MSNBC said Wednesday it will drop its simulcast of the “Imus in the Morning” radio program, responding to growing outrage over the radio host’s racial slur against the Rutgers women’s basketball team.
NBC News President Steve Capus described the network's decision on "Hardball." You can read the transcript below or click on the video to the right to watch the interview.
DAVID GREGORY: The breaking news here on MSNBC is that Don Imus has been taken off the air at MSNBC. The simulcast of the “IMUS IN THE MORNING” program will no longer air. He has also been suspended by CBS Radio, which airs his program around the country from the flagship station in New York, WFAN. He’s been suspended for two weeks without pay.
Joining us now is the president of NBC News, Steve Capus, joining us from New York. Steve, hello.
STEVE CAPUS, PRESIDENT, NBC NEWS: Hi, David.
GREGORY: And why don’t you take me through why you made this decision?
CAPUS: Well, it’s been a week since the original broadcast on the Imus program. And during that time, there have been any number of things that have happened. When I first learned of the comments, we issued an apology and we denounced the comments. They were awful. They were hateful. They were deplorable.
But something also happened right after that, and that is a dialogue that’s been going on inside the country, and it’s been going on inside NBC News.
I’ve received hundreds, if not thousands of emails, both internal an external, with people with very strong views about what should happen. I’ve listened to those people with their comments. And many of them are people who have worked at NBC News for decades, people who put their lives on the line covering wars and things like that.
These comments were deeply hurtful to many, many people.
And we’ve had any number of employee conversations, discussions, emails, phone calls. And when you listen to the passion and the people who come to the conclusion that there should not be any room for this sort of conversation and dialogue on our air, it was the only decision we could reach.
GREGORY: And Steve, I don’t have to tell you. I mean, some of our colleagues, like Al Roker, who did it publicly with a blog on “The Today Show”
Web site and others have said essentially that this kind of humor, this platform has been given to—over to Imus for too long now, with this kind discourse and humor.
CAPUS: The Imus program is what it is. And I am proud of some of the things that are on there and not so proud of others. I like that politicians come there to announce that they’re running for the presidency. I like what Don Imus has done through the years to help kids with cancer at the Imus Ranch. He has raised awareness about autism. He has done any number of good things. And there is no question about that.
I think he is a complex man, and I think in many ways, he is a good man. I don’t—I think this is not—I’ve listened to him, by the way, over these last couple of days, and heard him loud and clear talk about how truly sorry he is for these comments. And I believe that. I believe—you know, I take him at his word when he says he’s not a racist.
But I also believe that those were racist comments. And I believe that it comes—that there have been any number of other comments that have been enormously hurtful to far too many people. And my feeling is that can’t—that there should not be a place for that on MSNBC.
GREGORY: What was the tipping point, though, Steve? Because people will look at what’s happened in the past day—General Motors, GlaxoSmithKline, American Express, Ditech.com, Procter & Gamble, companies—Staples—pulling their advertising from MSNBC. And the obvious question that is going to come up that, you know, we’re feeling the heat and we’re reacting to dollars.
CAPUS: Look, I understand the people are going to view it that way, and I only say that that—that is not why this decision was made. This decision was made after listening to the people who work for NBC News, who have placed a trust and respect the trust that America has given us.
I ask you, what price do you put on your reputation? And the reputation of this news division means more to me than advertising dollars.
Because if you lose your reputation, you lose everything.
And so yesterday, I found out after the fact that some of the advertisers had started to pull their money away. Those types of reports don’t land on my desk immediately. And honestly, that is not what is behind this.
This is about trust. It’s about reputation. It’s about doing what’s right.
GREGORY: What happened in between the decision-making about the suspension and then the decision to actually pull him off the air?
CAPUS: The days are running together now. But we announced the suspension, and I believed that Imus took some courageous and smart and appropriate actions, with the level of apology that you saw from him on the air day after day, the fact that he went and sat with the Reverend Al Sharpton and spoke on his radio program. And perhaps more importantly than speaking, he listened, and I wanted that process to continue.
