My Three Cents

ONE BASIC LESSON IN SUSTAINING A GOOD REPUTATION —- Several weeks ago, I was listening to the “Imus in the Morning” Show on my way to the train station.  The show is currently on WABC and is presided over by the legendary Don Imus who is now 77.  Imus, a 30– year fixture in the morning, was announcing that after his long and distinguished radio and TV career in which he became a national celebrity, he was going off the air on March 29.  He related that while he was supposed to remain on the air until the end of 2018, the company that syndicates his show declared bankruptcy, causing this unexpected and somewhat abruptly scheduled departure.

Beyond this announcement, he was annoyed.  Why?  The newspaper accounts of his planned departure were negatively rather than positively slanted.  He simply could not understand it… because of the glorious things he has done in his career.  Many years ago and most significantly, Imus established a camp (called ‘the ranch’) for kids with childhood cancer and over the years he has raised millions of dollars to fight childhood cancers. Imus boosts ‘the ranch’ on his show and often speaks proudly of his achievement, and deservedly so.  Of course, his celebrity, first as a disc jockey and then as a controversial radio and TV talk show host famous for interviewing US presidential candidates, authors and leading politicians — also built his reputation as a desired and revered entertainer.  Imus was in many ways a true innovator in morning radio, changing its tone from bland to outspoken, a mix of tell-it-like-it-is, humor and irreverence.  He was one of the first hosts to push the envelope, but he had a devoted following. As more and more stations carried his show and his audiences grew, his imprimatur attracted more and more personalities who wanted the recognition his show brought.

But there is another side to this story.  About nine years ago when the “Imus in the Morning” Show was covered by both CBS RADIO and MSNBC, Imus was abruptly asked off the air — actually suspended for two weeks–because of extremely derogatory racial comments he made about Rutgers’ female basketball team in New Jersey. NBC said it would not tolerate such “insensitive remarks.” Black leaders expressed outrage at what he said.  He staved off calls for his resignation by appearing on a show hosted by the Reverend Al Sharpton where he apologized for what he said, calling his comments “repugnant, repulsive and horrible”. He also reached out to the coach and the players and their parents and issued an apology.  Many in the publishing industry and certain celebrities and leading politicians felt that Imus had become very important to their careers and were against his losing his job.   He didn’t.  He was hired by WABC in New York and quickly reestablished “Imus in the Morning.”  Smart public relations moves saved him as did strong relationships and a career that made money for many people.  His skillful interviewing abilities uncovered information we otherwise would not have known, providing educational advantage.

But in skimming the recent news clips after he made his retirement announcement, none mentioned Imus’ wonderful contributions described above but did mention his firing in 2007 and what he said about the African American women on the Rutgers team. Indeed, one can understand why Imus was upset.  One headline noted that “the party’s over:  notorious shock jock …to retire.” And went on to recount the bad stuff.   We are not suggesting that Imus was an angel or that he did not challenge where others might not have.  But notorious?  No.  Controversial? Absolutely. He was rightly punished for his Rutgers comments.  This man has been at it for 50 years, and he should’ve known better.  Nevertheless, his good stuff deserves mention in something as significant as this development.

And so that leads us to one basic lesson that we all need to learn and remember as we are about to jump off the cliff.  Warren Buffet said it: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” This one took less than a minute.  And it will always linger.

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