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Commentary: Some good has come from Imus' firing

  • Story Highlights
  • MSNBC has moved to embrace diversity through recent hires, promotions
  • National debate followed on sexism and language in hip-hop
  • Imus debacle should teach us sexism has no place in our society, Martin says
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Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor
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(CNN) -- Fired radio host Don Imus settled his lawsuit with CBS Radio this week, pulling down $20 million amid talk that he is plotting a return to the airwaves.

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The firing of Don Imus brought positive changes at MSNBC, Roland S. Martin says.

As I got ready to discuss the latest drama surrounding Imus on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," a colleague told me that in the end, nothing of consequence resulted from all of the hoopla. Imus ended up getting a big check, he likely will be welcomed back with open arms and everyone has returned to life as it was.

Not exactly.

Those of us who have followed this case always knew Imus would get paid by CBS. He had a contract that called for him to be irreverent and controversial, so when CBS dropped the ax, they also knew the financial hit they would take. But facing boycotts and further protests, Les Moonves knew he was in an untenable situation, and it was cheaper to fire Imus than to keep him around.

The same can be said of NBC. The network couldn't continue to say it was committed to doing the right thing while keeping Imus on the air on MSNBC. So NBC News President Steve Capus pulled the plug.

And what has taken place at NBC really is one of the bright moments out of this. Instead of pretty much going dark and not doing anything -- like CBS -- Capus engaged in a top-to-bottom assessment of its operations. The importance of making a critical decision to fully embrace diversity really was a smart one by Capus because it showed that the network was listening to those who questioned some of its moves with respect to Imus.

Veteran journalists such as Lyne Pitts were moved up in the chain. Pitts was promoted to vice president of NBC News. Then Mark Whitaker, an award-winning newsman, was hired away from Newsweek and became senior vice president of NBC News; and Paula Madison was named executive vice president of Diversity for NBC Universal. According to her bio on the company's Web site, she "is the first senior executive in the company's history to hold a position solely devoted to diversity. Madison reports to Jeff Zucker, president and chief executive officer of NBC Universal."

These hires, even if planned prior to Imus, exhibit a commitment that other media operations have eschewed in recent years.

Speaking at the National Association of Black Journalists' recent convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, he made it clear that NBC is better today after enduring the high-stakes Imus affair.

Then there was the national dialogue that ensued about the language and sexism rampant in hip-hop music. Of course, Imus tried to use hip-hop as an out for him using the language, but that didn't fly. Yet what Imus' critics had to own up to was the reality that it would be hypocritical to say he was wrong for using derogatory language in referring to the Rutgers University women's basketball team and not say the same thing about Twista, 50 Cent and others.

While that debate has had its ups and downs, a growing number of grass-roots organizations were able to have their voices heard and build momentum to cleaning up the medium.

It also put a spotlight on how important words are and how hurtful they are. We know that comedians will always do their thing, but when you talk about DJs and talk show hosts -- many of whom use the public airwaves to do what they do -- then that means something different to all of us.

At the end of the day, what the Imus debacle should teach us is that sexism -- no matter what form -- has no place in our society. Women often are degraded and treated as second-class citizens, and men love to justify and make excuses for their ignorant behavior.

If and when Don Imus returns, he'll be the most watched man in America. Let's hope he will have changed his ways after learning a valuable lesson.

And if he doesn't? His bosses and advertisers should expect the same folks who protested him the first time to bring the noise and bring the funk. Again.

Roland S. Martin is a CNN contributor and a talk-show host for WVON-AM in Chicago, Illinois. You can read more of his columns at www.rolandsmartin.com

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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