July 2, 2008

For Don Imus, What a Difference a Year Makes

Imus Rutgers (4/8-13/07)
McClellan Book (5/26-6/1/08)
Russert Dies (6/19-25/07)
Murdoch/WSJ (7/29-8/3/07)
OReilly Remark (7/23-29/07)
Imus Pacman (6/23-29/08)

26:1-Coverage of Imus’ 2007 Rutgers episode to that of his "Pacmcan" flap.

For the second time in two years, Don Imus generated headlines and criticism for remarks involving race on the airwaves. When Imus, now a syndicated radio talker on WABC, and sportscaster Warner Wolf discussed Jones’ six arrests and his 2007 suspension from the Dallas Cowboys, Imus inquired, “What color is he?” Wolf replied, “He is African-American.” Imus said, “Well, there you go. Now we know.”

That episode brings back memories of the racially insulting and misogynistic remark he made 14 months earlier about the Rutgers
women’s basketball team—sentiments that cost him his CBS radio job and MSNBC simulcast. According to PEJ’s News Coverage Index, media coverage of that controversy consumed 26% of the overall media newshole the week of April 8-13, 2007. Not only was it the biggest story of that week, it was the seventh-biggest single-week story in all of 2007. But attention to Imus’ “Pacman” remarks paled in comparison. This controversy quickly lost steam; it only accounted for 1% of the newshole the week of June 23-29.

How do the Imus episodes compare with other media-related events? Since the Index began in 2007, nothing else has matched the intensity of the coverage of the Rutgers furor. The recent release of former White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s tell-all book made a major splash, capturing 14% of the newshole the week of May 26-June 1. Other events involving the media and journalists that have shown up in the Index include Tim Russert’s death (5% the week of June 9-15, 2008); Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of the Wall Street Journal (3% the week of July 29-Aug. 3, 2007); and Bill O’Reilly’s controversial comments about his visit to a Harlem restaurant (2%, the week of Sept. 23-28, 2007). All those events attracted more attention than Imus’ “Pacman” remarks, which proved to be a one-day story.