CBS Radio Cancels Don Imus Show, Effective Immediately

Radio personality Don Imus appears on Rev.Al Sharpton's radio show, in New York Monday April 9, 2007. Imus issued another apology for referring to the Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos" on his morning show last week. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Richard Drew
Radio personality Don Imus appears on Rev.Al Sharpton's radio show, in New York Monday April 9, 2007. Imus issued another apology for referring to the Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos" on his morning show last week. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

CBS fired Don Imus from his radio show Thursday, the finale to a stunning fall for one of the nation's most prominent broadcasters.

Imus initially was suspended for two weeks for calling the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos" on the air last week, but outrage continued to grow and advertisers bolted from his programs.

"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," CBS President and Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves said in announcing the decision. "That consideration has weighed most heavily on our minds as we made our decision."

MSNBC dropped its simulcast of the "Imus in the Morning" radio program and aired news instead on Thursday. MSNBC television and MSNBC.com are joint ventures of Microsoft and General Electric's NBC Universal News. General Electric is also the parent of CNBC.com.

CBS owns both the radio station WFAN-AM that is the host's broadcast home, and the syndicator Westwood One, which distributes "Imus in the Morning" to stations across the country.

Imus has apologized repeatedly for his comments. He also has 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.

Imus said Thursday said he had apologized enough and plans to meet with members of the Rutgers players. "At some point, I'm not sure when, I'm going to talk to the team. That's all I'm interested in doing."

It emerged Wednesday that a key to pulling the plug on his MSNBC simulcast was an internal mutiny within NBC. About 30 angry NBC News employees, many of them black, met with news division president Steve Capus and said they'd had it with Imus' brand of coarse ethnic humor.

"Within this organization, this had touched a nerve," Capus said Wednesday. "The comment that came through to us, time and time again, was `when is enough going to be enough?' This was the only action we could take."

Bruce Gordon, former head of the NAACP and a director of CBS, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he hoped CBS would "make the smart decision" by firing Imus.

"Crossed the Line"

"He's crossed the line, he's violated our community," Gordon said in a telephone interview. "He needs to face the consequence of that violation."

The Rutgers' women's basketball team, meanwhile, were scheduled to appear Thursday on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" with their coach, C. Vivian Stringer.

A growing list of sponsors--including American Express, Sprint Nextel, Staples, Procter & Gamble, and General Motors--had said they were pulling ads from Imus' show indefinitely.

Imus' program is worth a total of about $15 million in annual revenue to CBS, through advertising on WFAN and syndication fees received from MSNBC and Westwood One. It wasn't clear how much of that total came from MSNBC.

Two black on-air personalities at NBC News, reporter Ron Allen and the "Today" show's Al Roker, had already publicly urged Imus' firing on Web log entries.

Allen said he didn't buy the argument that Imus was "edgy" and had hurled slurs at many others. "Personally, I don't think being an `equal opportunity' insulter makes this OK," he said.

Roker said he was tired of cruelty that passes for funny, humor at other people's expense.

"Take His Punishment"

"He has to take his punishment and start over," Roker said. "Guess what? He'll get re-hired and will go on like nothing happened. CBS Radio and NBC News need to remove Don Imus from the airwaves. That is what needs to happen. Otherwise, it just looks like profits and ratings rule over decency and justice."

Democrat Barack Obama on Wednesday became the first presidential candidate to call for Imus to be fired. "He didn't just cross the line, he fed into some of the worst stereotypes that my two young daughters are having to deal with today in America," said Obama, the only black candidate in the race.

Imus' program has been the only thing MSNBC has aired on weekday mornings for the 11 years of the network's existence.

The network loses a morning show personality at a time when his show has been doing very well. Almost as many people had been watching the telecast of his radio show as the highly-produced newscast on CNN--leading CNN to dump its two morning anchors just last week.

Producing its own morning show will also cost MSNBC money at a time it has been cutting costs, but it doesn't have the threat of an advertiser boycott.