Sorry Excuses: MSNBC's Form Apology

By Lisa de Moraes
Saturday, April 7, 2007

Two days after Don Imus and a producer of his nationally syndicated talk show were heard on MSNBC making a slur against the Rutgers women's basketball team and one day after Imus suggested people should relax and not worry about "some idiot comment meant to be amusing," Imus discovered he was in fact very sorry for the remark and issued an on-air apology.

MSNBC, meanwhile, continued to say in a statement it wanted folks to know that "while simulcast by MSNBC, 'Imus in the Morning' is not a production of the cable network and is produced by WFAN Radio." MSNBC also wanted to make sure you know that "as Imus makes clear every day, his views are not those of MSNBC," adding, finally: "We regret that his remarks were aired on MSNBC and apologize for these offensive comments."

On Wednesday's show, simulcast on MSNBC, Imus talked with producer Bernard McGuirk about the NCAA title game between Rutgers and Tennessee.

"That's some rough girls from Rutgers," Imus said. "Man, they got tattoos . . ."

"Some hard-core hos," McGuirk chimed in.

"That's some nappy-headed hos there, I'm going to tell you that," Imus said.

Early in his program yesterday, Imus told listeners: "We want to take a moment to apologize for an insensitive and ill-conceived remark we made the other morning regarding the Rutgers women's basketball team.

"It was completely inappropriate, and we can understand why people were offended. Our characterization was thoughtless and stupid and we are sorry."

His comments yesterday were in marked contrast to the remark he made on his show Thursday that the previous day's radio broadcast was "some idiot comment meant to be amusing" and not to get worked up about. That statement was picked up by various news outlets.

Blasting Imus, the NCAA and Rutgers University said in a statement that they "are offended by the insults on MSNBC's Don Imus program toward the 10 young women on the Rutgers basketball team.

"It is unconscionable that anyone would use the airways to utter such disregard for the dignity of human beings who have accomplished much and deserve great credit."

This is not the first time MSNBC has had to apologize for comments made by Imus on its air, not by a mile. Which explains why various organizations were pretty dismissive of yesterday's apologies.

Media watchdog group Media Matters of America noted the comments are "just the latest in a long history of racial slurs made on the show by Imus, his guests, and regular contributors."

And National Association of Black Journalists officer Gregory Lee Jr., who is a senior assistant sports editor at the Boston Globe, told the Associated Press, "You can apologize, but what does that mean when you have a history of making disparaging remarks about people?"

Among the highlights from the MSNBC We Apologize for Don Imus's Show Which Is Not Our Production Hall of Fame:

In January 2006, Imus chatted with Chris Matthews on his radio show, simulcast on MSNBC, and discussed unprintable candy metaphors by way of describing the relationship of the male leads in the flick "Brokeback Mountain." MSNBC apologized for that one, too, saying, according to a report by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation:

" 'Imus' is produced by WFAN radio and is simulcast by MSNBC. The views expressed on the program are not those of MSNBC. Having said that, it was unfortunate that these remarks were telecast on MSNBC. We sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by these remarks."

Traveling further back, in December '04, MSNBC apologized for comments made on "Imus in the Morning" in which Palestinians were referred to as "stinking animals" and a suggestion was made that they all be killed.

That time, MSNBC issued the following statement: "The views expressed on the program are not those of MSNBC. Having said that, it was unfortunate that these remarks were telecast on MSNBC. We sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by these remarks."

We called MSNBC to ask whether the network had considered putting Imus on a several-second delay so as to avoid having to trot out its tired old "We're really sorry but it's not our responsibility" form-letter apology, in much the same way cousin network NBC puts "live" trophy show broadcasts on the air with a delay to be able to kill out words and exposed body parts the Federal Communications Commission has deemed offensive.

An MSNBC rep e-mailed back the comment:

"We take this matter very seriously. We find the comments to be deplorable and are continuing to review the situation."

We asked what "continuing to review the situation" meant. The TV Column did not hear back. We also asked for an explanation as to what MSNBC suits thought was the difference in responsibility between a program it aired that it produced and a program it aired that was produced by CBS Radio. We did not hear back.

Imus is a member of the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame. His show is syndicated to more than 70 radio stations around the country. WFAN is owned by CBS. Yesterday CBS Radio issued this statement:

"We are disappointed by Imus' actions earlier this week which we find completely inappropriate. We fully agree that a sincere apology was called for and will continue to monitor the program's content going forward."

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