At the same time, internally, we were having conversations about what all of this meant. Some of those conversations led to some very interesting reporting on “Nightly News” and “The Today Show” and MSNBC, on NBC stations all across the country—in fact, on every media outlet. There has been an opportunity to have a very important dialogue about race relations and everything—everything that goes under that broad umbrella.
And what has been going on is a lot of conversation, a lot of listening and a lot of talking, and we came to this conclusion. I take no pride—I take no joy in this. It is not a particularly happy moment, but it needed to happen.
GREGORY: Steve, what struck me as I read your decision, since there has been so much conversation about the meeting that is apparently going to happen—although Coach Stringer wasn’t certain it was going to happen—between Imus and the basketball players at Rutgers. Why not let that meeting go forward and get some feedback from that before making a decision like this?
CAPUS: I don’t believe that it should be the Rutgers women’s basketball team that decides Don Imus’ fate. I mope that meeting still takes place. I think that Imus has things that he wants to say to them, and I believe that that team has things that they want him to hear.
That news conference yesterday by that basketball team and by Vivian Stringer was extraordinary. And that was one of the other things that took place between the time we announced the suspension and when we’ve made this call.
And I would say that when Vivian Stringer spoke there for about 20 minutes yesterday, from the heart, and she said that she was going to put a human face on this entire situation, many of us took note. I think the entire country did, and appreciated her words and her actions. And to just to watch the members of that team talk about losing their opportunity to celebrate their remarkable achievements on and off the court this year—those comments really hit home.
GREGORY: Defenders of Imus, people close to Imus, other observers like Mike Lupica this morning, who is a columnist for “The Daily News,” as you know, and is a frequent guest on the Imus program, said, you know, the worst thing you do in your public life should not be the last. And if that’s the case, then how does Jesse Jackson, who called Jews in New York—or called New York Hymietown, or the Reverend Sharpton in the way he divided New York City over the Brawley case, how can they be able to apologize and move on, but in this case, Don Imus cannot apologize and move on, especially given his pledge to change his program.
CAPUS: I take no delight in what has happened to Don Imus. Again, I believe he is a good man. But what I would say is, it’s going to be up to him to decide whether this is his final act. I don’t think this needs to be the last act for Don Imus. But I can’t also ignore—and this is what I’ve heard time and time again from so many people who work for me at NBC News—I can’t ignore the fact that there is a very long list of inappropriate comments, of inappropriate banter, and it has to stop. It needed to stop. There shouldn’t -
there just should not be a place for that.
And I take no delight in this. I really don’t.
GREGORY: As the president of the news division, and as a media figure, what do you think the lesson is going to be of this?
CAPUS: Well, look, I’ll tell you what I don’t—what I hope doesn’t happen. I hope we don’t squander this remarkable opportunity that we have to continue this dialogue that has taken place, to continue the dialogue about what is appropriate conduct and speech, to continue the dialogue about what is happening in America.
I think we have, as broadcasters, a responsibility to address those matters.
This—for the people who were involved in this, from the Rutgers team, this isn’t a situation, this isn’t an incident. This is life. And that’s why when you listen to Vivian Stringer speak yesterday, and the members of that team speak, you understand why those comments came from the heart.
This is not some incident that has happened. This is someone’s life that we’re talking about here. And so when you get—when you touch something that deeply, we have a responsibility in our reporting to continue this remarkable national dialogue that has begun.
GREGORY: Steve, what can you say about your conversations with Don Imus today and in the last few days?
CAPUS: I’ve not spoken with him today, and I intend to. And—I—look, I’m one of the people who consider themselves an Imus fan. I listen to him every morning, and I think very highly of him. I really do. And I—but I needed to make this call, and I believe this is the right call.
GREGORY: Have you talked at all to CBS, and do you have a feeling about what CBS Radio will do about the future of his program?
CAPUS: I don’t—I have not. My boss has. And I know those conversations took place. We called to inform them that we were going to do this. But I don’t know what is going to happen with the radio program.
GREGORY: Do you have an opinion about what should happen?
CAPUS: No. That needs to be their call. I—my focus is on NBC.
GREGORY: All right. Steve Capus, the president of our news division and the president of MSNBC as well, making the decision to take Don Imus off the air.
Steve, thanks very much.
CAPUS: Thank you, David.