Don Imus went over the line once too often. But will his firing by MSNBC lead to more changes within the entertainment industry?
"At some point, you have to say enough is enough," NBC News President Steve Capus told Matt Lauer on TODAY in explaining why he fired Imus. "A nerve was touched. The voices I heard loudest were the people here at NBC News."
Donnie Deutsch, the host of CNBC’s "The Big Idea," saw Capus’ action as a turning point.
"This to me is a seminal moment," he told Lauer. "This was not even about race or sexism. It’s about hate. I’m going to make a prediction now that nice is going to be the new black. I don’t mean in terms of race, I mean in terms of style."
As an example, he cited "American Idol," the most popular show on television. Shrugging off Lauer’s observation that the show prospers because of Simon Cowell’s "nasty" comments, Deutsch said, "It’s fun. It’s about inspiration."
Video: Sharpton discusses Imus controversy The Rev. Al Sharpton, President of the National Action Network, and Michele Moore, Senior Vice President of the National Urban League, made no similar predictions, but both hope that Imus’ firing isn’t the end, but the beginning of a national dialogue and fundamental change.
"Me, others have in private, in public, said things that we shouldn’t say," Sharpton told Meredith Vieira. "We need to all look at ourselves in America and use it as a time to really come to terms with things."
One of those things, Moore said, is the make-up of newsrooms.
"Is it going to stop here or are we going to look at diversity in the editorial suite?" she asked. "Are we going to look at more gender diversity in the editorial suite? Would this have happened if there were people of color, women of color in the editorial suite?"
It is an issue she said she will bring up when she talks to CBS executives who will decide the fate of Imus’ radio show on CBS-owned WFAN and Westwood One, saying the episode might not have happened if there had been more diversity on the Imus set.
Deutsch thought that the most important factor that can drive change is money.
Video: Don Imus fired "There are 100 people in this country right now that can solve hate television. They are the CEO of Procter & Gamble, the CEO of General Motors. These people control all the advertising dollars and they spoke. . . These CEOs can spend the money in places that don’t promote hate."
A question of free speech?
While Imus is gone, the issue of offensive speech is not and what people can, and cannot say is not. Lauer repeated to Moore the same blunt question he has been asked by others: "Is free speech a right of everyone except for white people?"
"Free speech is a right of everyone," she replied. "It doesn’t mean you can use the public airwaves, which is a privilege, to spread hate and to spread derogatory statements about women who have done the right thing."
Vieira put a similar question to Sharpton, asking him about the common use of offensive words in hip-hop and rap music.
Sharpton said that there’s a difference between music performers whose work is sold by others and a talk show host. But he also said that he, too, is offended by the language and attitudes being spread.
He blamed "the music industry heads, many of whom have nothing to do with the black community, but make the profits from this." But he also said, "We’ve got to deal with the artists that are not being held accountable."
Not just a firing
Imus wasn’t just fired. His excommunication from the altar of NBC and MSNBC was delivered by NBC News anchor Brian Williams speaking ex cathedra from the Nightly News studio at the top of Wednesday night’s broadcast.
Capus followed with rounds of interviews explaining how he came to the decision to fire the iconic talk show host, whose controversial — and lucrative — career began in California in 1968.
"There’s no question that his program has had provocative conversation and interesting conversation, deep conversation with thought leaders, political leaders all through the years," Capus told Lauer. "But it’s also had that other element. At some point you have to say, ‘Enough is enough.’
"This went so far over the line that day, it was time."
Capus insisted that Imus wasn’t fired because advertisers pulled their ads.
"Why do you have an integrity policy if you’re not going to enforce it?" Capus said, repeating the question that NBC employees had asked him repeatedly over the past week. "He has done some great work, but he’s also done some things that nobody’s proud of."
— By Mike Celizic, TODAYshow.com contributor
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