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Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is Managing Director of Intermat, Inc., ( a television company which executive produces programs and consults with industry companies on a variety of issues. Intermat, Inc. is currently involved in approximately thirty hours of television in various stages for a variety of networks. He is one of the Executive Producers of OFF TO WAR, a ten hour series for Discovery Times and for a one hour on international adoptions for Discovery Health. He has consulted a variety of companies, including Ted Turner Documentaries, WETA, Betelgeuse Productions, and Creation Films, Lou Reda Productions as well as many others.

April 21, 2007

Open Mouth, Insert Foot, End Career….

Outside, here in the Northeast, a nor’easter is blowing through. It’s been a perfect day to catch up on e-mails while a fire burns in the Franklin stove and jazz plays on the stereo. It is a good thinking day. And, since I have been, I continued to think about the Don Imus fiasco.

Let’s start here: I am not nor have ever been a Don Imus fan. I have found him consistently repugnant and as amusing as he occasionally could be; his negativity is not something I wanted in my life. I simply have chosen not to listen. However, the past days have made it impossible not to listen to Don Imus and to hear, ad nauseum, his nauseous remark about the remarkable Rutger’s Women’s Basketball Team. His exorable remark, calling them nothing more than “nappy headed ho’s” resulted, rightly so, in a firestorm of criticism, followed by a suspension that wasn’t enacted because before the suspension could start, he was pulled off the air, fired and sent down the ignominious road to media hell.

At least he didn’t retreat to rehab, though that might have saved his job [rehab seems to be the move of choice among misbehaving celebrities and generally works]. There are some interesting things I have found out about Don Imus since he was catapulted into the media spotlight: his last two days on the job were a radiothon that yielded almost a million and a half dollars for a cancer charity. I also discovered he runs a ranch out west which works with kids with cancer.

Surprising, I thought, for so distasteful a person. However, that doesn’t change that what he said was exorable and that he has now been fired. Open mouth, insert foot, end career. Seems to be a fairly simple one, two, three set of actions.

However, I don’t think anything is quite that clean and simple, particularly after watching the ensuing circus. Imus has made a career out of saying miserably inappropriate things about individuals. He has been known to make racist, sexist, religious jokes that cut to the bone. It is his thing. It is what has made him both famous and rich, though from looking at his face, I can’t say it seems to have made him happy.

Why now? Why this moment? Why this phrase? Why did this cause him to plummet down the media mountain?

For one thing he attacked young women, not celebrities, who were doing a magnificent job of being what they were: college athletes. In response to his remarks, they demonstrated restraint and class, which no one else in the affair seems to have managed.

He also had unfortunate timing; we were coming out of the Easter/Passover time and things were a bit slow. We’d buried Anna Nicole, Britney seems to be staying sober, our favorite media diversions weren’t diverting. So, media made Imus diverting, so diverting that it almost escaped notice that there was a suicide bombing within the Iraqi Parliament in the Green Zone, the safest area in unsafe Baghdad.

Also, scratch the surface of Mr. Imus’ career and it appears that he was slipping in the ratings and the advertising dollars were falling. Against that scenario, perhaps CBS and MSNBC thought this was a good time to quit and run, particularly since it was the desertion of the advertisers in the days post foot into mouth insertion that seemed to have been the catalyst for the firing rather than genuine moral outrage.

It also shuffled this problem off the stage. He was fired, the situation “resolved.” However, there has been no genuine, national dialogue about this kind of behavior, which we seem to tolerate nor has there been a real dialogue about the First Amendment and its guarantee of free speech. How do these things play together? How do we remain free AND civil?

The essential issues have not been discussed, the superficial ones examined to fine detail, and we are poorer for not having used this troubling moment to look inside the American psyche and discuss it creatively, honestly against the backdrop of a very disturbing time when free speech is often ugly while the protection to be ugly seems to be deteriorating.