the network said. MSNBC simulcasts his radio program weekday mornings.

I thought the timing of the suspensions was very interesting. NBC announced their suspension during Brian Williams broadcast of NBC Nightly News, while CBS officially suspended Imus roughly an hour or so later. Obviously, the timing was not simply coincidental. If CBS had suspended Imus first, there would have been nothing MSNBC or NBC News could have done to punish Imus, other than suspend him further once the show was let back on CBS' air. After all, there's nothing to simulcast if Imus isn't broadcasting. But, by allowing NBC News to take the lead first, CBS could then suspend Imus themselves, and both networks could do a bit to repair some of the PR damage done by Imus' comments.

The question of course now, is, whether two weeks is truly enough punishment for his comments. There will surely be a lot of debate about that in the coming days. I think it's probably fair, and it certainly puts Imus on a very short leash going forward. Who should be fired is sports reporter Sid Rosenberg. Rosenberg has been fired before for racist comments made on the Imus program (about tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams) as well as comments about cancer victim Kylie Minogue, but was rehired after issuing an apology. He shouldn't get any more chances. And while there is the potential that he becomes a "scapegoat" in this whole scandal, given his past history of comments, that likely is appropriate.

On the other side of the Cable News dial, a Fox News Democratic debate is falling apart. First, John Edwards dropped out, citing his belief that Fox News is not as "fair and balanced" as their tag line claimed. Then The reported this afternoon that Barack Obama was abandoning the debate as well. Tonight, Hillary Clinton, not wanting to have to debate Dennis Kucinich and Chris Dodd by herself, dropped out too according to The Politico.

This is just silly. Now, I'm not the biggest Fox News fan in the world (as my comments calling it Fox Noise made clear in my post about the Bill O'Reilly/Gerlado confrontation) but Democrats can't simply ignore Fox News. For one thing, their audience is too large and not everyone watching Fox News is a clone of Sean Hannity. There are plenty of Democrats and a lot of people in the middle who watch Fox News and want to hear what the Democratic candidates have to say. Plus, their jumping ship on the debate won't accomplish anything. Fox News isn't going to fire O'Reilly or Sean Hannity, and nor should they considering the ratings they bring in and the fact that unlike somebody like Don Imus, they haven't said anything which should get them fired. Now, should Fox News stop having Ann Coulter on as a guest after her insensitive comments about John Edwards last month? Absolutely. But killing a debate? Anytime you can get in front of a large audience and win them over with a policy discussion, you should take it. This is just a missed opportunity to bring balance to the "fair and balanced" cable network.

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