By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
MSNBC and CBS Radio have suspended shock jock Don Imus's morning show for two weeks, starting April 16, over slurs he and his executive producer made on-air about the Rutgers University women's basketball team last Wednesday.
"This comes after careful consideration in the days since his racist, abhorrent comments were made," MSNBC said late yesterday in a statement. CBS Radio, which syndicates "Imus in the Morning," was far more brief, saying the suspension was "due to the events of the past week."
Late yesterday, David Gregory, filling in for Chris Matthews on MSNBC's "Hardball," reported that NBC News President Steve Capus made the decision -- which is sure not to satisfy public figures who have been calling for Imus to be sacked.
Among them are the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who yesterday told Gregory that the punishment should "correspond with the infraction" and that the steps taken, or not, by MSNBC and CBS Radio say a lot about the "character and expectations of the networks that are his foundation."
MSNBC's statement said: "Don Imus has expressed profound regret and embarrassment and has made a commitment to listen to all of those who have raised legitimate expressions of outrage."
The cable news network, owned by NBC Universal, put Imus on notice, saying its future relationship with him is "contingent on his ability to live up to his word."
The suspension is delayed until Monday so that on Thursday and Friday, CBS Radio and MSNBC can air the previously scheduled Imus radiothon in support of the Tomorrow's Children's Fund, the CJ Foundation for SIDS, and the Imus Ranch, both companies explained.
Following in the footsteps of celebrity slur-spewers such as Michael Richards and Isaiah Washington, Imus yesterday began his Walk of Shame.
Yesterday's activities included issuing his longest "apology" to date on his radio show while (you saw this one coming) chatting up the number of minority kids who come to his camp for cancer patients in New Mexico. Imus also appeared on the Rev. Al Sharpton's syndicated radio show to say how sorry he was for "making fun of" the female athletes.
But Imus fell out of Mea Culpa Mode and became extremely offended when one of Sharpton's guests called him a guy who'd done radio spots for used-car dealerships early in his career. Yes, in Imus World, that's a no-brainer outrageous affront. Calling young African American women "nappy-headed" prostitutes took him a couple of days to figure out. Imus's handlers may want to work on that as he continues his Road to Rehabilitation, which is shaping up to be a weeks-long extravaganza.
"I was trying to be fun," Imus said on his show yesterday, explaining that the problem is the members of the Rutgers University women's basketball team "don't know what this program is about."
"Because I call my wife 'the green ho,' does that mean I can call -- of course not. I mean that's a repugnant suggestion . . . that I think because we make fun of everybody or because I get made fun of that it's okay to make fun of them, because it's not okay to make fun of them. But that's what we do and that's the context."
Then Imus spoke at great length about the ranch in New Mexico he founded nearly 10 years ago for kids with "cancer, blood disorders and so on."
"And nearly half of the kids who come there are from minority groups. . . . An Asian American girl just won the Imus Ranch rodeo this past spring. . . . Ten percent of the kids who come to our ranch are African American. I'm not a white man who doesn't know any African Americans."
He said the women from the Rutgers team "need to know . . . that I'm a good person who said a bad thing."
The "bad thing" he said on Wednesday's show started when he and his exec producer, Bernard McGuirk, were looking at video of the women's collegiate basketball championship on Tuesday night between Rutgers and the University of Tennessee.
McGuirk called the teammates on the floor "some hardcore hos."
"That's some nappy-headed hos there, I'm going to tell you that," Imus said.
Later in the show, McGuirk said it was like watching "the Jigaboos versus the Wannabes."
"Mr. Imus, you think it's funny to call people 'nappy-headed hos'?" Sharpton asked on his syndicated show yesterday. (Sharpton has also demanded that Imus be fired for his comments.)
Imus said he did not.
Imus said when he made the comments, "I didn't think it was racial. I wasn't even thinking racial. I was thinking, like a 'West Side Story' deal, like one team's tough and one team's not so tough."
He said of his reaction to his exec producer's comment, "My frame of reference is a Spike Lee film."
Sharpton told Imus, "It's not about whether you're a good man; this is about setting a precedent that allows racist language to be used in mainstream, federally regulated television and radio."
If Imus did not intend to resign, "what do you think the price should be that you pay?" asked Sharpton.
"I haven't thought about that," Imus replied.
This led the Rev. Buster Soaries, who came on the show, to suggest "what we're having problems with is that Don Imus does not fully understand the depth of the impropriety."
Another guest, Bryan Monroe, head of the National Association of Black Journalists and editor of Ebony and Jet magazines, asked Imus what he would do if a 67-year-old man went in front of millions of people and made the same slur against his daughter. "Should an apology be enough?"
"Probably not. Probably some gesture of reconciliation, I think," Imus said.
Imus said he did not "have to go have a road-to-Damascus experience" and "round me up a bunch of black kids and act like I'm going to do something good or try to get me some black friends or something."
On the other hand, he has asked the Rutgers team and their families to meet with him to help him paper over his outrageous comments.
At one point Imus chastised the participants in Sharpton's show for not supporting him when he was trying to educate his audience about sickle cell anemia.
Monroe took issue with that, saying Ebony magazine "has been writing and covering sickle cell anemia for decades . . . back when you were still doing radio spots for used cars."
Imus was outraged.
"Don't come on this radio program and insult me, because I'm not insulting you," he said, with, we regret to report, no indication that he saw how wildly ironic it was for him to make that comment on this particular show on this particular day.
"I'm not going to sit here and let you insult me!" he snarled.
"You can keep talking all you want," he said as Monroe continued. "You are not going to insult me. Don't insult me. I have not insulted you. Don't talk to me about doing used-car commercials."
And then, he added:
"I will bet you I have slept in a house with more black children who were not related to me than you have!"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa! What is that supposed to mean?" Sharpton wondered, naturally.
"I don't have to put up with a man getting in my face like this," Imus said, "because I didn't call him any names! . . . I didn't come here to get slapped around."