NEW YORK — MSNBC said Wednesday it will drop its simulcast of the “Imus in the Morning” radio program, responding to growing outrage about the radio host’s racial slur against the Rutgers women’s basketball team.
“This decision comes as a result of an ongoing review process, which initially included the announcement of a suspension. It also takes into account many conversations with our own employees,” NBC news said in a statement.
Talk-show host Don Imus triggered the uproar on his April 4 show, when he referred to the mostly black Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.” His comments have been widely denounced by civil rights and women’s groups.
The decision does not affect Imus’ nationally syndicated radio show, and the ultimate decision on the fate of that program will rest with executives at CBS Corp. In a statement, CBS reiterated that Imus will be suspended without pay for two weeks beginning on Monday, and that CBS Radio “will continue to speak with all concerned parties and monitor the situation closely.”
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MSNBC’s action came after a growing list of sponsors — including American Express Co., Sprint Nextel Corp., Staples Inc., Procter & Gamble Co., and General Motors Corp. — said they were pulling ads from Imus’ show for the indefinite future.
NBC News President Steve Capus said he made the decision after reading thousands of e-mails and having countless discussions with NBC workers and the public, but he denied the potential loss of advertising dollars had anything to do with it.
“I take no joy in this. It’s not a particularly happy moment, but it needed to happen,” he said. “I can’t ignore the fact that there is a very long list of inappropriate comments, of inappropriate banter, and it has to stop.”
NBC’s decision came at a time when Imus’ program on MSNBC was doing better competitively than it ever has been. For the first three months of the year, its audience was nearly identical to CNN’s, leading CNN to replace its morning news team last week.
‘He's crossed the line’
Calls for Imus’ firing from the radio portion of the program have intensified during the past week, and remained strong even after MSNBC’s announcment. The show originates from WFAN-AM in New York City and is syndicated nationally by Westwood One, both of which are managed by CBS Corp. MSNBC, which had been simulcasting the show, is a unit of General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal.
Bruce Gordon, former head of the NAACP and a director of CBS Corp., said before MSNBC’s decision Wednesday he hoped the broadcasting company would “make the smart decision” by firing Imus.
“He’s crossed the line, he’s violated our community,” Gordon said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “He needs to face the consequence of that violation.”
Gordon, a longtime telecommunications executive, stepped down in March after 19 months as head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one of the foremost U.S. civil rights organizations.
He said he had spoken with CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves and hoped the company, after reviewing the situation, would fire Imus rather than let him return to the air at the end of his suspension.
“We should have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to what I see as irresponsible, racist behavior,” Gordon said. “The Imus comments go beyond humor. Maybe he thought it was funny, but that’s not what occurred.”
A CBS spokesman, Dana McClintock, declined comment on the remarks by Gordon, who is one of at least two minorities on the 13-member board.
The 10 members of the Rutgers team spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday about the on-air comments, made the day after the team lost the NCAA championship game to Tennessee. Some of them wiped away tears as their coach, C. Vivian Stringer, criticized Imus for “racist and sexist remarks that are deplorable, despicable, abominable and unconscionable.”
The women, eight of whom are black, agreed to meet with Imus privately and hear his explanation. They held back from saying whether they’d accept Imus’ apologies.
Stringer said late Wednesday that she did not call for Imus’ firing, but was pleased with the decision by NBC executives.
She said the meeting with Imus was never designed to call for his removal but to give the women on the team the opportunity to meet with him and for him to see the people he had so publicly hurt.
“The young ladies and I needed to put a face behind the remarks... He needs to know who these young ladies are that he hurt,” Stringer said.Slideshow: Eye on Imus
Imus has apologized repeatedly for his comments. He said Tuesday he hadn’t been thinking when making a joke that went “way too far.” He also said that those who called for his firing without knowing him, his philanthropic work or what his show was about would be making an “ill-informed” choice.
The Rev. Al Sharpton said in New York that he would put pressure on CBS but that the issue was larger than Imus.
“I think we also have to have now a broad discussion on how the music industry allows this to be used,” Sharpton said. “I don’t think that we should stop at NBC, and I don’t think we should stop at Imus.”
Jackson wants more black show hosts
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he planned to meet with CBS and NBC executives on Thursday with a delegation of other civil rights activists and lawmakers to discuss the Imus situation and diversity in broadcasting.
“Imus is on 1,040 hours a week and yet they have virtually no black show hosts. That is true for other networks as well,” Jackson said. “We must raise the ethical standard for all of them.”
At the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, N.J., about 300 students and faculty rallied earlier in the day to cheer for their team, which lost in the national championship game, and add their voices to the crescendo of calls for Imus’ ouster. One of the speakers was Chidimma Acholonu, president of the campus chapter of the NAACP.
“This is not a battle against one man. This is a battle against a way of thought,” she said. “Don Imus does not understand the power of his words, so it is our responsibility to remind him.”
Before the announcement was made, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) had appeared on the MSNBC program "Hardball," where host David Gregory asked the senator and presidential candidate if he thought Imus should be fired.
"I don't think MSNBC should be carrying the kinds of hateful remarks that Imus uttered the other day," Obama said.
He went on to note that he and his wife have "two daughters who are African-American, gorgeous, tall, and I hope, at some point, are interested enough in sports that they get athletic scholarships. ... I don't want them to be getting a bunch of information that, somehow, they're less than anybody else. And I don't think MSNBC should want to promote that kind of language."
Obama went on to say that he would not be a guest on Imus' show in the future.
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