Don Imus Wins Settlement, Rutgers Athlete Fights Back
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
And now we have some news about radio personality Don Imus. The so-called shock jock has reportedly reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with his former company, CBS. As most people know, he lost his job last spring after making derogatory remarks about the Rutgers' women's basketball team.
Now, one of the players is suing Imus for slander and defamation of character. This comes as a report suggests he is also in negotiations to return to the airwaves with a rival broadcaster.
With us to discuss all of this is Attorney Richard Ancowitz. He represents player Kia Vaughn, who filed her lawsuit yesterday. And he joins us from his office in Albany, New York. Mr. Ancowitz, welcome. Thanks so much for speaking with us.
Mr. RICHARD ANCOWITZ (Kia Vaughn's Attorney): Good morning.
MARTIN: Now, you're representing Kia Vaughn, and her claim is that Imus' comments about the team damage her reputation. What's the basis of the claim?
Mr. ANCOWITZ: She was slandered. Her good name was slandered. She was basically accused of performing illegal activity, i.e. prostitution. And she would like to - that - she would like it acknowledged publicly in the court of law that this was slanderous.
MARTIN: It's been several months since these comments were made. Why now?
Mr. ANCOWITZ: Well, I've been working on the complaint, which is 49 pages long, for quite some time. And it turned out just at the time I was serving it that the news came out that Imus was perhaps returning to another media outlet, and also the news came out yesterday that apparently Imus settled his purported $120-million claim against his former corporate employer, CBS Radio, Inc.
MARTIN: And was it time - was your - the filing of the lawsuit because of those other announcements?
Mr. ANCOWITZ: No, no. As I said, I just finished the complaint and was in the process of filing it when this news came out.
MARTIN: Are you representing any other members of the team?
Mr. ANCOWITZ: Just Kia Vaughn.
MARTIN: Now, there's some who would argue that Don Imus' comments are a reflection on him, and they are perhaps a reflection on the people who hired him rather than on the women he insulted. And they would argue that - I mean, this, obviously, that this dialogue about the impact of his comments came before this lawsuit was filed. But part of the argument was, you know, sticks and stones and all that. It's a reflection on him, not on any of these women.
Mr. ANCOWITZ: Well, certainly, it is a reflection on him. But on the other hand, you mentioned at the outset, you referred to Mr. Imus as a so-called shock jock. Don Imus, I believe, started out as a shock jock. And I've been a listener of his for many, many years. But in recent years, he has been an important media figure, someone that governors, senators, even presidents have taken quite seriously. And he's a - he has been a well-respected media figure. And I think what he says does mean something.
And my client shouldn't have to go without being compensated for it, fairly and justly compensated for it. She shouldn't have to go through life with people thinking, oh, isn't this one of the people that Imus called a - another word for a prostitute?
Mr. ANCOWITZ: When she goes for a job interview, should that even cross someone's mind? Well, it shouldn't, but it will. And it probably always will.
MARTIN: What are you seeking in terms of damages?
Mr. ANCOWITZ: In New York state, when we start a lawsuit, we are not permitted to state a dollar figure in terms of damages.
MARTIN: And I think you've said that some of the money from any - if they were to be damages awarded, that you'd be - they would be used to create a scholarship program to study the effects of bigoted and misogynistic (unintelligible).
Mr. ANCOWITZ: Yes. My client wishes to turn a horrible, ugly experience into something positive. And that's the purpose of that.
MARTIN: And finally, I wanted to ask you if you could talk about the settlement that - Don Imus' settlement with CBS. And I understand that you don't represent him. But it's my understanding that part of the basis of his claim and part of the basis of the settlement - and the terms were not disclosed - was that he had a contract clause in which CBS acknowledged that his services were unique, extraordinary and controversial, and that his programming was desired by the company and consistent with company rules and policy. I just wonder what you think that means to your client's claim?
Mr. ANCOWITZ: Well, I can only point out the irony of the situation that Imus lost approximately four months of employment, and he's apparently gained $20 million and a new platform. And it looks like he comes out smelling like a rose. And I don't know if you can imagine, but what kind of effect all these events would have on these young women and particularly, my client - how that would affect their self-esteem. Then these are really open questions, and questions that need to be asked and thought about. But...
MARTIN: Okay. All right. Mr. Ancowitz, I hope maybe you'll come back and talk to us as this matter proceeds down the line. And thank you for speaking with us.
Mr. ANCOWITZ: Sure. Have a nice day.
MARTIN: Attorney Rich Ancowitz represents Rutgers' player Kia Vaughn. She is suing Don Imus for defamation of character. He joined us today from his office in Albany, New York.
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