A both apologetic and defiant Don Imus promised on TODAY to add a regular African-American presence to the radio show that the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and other black leaders say should not go back on the air.
“This is a comedy show. I’m not a news man,” the embattled radio icon told TODAY host Matt Lauer in an exclusive interview. “There’s a difference between premeditated murder and a gun going off accidentally and killing someone. It was comedy. It wasn’t a malicious rant. I’m not a racist. I’ve demonstrated that in my words and my work.”
“I think it is not really enough,” countered Sharpton. “It’s too little too late. This kind of use of the airwaves must be stopped .... It’s not about Don Imus. This is about the use of public airwaves, the use of advertising dollars.”
It was day three of Imus’ apology tour for remarks he made on his daily radio show, in which he called the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed ho’s.” Two days later, on Friday, April 6, Imus apologized on the air for his comments. His nationally-syndicated show originates with CBS-owned WFAN-AM in New York and is simulcast on MSNBC television. (MSNBC is owned by NBC Universal.)
Monday, after a weekend of blistering attacks, he appeared on Sharpton’s national radio show and spent nearly two tense and often hostile hours defending his personal integrity and the statements that many feel are both indefensible and part of a long-term pattern of racist and sexist slurs.
Radio host faces two-week suspension
Later that day, both NBC and CBS announced that Imus would be suspended for two weeks, but the suspension would not begin until Monday, April 16, to allow him to run a fundraising radiothon scheduled for Thursday and Friday.
Imus said the suspension is not a slap on the wrist, as some have called it.
“In the scheme of my life, this two-week suspension is not insignificant. I’m going to serve it without whining. As bad as I feel, I don’t feel as bad as those young women at Rutgers do.”
But Sharpton and Jackson, along with Michele Moore, senior vice president of the Urban League and Earl Graves Jr., president and CEO of Black Enterprise, all said that Imus should not be suspended; he should be terminated.
Jackson, speaking with TODAY host Meredith Vieira, took the debate beyond Imus to the on-air line-up at NBC’s cable-news outlets. “No black hosts on MSNBC,” he said. “No black hosts on CNBC. Can we use this moment to desegregate the media?”
In his earlier segment with Lauer and Sharpton, Imus, who was on live during his radio show, had said he intends to do exactly that when — and if — he comes back. Sharpton suggested that it is a decision that will be made not by his employers, but by the marketplace.
“I am a good and decent person,” Imus said, repeating what has become the leitmotif of his apology tour. “I can come back and create a dialogue. There ought to be a black person on this show every day to add perspective.”
He repeated his resolve to apologize directly to the Rutgers basketball players, adding that he didn’t expect them to accept that apology. He also recounted his history during a 36-year career during which he has recast himself as not just a shock jock, but also a political commentator and interviewer whose favor is widely sought by national political figures.
Will Imus be forgiven?
Over the years, a few have survived similar on-air incidents, but more have not. Howard Cosell, the outspoken and controversial sports broadcaster, was not fired when he called an African-American football player a “little monkey,” but oddsmaker Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder lost his television job for saying that American blacks were better athletes because they were bred that way by slave owners. Al Campanis, an executive with the Los Angeles Dodgers, also lost his job for racially insensitive comments. More recently, former NBA star Tim Hardaway lost endorsement deals and a job with the NBA for homophobic comments.
Sharpton, Jackson, Moore and Graves all said Imus should also lose his job, while James Carville, the Democratic political consultant and long-time Imus friend, defended Imus’ fundamental decency and said he will continue to appear on the show.
Vieira asked Jackson how what Imus said is different than Jackson referring to New York during his 1984 presidential campaign as “hymie town?”
“It’s the repetition, and it’s a pattern,” Jackson said, referring to other racially insensitive comments Imus has made in the past. “He’s apologized before,” Jackson continued, adding that the offensive comments have continued.
— By Mike Celizic, TODAYshow.com contributor