Friday, April 13, 2007
CBS Throws Imus Off Its Airwaves
By Jake Coyle
The Associated Press
NEW YORK In his 38 years of broadcasting, Don Imus' specialty has been the gratuitous insult.
His rapid-fire, cackling put-downs often played on stereotypes, from calling black journalist Gwen Ifill "a cleaning lady" to aiming contempt at "that bucktooth witch Satan" Hillary Clinton.
The buck finally stopped Thursday, when CBS fired Imus from his nationally syndicated radio show for calling the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos" on the air last week. The decision capped a week of escalating uproar over Imus' comments, which sent advertisers bolting and forced MSNBC to drop its televised simulcast.
CBS had initially suspended Imus for two weeks, but President and Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves said his network reconsidered "the effect language like this has on our young people, particularly young women of color trying to make their way in this society."
The Rev. Al Sharpton met with Moonves for about a half-hour Thursday before the two joined a broader coalition of civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick, D-Mich., in the network's midtown headquarters.
Sharpton said he left the meeting as it headed to a discussion of the culture that permits such racist comments.
"I want broader issues addressed, but they cannot be addressed as long as Imus is on the airwaves," Sharpton said. "CBS has as its symbol this eye, but so far when it came to racism, they blinked. We're going to march until we get that eye open for justice."
The young Rutgers women targeted by Imus included a class valedictorian, a future lawyer and a musical prodigy. The team made it to the NCAA championship final before losing to powerhouse Tennessee.
When the players tearfully responded to Imus' comments, it only reinforced how undeserving they were of his stereotyped scorn.
"All of our accomplishments were lost ... we were stripped of this moment by the degrading comments," said sophomore forward Heather Zurich.
Yet the Rutgers women didn't immediately call for his dismissal.
The team met with Imus for about three hours at the governor's mansion in Princeton, N.J., on Thursday night. Imus left without commenting to reporters, but C. Vivian Stringer, the team's coach, spoke briefly on the mansion's steps.
"We had a very productive meeting," she said. "We were able to really dialogue. ... Hopefully, we can put all of this behind us."
She did not say if the team forgave him for the remarks.
Gov. Jon S. Corzine was critically injured Thursday when his motorcade crashed en route to the meeting. He suffered numerous broken bones, but his injuries were not considered life-threatening, officials said.
Imus had no immediate comment on the firing. His exit from CBS Radio signaled a dramatic fall for the broadcaster once named as one of the 25 Most Influential People in America by Time magazine. He was elected to the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1989.
Imus reiterated Thursday on the air that he made "a stupid mistake." He has 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.
Losing Imus will be a financial hit to CBS Radio, which also suffered when Howard Stern departed for satellite radio. The program earns about $15 million in annual revenue for CBS, which owns Imus' home radio station WFAN-AM and manages Westwood One, the company that syndicates the show nationally.
The news came down in the middle of Imus' Radiothon, which has raised more than $40 million since 1990. The Radiothon had raised more than $1.3 million Thursday before Imus learned that he lost his job.
Volunteers were getting about 200 more pledges per hour than they did last year, with most callers expressing support for Imus, said phone bank supervisor Tony Gonzalez. The event benefited Tomorrows Children's Fund, the CJ Foundation for SIDS and the Imus Ranch.
Imus' ranch in San Miguel County in northern New Mexico offers sick children a chance to learn skills on a working cattle operation. Imus would sometimes broadcast his show from the ranch.
Imus, whose suspension was supposed to start next week, was in the awkward situation of broadcasting Thursday's radio program from the MSNBC studios in New Jersey, even though NBC News said the night before that MSNBC would no longer simulcast his program on television.
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