The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

04 May 2007

Imus Contract Lawsuit, Legal Strategy, Martin Garbus


In Dispute With CBS, Imus Reveals Strategy

Hey everybody, take a look at my employment contract!

Ordinarily, those aren't words one would expect to hear from a major entertainment industry figure. In the case of Don Imus, however, disclosing these highly personal details appears to be part of a calculated legal strategy.

Is attorney Martin Garbus first looking to try this case in the court of public opinion? Judging by yesterday's media feeding frenzy over his contractual terms, it seems to be the case. If it didn't create an advantage, they wouldn't do it.

Could this tactic pressure CBS into an early settlement in the I-Man's favor? In any case, one would imagine that avoiding a courtroom showdown would be the best interests of both parties.

Update: Imus is seeking $120 million, according to ABC News.

But is it helping Imus make his case? In your Radio Equalizer's opinion, the answer is yes. He's been able to show that his agreement contained an "unusual" clause, according to the Washington Post:

Agents and media lawyers say one clause in Imus's contract, highlighted by Garbus, is highly unusual. It says his services "are of a unique, extraordinary, irreverent, intellectual, topical, controversial and personal character" and that programs containing these elements "are desired" by CBS and "are consistent with company rules and policies."

Unfortunately, this type of contractual language is not as unusual as the story would suggest. One could expect to find this type of clause written into deals for major national talk show hosts, while local personalities are often stuck with boilerplate take- it- or- leave- it corporate terms that provide little protection from termination.

In addition, the Washington Post notes that CBS kept itself protected and is utilizing its own selective leaking strategy:

But other contract language, obtained by The Washington Post, will be used by CBS lawyers to argue that the company had "just cause" to dump Imus. These clauses cover "any distasteful or offensive words or phrases" that CBS believes "would not be in the public interest" or could jeopardize its broadcast license, as well as language that brings the company or its advertisers "into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule, or which provokes, insults or offends the community or any group or class thereof."

A CBS spokesman declined to comment, but two people familiar with the company's strategy, who asked not to be identified discussing possible litigation, said the Rutgers comments were so outrageous as to trigger several clauses that they maintain did not require a warning to Imus.

Garbus dismissed that argument, saying: "CBS's interpretation of the contract, stringing together words from here and there, would render the clause meaningless. Contracts are not interpreted that way."

Another piece of evidence for CBS, said those familiar with its strategy, is that the network gave Imus and other on-air talent a memo last fall, titled "Words Hurt and Harm," warning against the use of racial and ethnic stereotypes.

Your Radio Equalizer isn't an attorney, but has worked in the business long enough to know that broadcasting corporations always keep themselves well protected from suits by air personalities. That's why any headlines about the I-Man's "slam dunk case" should be taken with a grain of salt.

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Imus images: UPI, AP


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