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CBS pulls the plug on Imus

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April 12, 2007

041207imus.jpgDon Imus’ racist remarks got him fired by CBS on Thursday, the finale to a stunning fall for one of the nation’s most prominent broadcasters.

Imus was initially suspended for two weeks after he called the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos” on the air last week. But outrage kept growing and advertisers kept bolting from his CBS radio show and its MSNBC simulcast, which was canceled Wednesday.

“There has been much discussion of the effect language like this has on our young people, particularly young women of color trying to make their way in this society,” CBS President and Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves said in announcing the decision. “That consideration has weighed most heavily on our minds as we made our decision.”

Imus, 66, had a long history of inflammatory remarks. But something struck a raw nerve when he targeted the Rutgers team — which includes a class valedictorian, a future lawyer and a musical prodigy — after they lost in the NCAA championship game.

A spokeswoman for the team said it did not have an immediate comment on Imus’ firing. But Imus was scheduled to meet with the team Thursday evening at the governor’s mansion in Princeton, N.J., and the team was seen entering the mansion.

He was fired in the middle of a two-day radio fundraiser for children’s charities. CBS announced that Imus’ wife, Deirdre, and his longtime newsman, Charles McCord, will host Friday’s show.

The cantankerous Imus, once named one of the 25 Most Influential People in America by Time magazine and a member of the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame, was one of radio’s original shock jocks. His career took flight in the 1970s and with a cocaine- and vodka-fueled outrageous humor. After sobering up, he settled into a mix of highbrow talk about politics and culture, with locker room humor sprinkled in.

He issued repeated apologies as protests intensified. But it wasn’t enough as everyone from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama to Oprah Winfrey joined the criticism.

The Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson met with Moonves on Thursday to demand Imus’ removal.

Jackson called the firing “a victory for public decency. No one should use the public airwaves to transmit racial or sexual degradation.”

Said Sharpton: “He says he wants to be forgiven. I hope he continues in that process. But we cannot afford a precedent established that the airways can commercialize and mainstream sexism and racism.”

In a memo to staff members, Moonves said the firing “is about a lot more than Imus.”

“He has flourished in a culture that permits a certain level of objectionable expression that hurts and demeans a wide range of people,” Moonves said. “In taking him off the air, I believe we take an important and necessary step not just in solving a unique problem, but in changing that culture, which extends far beyond the walls of our company.”

It’s also likely to trigger a wider debate about expression and forgiveness. Some of Imus’ fans have pointed to inflammatory statements made by Sharpton and Jackson in the past, or in the lyrics of popular music.

Losing Imus will be a financial hit to CBS Radio, which also suffered when Howard Stern departed for satellite radio. The program earns about $15 million in annual revenue for CBS, which owns Imus’ home radio station WFAN-AM and manages Westwood One, the company that syndicates the show nationally. One potential replacement: the sports show “Mike & the Mad Dog,” which airs afternoons on WFAN.

The radiothon had raised more than $1.3 million Thursday before Imus learned that he had lost his job. The annual event has raised more than $40 million since 1990.

“This may be our last radiothon, so we need to raise about $100 million,” Imus cracked at the start of the event.

Volunteers were getting about 200 more pledges per hour than they did last year, with most callers expressing support for Imus, said phone bank supervisor Tony Gonzalez. The event benefited Tomorrows Children’s Fund, the CJ Foundation for SIDS and the Imus Ranch.

Imus, whose suspension was supposed to start next week, was in the awkward situation of broadcasting Thursday’s radio program from the MSNBC studios in New Jersey, even though NBC News said the night before that MSNBC would no longer simulcast his program on television.

He didn’t attack MSNBC (a unit of NBC Universal, owned by General Electric Co.) for its decision — “I understand the pressure they were under,” he said — but complained the network was doing some unethical things during the broadcast. He didn’t elaborate.

Sponsors that pulled out of Imus’ show included American Express Co., Sprint Nextel Corp., Staples Inc., Procter & Gamble Co. and General Motors Corp. Imus made a point Thursday to thank one sponsor, Bigelow Tea, for sticking by him.

The list of his potential guests began to shrink, too.

Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham said the magazine’s staffers would no longer appear on Imus’ show. Meacham, Jonathan Alter, Evan Thomas, Howard Fineman and Michael Isikoff from Newsweek have been frequent guests.

Imus has complained bitterly about a lack of support from one black politician, Harold Ford Jr., even though he strongly backed Ford’s campaign for Senate in Tennessee last year. Ford, now head of the Democratic Leadership Council, said Thursday he’ll leave it to others to decide Imus’ future.

“I don’t want to be viewed as piling on right now because Don Imus is a good friend and a decent man,” Ford said. “However, he did a reprehensible thing.”

Imus’ troubles have also affected his wife, whose book “Green This!” came out this week. Her promotional tour has been called off “because of the enormous pressure that Deirdre and her family are under,” said Simon & Schuster publicist Victoria Meyer.

