NEW YORK A six-month vacation, a multimillion-dollar contract settlement and the prospect of a new, nationally syndicated gig. Does that qualify as penance for acid-tongued Don Imus, fired last spring amid a national furor sparked by his racist on-air remark?
Hardly, say some of his critics. The idea of the broadcasting icon returning to the airwaves just months after his public meltdown is nearly as insulting as his crude and misogynist comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team, the anti-Imus contingent maintains.
"To put him back on the air now makes light of his serious and offensive racial remarks that are still ringing in the ears of people all over this country," said Barbara Ciara, president of the National Association of Black Journalists.
But Imus' return appears a fait accompli, barely an eye-blink after his four-decade career seemed ruined and his ouster was supposed to foster a national dialogue on offensive language.
Rumors about Imus' return began over the summer, with recent reports suggesting he could resume broadcasting by December most likely on New York-based WABC-AM, owned by Citadel Broadcasting.
Imus, through attorney Martin Garbus, has declined to comment on his radio future, as did Citadel Broadcasting CEO Farid Suleman. But the Citadel executive recently defended the shock jock.
"He didn't break the law," Suleman told The New York Times last week. "He's more than paid the price for what he did."
Imus was fired in April after his infamous "nappy headed hos" comment. He had signed a $40 million, five-year deal with CBS Radio just before his dismissal, and collected a lucrative settlement after threatening a breach-of-contract lawsuit over his firing.
Imus then spent much of his time at the New Mexico ranch where he hosts dying children, one of his philanthropic interests.
Among the first to give Imus a "get on the air" pass was the Rev. Al Sharpton, who said in July that Imus had a right to make a living barely three months after his was the most strident voice against the Hall of Fame broadcaster.
Others are less forgiving. The NABJ, one of the first groups to call for Imus' dismissal, was joined by the National Organization for Women in protesting the radio star's return even before it's official. The Rev. Herbert Daughtry, a veteran New York civil rights activist, echoes those organizations' concerns.
"It seems he has benefited from his hiatus," the Brooklyn preacher said. "I'm not really sure there is any real, real repentance, and therefore you kind of hold judgment until you see what happens."
NOW President Kim Gandy said the specter of Imus coming back to the radio dial was like "a bad dream."
"Didn't they learn anything?" she asked about broadcasting executives.
Whatever they learned, they didn't forget that Imus makes money. His core audience is older, affluent and likely to rejoin the I-man.
"Imus brings, potentially, large national advertisers," said Tom Taylor of the industry Web site radio-info.com. "And there's also syndication, not only on radio but television."
Suleman's WABC-AM is already home to several syndicated hosts, including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin. And Imus' national presence would trump the local Arbitron ratings, where his WFAN-AM show consistently drew fewer listeners than WABC's current morning drive time team of Curtis Sliwa and Ron Kuby.
Taylor said he expected Suleman to stick with Imus unless the backlash becomes too intense.
"I think he understands Imus' potential power," Taylor said. "Farid is a fan, and he seems determined to do this absent thousands of angry people gathered outside his office."
- 4 reasons why you shouldn't shop on Black Friday
- Our complete guide to Black Friday, Cyber...
- These two things are helping California's...
- Immigration reform will boost the economy,...
- Adults expect to spend $720 on gifts. Here's...
- Working on Thanksgiving Day? Here's why most...
- 5 ways to talk about money with your family...
- 3 Reasons holiday shoppers will spend cautiously
- Obama immigration plan good, not great... 13
- Working on Thanksgiving Day? Here's why... 12
- Immigration reform will boost the... 7
- Thanksgiving trumps Black Friday for deals 4
- Facing health law hikes, consumers mull... 4
- US stocks inch further into record... 1
- 3 Reasons holiday shoppers will spend... 1
- Millions expected to shop on Thanksgiving 1