MSNBC last night announced it’s cancelling Imus in the Morning, its 11-year simulcast of the CBS Radio talk show hosted by Don Imus, who’s under fire for racist comments against the Rutgers University women’s basketball team.
CBS also pulled the plug this afternoon "effective immediately," cancelling the show which was carried on 61 stations and on the Westwood One radio network. Imus said he had a "suspicion" that he was about to be fired on his radio broadcast this morning.
NBCU‘s cancellation of the Imus telecast came after two dozen NBC staffers including The Today Show‘s Al Roker held a two-hour meeting yesterday with NBC News president Steve Capus. "It visibly pains [Capus], as it does all of us here, both people of color and white, that we are going through this," Roker wrote on his blog, where he also has been calling for the shock jock’s axing.
The MSNBC decision (made by Capus and NBCU head Jeff Zucker) was not influenced, according to company statements, by this week’s pull-out of sponsors including P&G, AmEx, GM, Sprint Nextel and Staples. "What price do you put on your reputation?" Capus is quoted in today’s New York Times. "The reputation of the news division means more to me than advertising dollars. Because if you lose your reputation, you lose everything."
Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone told Newsweek that CBS president and CEO Les Moonves was expected to "do the right thing" and fire Imus. High-profile newsmakers including presidential candidate Barack Obama this week announced a boycott of the Imus show.
The Rev. Al Sharpton organized a rally outside CBS corporate HQ on 52nd Street today and met with company officials today. Former NAACP head Bruce Gordon, a CBS Corp. director, told AP he anticipated Moonves would "make the smart decision" and cancel the show.
Moonves said in his statement this afternoon: "In our meetings with concerned groups, there has been much discussion of the effect language like this has on our young people, particularly young women of color trying to make their way in this society."
"That consideration has weighed most heavily on our minds as we made our decision, as have the many emails, phone calls and personal discussions we have had with our colleagues across the CBS Corporation and our many other constituencies," he continued. "We are now presented with a significant opportunity to expand on our record on issues of diversity, race and gender. We intend to seize that opportunity as we move forward together."
After cancelling Imus last night, MSNBC today—reluctantly and awkwardly—hosted Imus’s previously scheduled broadcast of his 18th annual Radiothon fundraiser for children’s medical issues (cancer, SIDS) from its Secaucus, NJ studios today.
Imus said on that broadcast this morning, "I don’t know if this will be my last Radiothon, my suspicion is it will be… I don’t want to turn this into a memorial service for me," according to Reuters. He also said he still intends to meet with the Rutgers team and called recent media coverage "hypocritical."
The race-related furor erupted as TV One airs the landmark series Roots this week, notes the Baltimore Sun. BET announced it will air two news specials in response to the Imus situation: Black is Beautiful: The N-Word (8pm ET; repeats Sunday at 11:30am and 10:30pm) and Nappy Headed Who? Inside the Imus Controversy (tomorrow at 7:30pm ET).
And proving that hatred begets hatred, David Usher, described as an analyst for an organization called The True Equality Network, is using the Imus flap as a hook to call for cable operators to drop Lifetime Movie Network for, in his view, promoting an agenda of "radical feminism." Usher writes in his call for an LMN boycott: "Imus’s comments did not actually harm anyone."