Gangsta rap critics on Thursday applauded Time Warner Inc.'s decision to fire Doug Morris, the media giant's staunchest advocate for cutting-edge music, viewing his termination as a response to their demand to ban violent and sexually explicit lyrics.
However, Time Warner executives said the firing resulted from management disagreements and had nothing to with the rap controversy.
"The firing of Doug Morris is a major victory for those of us who asked Time Warner Chairman Gerald Levin to stop putting out pornographic music," said C. DeLores Tucker, chairwoman of the National Political Congress of Black Women, who along with William Bennett, the former secretary of education, has orchestrated a two-month campaign calling for the New York media giant to cease manufacturing potentially offensive rap and rock records.
"We asked Mr. Levin to take control and this was his first response. Doug Morris was the biggest supporter of this smut at the company and now he's gone. I predict that Interscope Records will fall next--and after that [Warner Bros. Records Chairman] Danny Goldberg will get the boot."
Bennett and Sen. Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) said Thursday that they are closely monitoring Time Warner's next move.
"There is obviously a whole lot of shaking going on inside Time Warner--and we shall see how it all shakes out in the end," said Bennett, who along with Tucker attended a meeting last month with Warner Music Group Chairman Michael Fuchs, Levin and Morris. "I know there have been a lot of internal discussions about this issue, but I won't be satisfied until Time Warner stops selling this garbage to kids."
Fuchs, who abruptly fired Morris on Wednesday and will assume his duties, denied that recent criticism of rap lyrics prompted the termination.
"Our critics have had no impact whatsoever on my decisions," Fuchs said. "Have you ever heard the tale of the elephant and the mouse on the string bridge? The elephant was going to cross the string bridge and the mouse said, 'Can you give me a ride?' When they get to the other side, the mouse says to the elephant, 'We sure shook the hell out of that string bridge, didn't we?'
"To me, that's what these people are like. The fact is that the seeds had been planted for the direction I intended to move the music division before the rap controversy ever broke out."
Tucker sent a letter to Levin two weeks ago demanding the dismissal of Goldberg and a Morris confidante, and has called on Time Warner to sever ties with Westwood-based Interscope, home to such controversial artists as Dr. Dre and Nine Inch Nails. Tucker said she has the support of several Time Warner board members in her crusade to ban cutting-edge music at the company.
Fuchs said the company has not decided yet how it will resolve questions about its rap music, but he insisted that his decision to discharge Morris is the result of an internal management dispute--a view accepted by executives both inside and outside the company.
Nevertheless, some of those interviewed believe Fuchs will soon move to sever Time Warner ties with Interscope. Such a move could quickly elevate his standing among the media giant's board, as well as with Levin. Many believe Fuchs is positioning himself to succeed Levin as chairman.
Sources said Fuchs' relationship with Morris was rocky almost from the day Fuchs took charge of the music group last month. Levin had promised Morris an expanded role in the international sector after Levin fired Fuchs' predecessor, Robert J. Morgado, sources said. That plan was apparently endorsed by Fuchs in a letter given to Morris that sketched out a new title; the promotion was expected to be announced by this Monday.
However, Fuchs apparently disagreed with how far Morris' powers should extend. Sources said Fuchs did not approve of a clause in Morris' current contract that granted Morris the power to hire and fire all employees within the firm's domestic division. That meant the label chiefs groomed and anointed by Morris would not have to report to Fuchs--a provision that high-level sources said Fuchs found "completely unacceptable."
Another indication of a falling-out occurred last week when Fuchs excluded Morris from a meeting in Italy to discuss the future of the international division.
When the rap controversy broke out, Fuchs became disenchanted with the way Morris and his closest advisers responded publicly and privately. In the end, the rap crisis crystallized what Fuchs viewed as fundamental structural problems in the way the company was managed.
Fuchs declined to comment on what led to his decision to fire Morris, but he did address what he views as a serious flaw in Warner Music Group, which he believes precipitated an unprecedented series of corporate shake-ups over the past year.
"This company has a long history of feudal baronies," he said. "There were giant figures who built nation states around themselves. There is a history at Warner Communications of fierce competition between the divisions. I mean, that was part of the culture.
"But this is not 1970 and I was not going to live under the old rules. This is 1995. And what used to work in the old days does not work anymore. My job is to unify this awesome company, and I'm going to build an effective organization."