MSNBC, advertisers drop Imus

April 12, 2007|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,sun reporter

Fallout over the racially insensitive comments by radio talk-show host Don Imus intensified yesterday as MSNBC announced that it will immediately cease simulcasting the Imus in the Morning radio program. Meanwhile, two major sponsors suspended their advertising from the show, and a former NAACP president who is on the CBS board joined those who have urged Imus' dismissal.

A week after Imus referred to the mostly black Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos" following the team's second-place finish in this year's NCAA tournament, opposition to the longtime radio personality continues to mushroom.

MSNBC's announcement came as CBS, which originates the Imus show, released a statement that it will "monitor the situation closely" and reiterated a previous announcement that Imus will be suspended without pay for two weeks beginning Monday.

Since making the remarks, Imus has apologized on his talk show and has repeated the apology on other shows, including an emotionally charged exchange with the Rev. Al Sharpton on his radio show.

MSNBC, a joint cable venture of NBC Universal and Microsoft Corp., said in a statement yesterday that its decision "comes as a result of an ongoing review process, which initially included the announcement of a suspension.

"It also takes into account many conversations with our own employees. What matters to us most is that the men and women of NBC Universal have confidence in the values we have set for this company. This is the only decision that makes that possible. Once again, we apologize to the women of the Rutgers basketball team and to our viewers. We deeply regret the pain this incident has caused."

The MSNBC decision came as General Motors and Sprint Nextel, both major advertisers on Imus' show, yesterday suspended advertising on the program. Procter & Gamble, Staples and Bigelow Tea said they were removing their ads.

"We have suspended our advertisements, and we will continue to monitor the situation," GM spokeswoman Ryndee Carney said yesterday afternoon in a telephone interview.

She then referred to a GM statement that described the decision to suspend advertising despite welcoming Imus' public apologies and intentions to make changes to his show.

"It should be noted that GM has been and will continue to be a strong supporter of Mr. Imus' extensive and on-going charitable efforts to assist children dealing with the challenges of cancer and autism," the automaker said.

Meanwhile, Bruce Gordon, former head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a director of CBS Corp., said yesterday that he hopes the network would fire Imus for his derogatory remarks of April 4.

His predecessor at the Baltimore-based civil rights organization, former Maryland congressman Kweisi Mfume, yesterday joined a growing number of political and civil rights leaders who have condemned Imus.

"Right now, you see a hemorrhaging of his sponsors who are pulling out left and right. Cal Ripken said, `No thank you,' to appearing on his show," Mfume said. "Don Imus finds himself as a serial apologist, a noisy answer to which there is no question. Now the only question is whether CBS and Viacom will step up and terminate his employment."

Both Mfume and Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the Imus remarks recalled insensitive statements he had made in the past about Washington Week moderator Gwen Ifill, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams.

But his comments about the Rutgers women have drawn the loudest reaction because they were made about young people amid an accomplishment, observers said. The emotional appearance by several of the players and their coach, C. Vivian Stringer, at a news conference at the New Brunswick, N.J., campus Tuesday only deepened outrage over Imus' remark.

"Every parent knows what kids go through, and there's something about someone beating on kids," Cummings said. "These are kids who are struggling. My eyes were glued to the television to see those beautiful and awesome black and white women, so sharp and articulate.

"Imagine your daughter at her 12th-grade graduation, and some knucklehead does something that ruins her day."

Another DJ has lost his job over the racial slur. WSBG-FM in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains fired its longtime morning DJ Gary Smith yesterday after he encouraged listeners to say "I'm a nappy-headed ho" for a "Phrase that Pays" contest. After reviewing a tape of the broadcast of the Gary in the Morning show, managers fired Smith.

Eric Burns, chief communications strategist for Media Matters for America, said the nonprofit organization has called on CBS to follow MSNBC's lead and fire Imus. He said the MSNBC decision was courageous because Imus is a moneymaker for the company.

But, he added, "I think that based on the rate in which advertisers are pulling out of the Imus show demonstrates the financial impact. MSNBC may have saved themselves from potential hardship in its maneuver."

Sun reporter Nick Madigan, television critic David Zurawik and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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