(April 12, 2007) NBC News has dropped Don Imus, canceling his talk show on its MSNBC cable news channel a week after Imus made a racially disparaging remark about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team.
The move on Wednesday came after several days of widening calls for Imus to lose his show both on MSNBC, which simulcasts the “Imus in the Morning” show, and CBS Radio, which originates the show.
CBS Radio, Imus’s main employer, said in a statement Wednesday night that it would stick by the two-week suspension of the program that it and NBC News announced earlier. The suspension will begin Monday.
But CBS said it would “continue to speak with all concerned parties and monitor the situation closely.”
The demands that Imus’s show be canceled have grown in intensity every day since April 4, when he called the Rutgers players “nappy-headed ho’s.”
NBC said the cancellation was effective immediately. Imus was scheduled to be the host of a telethon Thursday and Friday morning on radio station WFAN and on MSNBC to benefit three children’s charities. The network will instead air three hours of news coverage.
Imus did not respond to telephone messages Wednesday night.
NBC News said 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.”
NBC also apologized again to the Rutgers team for “the pain this incident has caused.”
NBC executives said Wednesday night that the decision had been made jointly by the NBC Universal president, Jeff Zucker, and the president of NBC News, Steve Capus.
“Those conversations have led to the decision Steve Capus and I made today.”Capus in an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday night said that in his view, the comment Imus had made was racist. He added that it was far from the first time Imus had made insensitive or offensive comments on his show.
“There have been any number of other comments that have been enormously hurtful to far too many people,” Capus said. “And my feeling is that there should not be a place for that on MSNBC.” MSNBC has paid CBS about $4 million to simulcast the show. It was spending about $500,000 a year to produce the show for television. For that investment, it had earned what it labeled a modest profit.
The show is of far more value to CBS Radio and its flagship station, WFAN, which, in addition to the fees from NBC, gets nearly $20 million in advertising and syndication revenue from the show. The show’s individual radio affiliates, collectively, earn another $20 million in revenue, according to people apprised of its finances.
But NBC executives, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss personnel matters, said the program had only minimal impact on MSNBC’s budget.
In an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday night, Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, said advertising money was not a determining factor.
“What price do you put on your reputation?” Capus said. “And the reputation of the news division means more to me than advertising dollars. Because if you lose your reputation, you lose everything.”
CBS executives, including the chairman, Leslie Moonves, continued to hold meetings Wednesday with groups protesting Imus’s remark. Among these was the National Association of Black Journalists, one of the first groups to demand cancellation of his show.
Imus also met with CBS executives Wednesday, according to one executive who was informed of the meeting. CBS put off any further action beyond the suspension, the executive said, in part because Imus had asked for time to meet with members of the Rutgers team. He was tentatively scheduled to hold that meeting sometime Thursday.
Starting this week, large advertisers began telling MSNBC and CBS not to broadcast their ads during “Imus in the Morning.” The companies, like Procter & Gamble and Staples, said they were dismayed that their brands had been associated with Imus’s remark.
Although advertisers have been aware that the program often veered into politically incorrect territory and beyond, “this kind of woke a lot of people to the dark side of Imus,” said Fran Kelly, chief executive of Arnold Worldwide, an advertising agency. “He’s got every right to be on the air and say what he wants to say, but advertisers have every right to vote with their dollars.”