This morning in our first half hour, Matt interviewed Don Imus (WATCH VIDEO) to discuss the comments he made about players on the Rutgers women's basketball team last week on his radio program, "Imus in the Morning," (which is simulcast on MSNBC) and the subsequent two-week suspension he received yesterday from CBS (which syndicates his radio show) and MSNBC.
Last Wednesday, Imus referred to the Rutgers players as "nappy-headed hos," and many people, particularly some leaders in the black community, immediately called for him to be fired for what was perceived as a racist and sexist remark -- and a remark that Imus has since said went "way too far." This morning, Matt also interviewed Imus's most outspoken critic on this subject, Al Sharpton, who explained why he believes Imus should be let go.
Imus has apologized, appearing on Sharpton's radio show yesterday and has now faced a nationally televised audience here on "Today." Sharpton has said that the two-week suspension is not good enough -- he still wants Imus fired.
Now that you've heard both sides of the argument, what do you think? Should Imus stay or should he go?
Some of you might want a little more context to this whole story, asking who this Imus guy is anyway. Well, before there was Howard Stern, there was Don Imus, a radio "shock jock" who came to the New York airwaves in 1971 and was an immediate sensation -- making enemies as quickly as he earned fans.
Within the media and among his listeners, his later battles with drugs and alcohol are well known (he says he's been sober for 19 years), as is his rivalry and on-going feud with Stern.
I started listening to "Imus in the Morning" about 20 years ago, when my neighbor would drive me and his son to elementary school in New Haven, Conn. At that time, the show was mostly a series of comedy bits, parodies, characters and songs. It was funny, it was raunchy, and it was often cruel and unnecessarily harsh (my mother refused to listen to it). At the beginning of my time listening to the show, I was too young to understand a lot of it, but some of it stuck with me as well. If nothing else, it was an early primer about what works in comedy and what doesn't.
Over the years, as Imus has embraced sobriety and maturity, his show has become more about interviewing authors, journalists and newsmakers and less about comedy -- though raunchy and often politically incorrect humor still has a place on the show. And the Imus causes, particularly helping kids with cancer at the Imus Ranch in New Mexico, and raising money to fight Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, have also become integral parts of the program.
All of which makes what he said last week so confounding to those who like and respect him -- including many of our most powerful elected officials and most respected members of the media (including several individuals here at NBC News). And it begs a lot of questions, several of which Matt asked Imus this morning.
I don't know Don Imus. I don't know if he's a racist. But what strikes me about this situation is how he seems to want things both ways -- he wants to have thoughtful discourse -- of which he is clearly capable -- when discussing news and politics with our nation's leaders and foremost journalists; but he also wants to still be the "shock jock" who insults people and makes hurtful comments for his -- and some of his listeners' -- amusement.
It's a balance that I suspect Jon Stewart and the writers of "The Daily Show" grapple with everyday. But I think what they seem to understand that perhaps Don Imus does not, is that there is a difference between satirizing someone and demeaning them. One takes intelligence and wit, and the other does not. Whether or not he loses his job, hopefully he's learned that lesson.