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Wednesday
Jul 23rd

Sharpton tosses the olive branch to Imus

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Revered Al Sharpton

The Revered Al Sharpton said something very curious when word hit that talk show jock Don Imus settled with CBS and could be back on the air. He shrugged off I Man's settlement as a business decision. The Revered Al Sharpton said something very curious when word hit that talk show jock Don Imus settled with CBS and could be back on the air. He shrugged off I Man's settlement as a business decision. OK. But what about the possibility that he'll be back behind a mic soon? Sharpton simply said that he would be watching and monitoring Imus. Huh! This bland, innocuous, non-committal reaction left me scratching my head.

When Imus uttered the shock words that rattled the nation-that the Rutgers women's basketball players were "nappy-headed hos"-Sharpton stormed the corridors at CBS central in New York, and virtually ordered the network brass to kick him off the air. Sharpton's "bump Imus" command, coupled with sponsors melting away like hot butter from Imus's show, caused CBS to back-pedal fast and dump him. Even then, two things were certain and near-certain about Imus. The certain thing was that he had a binding contract and eventually CBS would have to cough up some cash to get rid of him.

The near-certain thing was that he might somehow, somewhere turn up again in a broadcast studio. That could easily happen within the next few months if not sooner. Imus has his suitors. And Sharpton's suddenly gracious, wait-and-see attitude toward Imus makes it all the more likely that he'll be back. And even more likely that once his show is no longer banned in Boston, punishment will be lifted, and there won't be much said or done about his return.

There are two reasons for that. Imus is a cash cow and he'll make a lot of money for whomever he lands with. The ratings will go off the charts. Polls have shown that Imus's loyal fans are salivating at the prospect of their idol's return. In fact, even during the firestorm that engulfed him and his remarks last April, a majority of those polled, Blacks excepted, felt that the punishment was too harsh. They chalked his crack up to a misguided but good-natured effort to be irreverent and outrageous. After all, CBS virtually ordered him in his contract to be unique, extraordinary, irreverent and controversial (their words).

The debate over the Rutgers gibe and the defense of it and him skirted the all-too-fine and often blurred line between what's free speech and what's offensive, libelous speech. The insult was crass, crude, and repulsive, but Imus almost certainly didn't intend the poor-taste joke or vile crack, take your pick, as a hate epithet against the Rutgers lady cagers. As Sharpton and countless others noted, his dig was no worse than the bile that the pantheon of rap opportunists/defilers regularly spew against Black women.

Then there's the baggage that Imus brings backs to the studio. Here's the equation: ratings=controversy=higher ratings. That will mean big ad dollars and product sales. Some of the sponsors and advertisers that jumped ship with him when the controversy hit will quietly ease or maybe even clamor to get back on board. Even one of the Rutgers women that Imus demeaned has leaped into getting cash from Imus's act and has brought a libel suit against him.

Finally there's Sharpton. He got what he wanted with Imus. Imus genuflected to him by appearing on his radio show. He humbled himself by traipsing to Rutgers to publicly apologize to the Rutgers team. And of course, CBS and MSNBC dumped him. Sharpton's name and prestige soared. The vanquishing of Imus clearly marked him again as the Black leader to be reckoned with. Now with Al uttering benign words about Imus, he comes off as a man that won't stoop to kick a guy when he's down. That adds more sheen to his image.

Imus's fervent boosters, and his silent defenders, and in his tacit way, Sharpton, are right. Imus probably should be back on the air. Not because of any soapy sentimentalism, fa
 

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