People are buying it, though: An original printing of 45,000 was increased to 55,000.

Imus still has a lot of support among radio managers across the country, many of whom grew up listening to him, said Tom Taylor, editor of the trade publication Inside Radio.

Rutgers’ team, meanwhile, appeared Thursday on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” with their coach, C. Vivian Stringer.

At the end of their appearance, Winfrey said: “I want to borrow a line from Maya Angelou, who is a personal mentor of mine and I know you all also feel the same way about her. And she has said this many times, and I say this to you, on behalf of myself and every woman that I know, you make me proud to spell my name W-O-M-A-N.”

–DAVID BAUDER

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Associated Press correspondents Rebecca Santana, Karen Matthews, Warren Levinson, Seth Sutel, Tara Burghart, Colleen Long and Hillel Italie contributed to this report.

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On the Net:

http://wfan.com/pages/332252.php

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

9 Responses to CBS pulls the plug on Imus

  1. Kate

    April 14, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    mother of two accomplished teenaged children who are well rounded enough to ignore comments that are meant in jest

  2. Fermi paradox

    April 13, 2007 at 8:11 am

    I think Imus was lucky to avoid a good beating.

  3. Kate

    April 14, 2007 at 12:31 pm

    You are so right Sandy. I too am a big fan of Imus. My nephew did an internship for Imus and was referred to as the “fat intern” the entire time.. But he knew what Imus was like and thought it was funny.

    Imus was just used as a whipping post. And Jackson and Sharpton are no angels when it comes to bigotry. They led a witch hunt and it is sad in this country when a small group of people can cost a man his lively hood, and how many charitys will be affected by Imus being off of the air? But I’m sure the NAACP will pick up the slack to help all these kids that Imus has helped.

  4. Sandy Price

    April 13, 2007 at 7:50 am

    I am adult enough to overlook the trash talk. I would also add that most of his fans are on the intellectual side of the American public. But then Mort Sahl was another of my heros and I saw what the government and the media did to him when he questioned the Warren Report. The media made him the enemy of American politics. Imus will follow and you will continue to label anyone who found him above the norm of intelligence. He has directed my reading for years.

    Maybe the reason I found Imus so interesting is that he did not allow the media or the black caucus to set his agenda. The man was completely color blind and poked all of us in the eye regularly.

    I’ve been very shocked at the reaction from this site. Are we really a gang just waiting to throw a net over someone who dared to be different? I constantly am shocked at the American culture and how easily they can be swayed by the television networks. 90% of you, have never even watched “Imus in the Morning” but you have found a dog that you can kick with the applause of the media.

  5. gene

    April 13, 2007 at 5:42 am

    Some would say that Imus was not thinking when he made those statments. Well he probably wasn’t and they were crude and wrong, basically his style. Thats why so many sick ass americans enjoyed his show. Joe public is generally crude and certainly (stupid…as in unaware), depressed, angry and chasing things (all kind of things). Both black and white….all colors of the rainbow. Imus could certainly be consider a pompus, arrogant, asshole although for certan he was correctly crude about many of the issues he discussed. I never watched him nor cared too. His big mouth will probably go on and so will STUPID Joe sixpack america. God what a f**k-up country.

  6. Frazier

    April 13, 2007 at 7:13 am

    I don’t know if he should have been fired, and really have no opinion about his show(never listened to it)

    But Imus utters a slur heard on millions of radio stations, and untold numbers of CD’s blaring out of cars traveling down the road, he gets fired and roasted in the court of public opinion, yet the girl who falsely claimed 3 Duke lacrosse players raped her, ruins lives, costs jobs, in other words causes untold damage with her lies(not the least of which will be the resulting suspicion of anyone who claims they were raped) and off she trots to continue her life unscathed.

    F****d up indeed

  7. Ray

    April 13, 2007 at 7:47 am

    C-ya Imus,

    Nobody is going to miss you but the “CAPS LOCK CROWD” and they are of no importance in America.

    I want to see Al Sharpton replace him – “Al in the Morning…”

  8. Ardie

    April 13, 2007 at 9:11 pm

    Media Matters has a nice hit list of the rest of the trash we should get rid of. Imus is small potatoes compared to these haters.

    http://mediamatters.org/items/200704120010

  9. David Rosenberg

    April 13, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    Both MSNBC and CBS should be ashamed for the phony outrage they showed toward Imus. The suspension would have been the only punishment for Imus if the situation hadn’t gone any further.
    When Sponsers were jumping ship, that’s when MSNBC and CBS saw dollars flying out the window. Then they both were so upset with Imus’s mouth, did CBS hand him the Pink Slip.
    Did the words Imus used that slow to penetrate their brains then travel to their senses, setting off their disgust?
    Imus deserved to be Fired. He made the mistake of insulting a group of women that exceeded all expectations in the world of Womens Basketball. They out played and out hustled better teams then themselves.
    This was the one time for Imus, keeping his mouth shut, keeping his job.