CBS Drops Imus Radio Show Over Racial Remark
CBS brought the tumultuous weeklong crisis over racially insensitive remarks by the radio host Don Imus to an end late this afternoon when it canceled the “Imus in the Morning” program, effective immediately.
A clip of Don Imus’s radio show, from MSNBC.com, at the time he made his disparaging comment about the women’s basketball team at Rutgers. More Photos »
What impact, if any, do you think Don Imus’s dismissal will have on shock jocks?
Video: Don Imus and Al Sharpton on ‘Today’ Show (msnbc.com)
Timeline: Don Imus
Rutgers Press Conference:
This Time, a Shock Jock’s Sidekick Fails (April 12, 2007)
Imus Struggling to Retain Sway as a Franchise (April 11, 2007)
Rutgers Women Send Imus an Angry Message (April 11, 2007)
The Media Equation: With Imus, They Keep Coming Back (April 9, 2007)
The move came one day after MSNBC, which has simulcast Mr. Imus’s radio program for the past 10 years, removed the show from the cable network’s morning lineup. The two moves together mean that Mr. Imus, who has been broadcasting his program for more than 30 years, no longer has a home on either national radio or television.
Mr. Imus received the news in a telephone call to his home. Many of his listeners learned of it during the afternoon radio show “Mike and the Mad Dog,” which announced it on WFAN, the same New York station owned by CBS that carried Mr. Imus’s program.
The CBS chairman, Leslie Moonves, held a meeting this afternoon with the Rev. Al Sharpton, one of the leaders in what became a national movement to have Mr. Imus removed from the air in the wake of comments in which he disparaged members of the Rutgers University women’s basketball team. On his program of April 4, Mr. Imus referred to the women on the team as “nappy-headed hos.”
Both CBS and MSNBC had been under pressure from black leaders, women’s groups and advertisers, many of which said they intended to pull their commercials from Mr. Imus’s program.
In a statement, Mr. Moonves said, “Those who have spoken with us the last few days represent people of goodwill from all segments of our society — all races, economic groups, men and women alike. In our meetings with concerned groups, 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.”
He added, “That consideration has weighed most heavily on our minds as we made our decision, as have the many e-mails, phone calls and personal discussions we have had with our colleagues across the CBS Corporation and our many other constituencies.”
The CBS decision came on the same day that Mr. Imus was scheduled to journey to New Brunswick, N.J., to meet with the Rutgers team to apologize in person for his remarks, which he had acknowledged in a number of public apologies were inexcusable.
But whatever the outcome of that meeting, it would have no bearing on Mr. Imus’s fate in the end. Neither of his employers was willing to wait to see if the meeting produced anything like a rapprochement.
Both CBS and NBC originally announced a two-week suspension for Mr. Imus that was to have commenced Monday, but the protests against the host had only increased as the week went on. These were spurred first by a news conference by the Rutgers team and then by revelations of previous episodes when Mr. Imus and his supporting cast had engaged in racially charged language.
NBC executives said the discomfort of its staff members and concerns about its reputation had driven the decision to cut ties with Mr. Imus. But that network was only paying a license fee to carry the show. CBS Radio and its flagship station WFAN produced the show and contracted with Mr. Imus to be the star.
CBS also manages Westwood One, the syndicator that has sold the Imus show to other stations around the country. Mr. Imus, who is 66, was among the most recognizable voices on radio and commanded a salary estimated at $10 million a year
The firing of Mr. Imus came on a surreal day, one that served as a reminder not only of the millions of dollars he has raised for children’s charities over nearly two decades, but of the millions of dollars in future donations that may been lost as a result of his ill-considered remarks.
For four and a half hours this morning, he turned his radio program into a live fund-raiser for three charities — two benefiting children with cancer, and the other for families that have lost babies to sudden infant death syndrome — an endeavor he has undertaken each of the last 18 years.
Among the guests were children and parents who had been the beneficiaries of his efforts — particularly the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer, a program that the host founded on his New Mexico ranch along with his wife, Deirdre.
“It was an honor to be at your son’s funeral,” he said to one woman, whose cancer-stricken son had been a guest at what is essentially a Western-themed camp for sick children.
Throughout the broadcast, though, Mr. Imus continually referred to the perilous predicament he was in, which had already forced the decision announced by MSNBC the previous evening to cancel its simulcast of his radio program, effective immediately.
He strongly suggested, for example, that he believed his long career on terrestrial radio, at least, was drawing to a close, which gave the broadcast something of a funereal atmosphere.
“This may or not be our final radiothon,” he said, just before 6 a.m. “There’s no way to know, anything. But let’s say for sake of being safe that it is.”
“Ordinarily, we’d like to raise, say, around $3 million,” he said. “But today our goal is around $100 million.”
At several points, he lashed out at the “hypocrisy” of the news coverage of the fallout from his remarks and “the lack of support from people like Harold Ford,” the former Tennessee congressman who is black and whom the talk show host had touted repeatedly throughout his recent, failed bid for a Senate seat.
He also expressed bitterness that MSNBC had “pulled the plug” on televising his program less than 12 hours before the fund-raiser was to begin. “They got their pound of flesh and made their decision,” he said.
And yet, Mr. Imus also emphasized that, ultimately, he alone was to blame for his predicament.
“I said a stupid, idiotic thing that hurt these kids,” he said of the Rutgers players. “If I hadn’t have said it, we wouldn’t be here. So let’s stop whining about it.”
With Mr. Imus now officially gone from their lineup CBS Radio and WFAN are under pressure to find someone to replace him.