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Don Imus Is Fired by CBS Radio
"I didn't see CBS having any other choice," said Dave Pugh, who heads Clear Channel Communications Inc.'s group of radio stations in the Washington and Baltimore region, including WTNT. "Imus just took it to an unforgivable place."
NBC dumped Imus's daily MSNBC show Wednesday after a meeting a day earlier among some two dozen African American employees, NBC News President Steve Capus and MSNBC General Manager Dan Abrams at the network's headquarters at Rockefeller Plaza in New York.
"We all expressed very strong and deep feelings about the comments and the wider issue of what this says about decency in broadcasting," said Ron Allen, an NBC correspondent. "The comments were so beyond any line we could draw -- I just couldn't believe I could hear something like that and hear it in a place where I work."
The meeting proved a turning point in Capus's decision to halt the MSNBC simulcast of Imus's CBS Radio show after an 11-year run. Amid a swelling tide of other pressures -- from major advertisers pulling out to condemnations and boycott threats from minority leaders -- Capus said he was influenced most of all by the anger in his own shop.
"I listened to people on both sides of this issue," Capus said yesterday during an interview on "Today." "I got into an elevator today and somebody said, 'You made the wrong call, man.' I appreciate that people have that viewpoint. But . . . when someone says that could have been my daughter [Imus was insulting] and that person works for me, how can I ignore that?"
Allen, a New Jersey native whose father and sister graduated from Rutgers, had been an occasional Imus guest and found himself "consumed" by the controversy. He aired his views in private e-mails to Capus, then went public with a blog posting on NBC's Web site. "Today" weatherman Al Roker also condemned Imus's statements on his "Today" show blog.
NBC anchor Brian Williams, a regular Imus guest, played the role of in-house sounding board, constantly asking staffers what they thought about the Imus controversy and relaying their unhappiness to Capus and other managers, according to Williams.
Williams has spoken to Imus once since the remarks were made, but he and other news stars have never developed an off-air relationship with the radio host, and they were conspicuously silent when it came to defending Imus from the storm of criticism. The Imus issue had particular sensitivity within NBC News because many of its personalities -- Tom Brokaw, Brian Williams, David Gregory, Andrea Mitchell, Tim Russert and Chris Matthews -- have been frequent guests on Imus's show.
Rather than seizing the initiative early on, however, CBS's and NBC's top executives had to be pushed to take action.
When the first protests against Imus were raised last week, both organizations condemned the comments but imposed no punishment. MSNBC even issued a statement pointing out that Imus's program "is not a production of" MSNBC (it is originated by WFAN) and that Imus's views "are not those of MSNBC."
By Monday, as the protests mounted, CBS and NBC announced that they were suspending Imus for two weeks.
MSNBC has weathered at least two previous rounds of protests about his on-air comments.