While discussing the sixth arrest of former Tennessee Titan Adam "Pacman" Jones on his program Monday morning, Mr. Imus said upon learning the athlete was African-American, "Well there you go. Now we know."
Even in context, the remark isn't as patently shocking as "nappy-headed hos," the original comment that sent advertisers fleeing and prompted his national distributors MSNBC and CBS Radio to pull the plug in April 2007. But now that Mr. Imus is ranked seventh in New York (with a 3.6 share, according to Arbitron), syndicated in major markets through ABC, and on cable through Rural Media Networks' RFD-TV (available in 30 million homes versus MSNBC's 91.6 million), the more conservative, major national advertisers who used to buy Mr. Imus have already learned their lesson.
Natalie Swed Stone, who heads radio buying at Omnicom Group's OMD for major radio spenders such as McDonald's and JC Penney, said her clients have not been actively involved with "Imus in the Morning" since it returned to the ABC airwaves in December. "What clients will perceive, they'll see the media coverage and they're not going to know the detail, they'll see there's some controversy and consider Imus controversial," she said. "The more press a personality gets, the more challenging it can become to put them on a plan."
General Motors, which previously supported Mr. Imus' charitable efforts for children with autism, said via a spokeswoman, "General Motors Corp. did not return as an advertiser and had not been a backer of his show since he was off the air last time in ." Although neither Nielsen nor TNS Media Intelligence can extrapolate the top 10 advertisers during Mr. Imus' morning drive-time daypart (6 a.m. to 10 a.m.) on WABC in New York, it's safe to say Mr. Imus' client list is considerably less blue-chip than it was during his MSNBC-affiliated heyday.
For industry analysts, seeing Mr. Imus make headlines again for racially charged comments has become more frustrating than it has an opportunity to shed light on social commentary.
"It is a tired story," said Fred Jacobs, president of Detroit-based radio-consulting firm Jacobs Media. "Advertisers are going to do what they're going to do. The whole issue of what's controversial and what's over the line is so highly debatable and individual, whether it's Rush Limbaugh or Playboy and once again Don Imus. The whole idea of this guy or frankly everybody on the radio or TV being so closely monitored to mince and parse and debate every word they say is just fatiguing. ... How it plays out in agencies across America depends on whether they think he's a jerk."