Did Don Imus' Depature Spark the Rise of White Conservatives on Cable TV?
Wasn't really supposed to happen this way. Back when Imus was ousted from his high paying gigs for calling a group of accomplished female basketball players "nappy headed hos," executives at NBC News and CBS pledged to heed the call of a new day. Here's what Les Moonves, president of CBS, said in a statement back then: "We are now presented with a significant opportunity to expand on our record on issues of diversity, race and gender. We intend to seize that opportunity as we move forward together."
Sounds nice. Except MSNBC is on the verge of handing Imus' old morning timeslot to another white male: former Pensacola congressman Joe Scarborough. And, as liberal pundits such as Keith Olbermann worried might happen months ago, the switch from Imus to Scarborough also trades a crusty liberal-leaning voice for a media-savvy, right-leaning one. This also comes at a time when the channel's highest-profile anchor of color, Alison Stewart, has pulled up stakes for National Public Radio.
Scarborough isn't the only white male conservative doing well in cable TV-land these days. CNN has allowed right-wing radio personality and Headline News host Glenn Beck to take over Paula Zahn's 8 p.m. timeslot this week for a series of specials, fueling the notion that the onetime bastion of traditional TV news is considering trading in a female journalist with a show focused on race, gender, class and sexual orientation issues for a guy who once called Hurricane Katrina survivors stuck in New Orleans "scumbags." Before Beck's tryout, the rumor was that fellow CNN anchor Lou Dobbs -- whose audience-building crusade against illegal immigration can often take on a hysterical, xenophobic tone -- would get Zahn's slot, anyway.
As the final nail in this particular coffin, consider news that New York's CBS Radio station WFAN -- the flagship where Imus built his radio empire -- is not denying rumors he may return to their airwaves soon. The station already has begun playing tapes of his old shows; why would any station go to all that trouble to build audience for a guy they have already fired, if they weren't planned to reverse that decision?
Which leaves those of us who hoped that Imus' dismissal might actually convince cable TV and talk radio to diversify in a curious position. I'm reminded of a permutation of an old showbiz joke: "How can you tell when a TV or radio executive is lying?
"Their mouth is moving."
Looks like a week of protest and public humiliation wasn't enough to convince radio and cable TV executives that America needs a lineup of shows hosts which looks and sounds more like them. Lord knows what it's going to take to get these guys mouths moving in the right direction again.