Imus Returns to Radio for Shot at Redemption

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Radio shock-jock Don Imus returned to the air Monday, repentant but, in the eyes of critics, not yet redeemed. His new program airs on WABC in New York and has limited national distribution.


Radio talk show host Don Imus returned to the airwaves today. It's been nearly eight months since Imus was fired from making racially and sexually offensive comments. He's now been picked up New York radio station WABC, and there are plans for broader national distribution.

Here's NPR's Mike Pesca.

MIKE PESCA: New York, deprived for eight months of its favorite cowboy hat-wearing crank, got its Imus back this morning. Early in the program, Don Imus spoke about his April meeting with the Rutgers women's basketball team whom he had called nappy-headed hoes.

(Soundbite of radio program "Imus in the Morning")

Mr. DON IMUS (Radio Talk Show Host): And I have said earlier in the week and apologized, saying that I was a good person who had said a bad thing. And I thought about how irrelevant that was.

PESCA: Imus introduced two new participants in his program who are black, but for the most part, the show was four hours of Imus on Imus' terms. There was live music and some old regulars, like historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

Despite the controversy that's followed Imus over the past eight months, Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd called in, asking for an endorsement.

Senator CHRIS DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): Well, I just got - listen, I'm kind of open, you might come out here and endorse the campaign. I mean, you know, Hillary's got Barbra Streisand endorsing her out here. And let me tell you, I spent about out here, Don, I'm going to tell you something. More people out here are looking, sounding a lot more like you than they do best(ph).

PESCA: The Imus program has long been a dose of heavy hitters from the worlds of politics and media, interspersed with members of Imus' entourage trying to crack each other up - occasionally, with cutting wit, often with nastiness. Initial reports from many members of the media class are that Imus' strengths continue to outweigh his baggage.

CBS political correspondent Jeff Greenfield found Imus' comments about the Rutgers basketball team reprehensible. But he also says that Imus conducts the most instructive political conversations in broadcasting. So, Greenfield says, he'll return as a guest.

Mr. JEFF GREENFIELD (Political correspondent, CBS): Say, oh, well, I'll never do the show. First of all, that would be the height of hypocrisy. He's doing the show for 17 years. He and - when in his comic bits and in his comments often strayed into the outrageous. And some of us actually have called him on that, although not enough.

PESCA: Newsweek magazine has barred it staffers from appearing. Tim Russert says he'll go on if his parent company, NBC, allows it. One of Imus' most prominent critics, the Reverend Al Sharpton, has said that Imus deserves another chance. And a spokesman of the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America, which first publicized the Rutgers comments, said that Imus has an opportunity to demonstrate that he's learned from his experience.

Perhaps the I-man himself best captured the mood of unity and reconciliation when he noted, quote, "Dick Cheney is still a war criminal, Hillary Clinton is still Satan, and I'm back on the radio."

Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

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