Monday, April 09, 2007
Don Imus and Racial Stereotypes
MSNBC drops Imus for 2 weeks amid Rutgers flap
NEW YORK -- MSNBC will suspend its television simulcast of radio shock-jock Don Imus' morning talk show for two weeks after the host called members of the Rutgers University women's basketball team "a bunch of nappy-headed hos," the network announced Monday.
Despite apologies from Imus on Friday and Monday, the suspension will start April 16, the network said in a written statement.
"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," it said.
"In addition, his dedication -- in his words -- to change the discourse on his program moving forward, has confirmed for us that this action is appropriate. Our future relationship with Imus is contingent on his ability to live up to his word."
Two of the nation's biggest media companies -- CBS Corp. and NBC Universal -- will ultimately decide the fate of Imus' daily program.
After a career of cranky insults, Imus was fighting for his job following one joke that by his own admission went "way too far."
Imus apologized Monday, both on his show and on a syndicated radio program hosted by the Rev. Al Sharpton, who is among several black leaders demanding his ouster.
Imus could be in real danger if the outcry causes advertisers to shy away from him, said Tom Taylor, editor of the trade publication Inside Radio.
"Everyone is on tenterhooks waiting to see whether it grows and whether the protest gets picked up more broadly," Taylor said.
Imus isn't the most popular radio talk show host -- the trade publication Talkers ranks him the 14th most influential -- but his audience is heavy on the political and media elite that advertisers pay a premium to reach. Authors, journalists and politicians are frequent guests -- and targets for insults.
He has urged critics to recognize that his show is a comedy that spreads insults broadly. Imus or his cast have called Colin Powell a "sniffling weasel," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson a "fat sissy" and referred to Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, an American Indian, as "the guy from `F Troop."' He and his colleagues also called the New York Knicks a group of "chest-thumping pimps."
Imus: We went way too far
On Sharpton's program Monday, Imus said that "our agenda is to be funny and sometimes we go too far. And this time we went way too far."
The Rutgers comment has struck a chord, in part, because it was aimed at a group of young women at the pinnacle of athletic success. It also came in a different public atmosphere following the Michael Richards and Mel Gibson incidents, said Eric Deggans, columnist for the St. Petersburg Times and chairman of the media monitoring committee of the National Association of Black Journalists, which also wants Imus canned.
"This may be the first time where he's done something like this in the YouTube era," Deggans said. Viewers can quickly see clips of Imus' remarks, not allowing him to redefine their context, he said.
On his show Monday, Imus called himself "a good person" who made a bad mistake.
"Here's what I've learned: that you can't make fun of everybody, because some people don't deserve it," he said. "And because the climate on this program has been what it's been for 30 years doesn't mean that it has to be that way for the next five years or whatever because that has to change, and I understand that."
Imus' radio show originates from WFAN in New York City and is syndicated nationally by Westwood One, both of which are managed by CBS. CBS Radio just replaced chief executive Joel Hollander with Dan Mason. With Imus' radio show reaching an estimated 2.5 million people a week, his future could conceivably be decided by CBS chief Leslie Moonves.
CBS has denounced Imus' remarks and said it will monitor his show for content.
The show is simulcast daily on MSNBC, where it reached an estimated 361,000 viewers in the first three months of the year, up 39 percent from last year.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson and about 50 people marched Monday outside Chicago's NBC tower to protest Imus' comments. He said MSNBC should abandon Imus and MSNBC should hire more black pundits.
Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP board of directors, said it is "past time his employers took him off the air."
"As long as an audience is attracted to his bigotry and politicians and pundits tolerate his racism and chauvinism to promote themselves, Don Imus will continue to be a serial apologist for prejudice," Bond said.
Imus was mostly contrite in his appearance with Sharpton, although the activist did not change his opinion that Imus should lose his job. At one point Imus seemed incredulous at Sharpton's suggestion that he might walk away from the incident unscathed.
"Unscathed?" Imus said. "How do you think I'm unscathed by this? Don't you think I'm humiliated?"
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