Wednesday’s “Let’s Talk About Imus” Diversity Conference panel of four set out to discuss the Don Imus controversy, racially-charged speech and the First Amendment. They delved into what caused Imus to come under fire, and ultimately, what made him lose his job.
Holly Wolcott, assistant director of student media at CSU, acted as a moderator for the panel. She started the discussion with a video clip of Bernard McGuirk impersonating Cardinal Egan. Donning a white FedEx bag as a hat, he proceeded to insult gays and lesbians, Jewish people and blacks during a four-minute rant.
“Shock Jock” radio, as radio shows like “Imus in the Morning” are commonly referred to, is set out to provoke responses from society, said Dr. Brian Ott, CSU speech communication professor.
“People listen to it for the shock value,” Ott said. “People often don’t agree with what they hear.”
Ott said that people listen to “Shock Radio” because it has some cathartic value for audiences.
“We obey rules all day long . it has a cumulative psychological effect.” Ott said. “[Shock Jock shows are] pushing cultural boundaries.”
On April 4, 2007, Don Imus targeted the Rutgers University women’s basketball team with derogatory racial slurs.
Ott said this became a big deal because the women’s basketball team he insulted was not largely in the public eye.
“They should have been championed and celebrated,” Roberts said.
The panel agreed that the country has become more conservative in past years.
Kris Olinger, director of programming for Clear Channel in Denver, said constituents to consider in the Imus case, and others with controversy include the listeners, advertisers, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), employees/talent, stockholders and the community at large.
“Make no mistake about it,” Olinger said. “This is a business. They are in it to make money and there is nothing wrong with that.”
She said it isn’t as simple to say it is just the advertisers who control content.
“Predominantly, it’s the FCC,” Olinger said. “Advertisers play a role, but they don’t always back out. Sometimes the listeners do.”
Michael Roberts, a Westword writer, argued that while the FCC wasn’t at the top of the list in the Imus case, advertisers were.
“When big advertisers pulled out, that’s when Imus was done,” he said.