Groups Reject Imus Apology for Rutgers Remarks
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.
Radio talk show host Don Imus is in hot water over racially charged remarks he made last week about the Rutgers University women's basketball team. Despite an on-air apology, African-American groups want his flagship radio station to fire Imus. The station promises to monitor his program more closely. Please note this report from NPR's Robert Smith contains Imus' offending language.
ROBERT SMITH: It's not news that Don Imus said something offensive. He's made a career out of it, from his days as a local shock jock to his present job as a morning host with millions of listeners. He's famous for the insult. He called Rush Limbaugh "a fat pill-popping loser" and newswoman Leslie Stall "a gutless, lying weasel." But this week, Imus decided to pick on someone not even close to his own size: the women of the Rutgers University Scarlett Knights had just made it to the NCAA finals when Imus and his producers started joking about their appearance.
Mr. DON IMUS (Host, Don Imus Show): That's some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and -
Mr. BERNARD McGUIRK (Producer, Don Imus Show): Some hard-core hos.
Mr. IMUS: That's some nappy-headed hos there, I'm going to tell you that.
Mr. McGUIRK: Oh, man.
Mr. IMUS: Man, that was some move.
SMITH: This might have been ignored on any other sports talk show, but Imus occupies a unique spot in the media ecosystem. Half the time he wallows in locker-room banter: sarcastic, crude, politically incorrect. But then after a commercial break, he'll welcome politicians and network news anchors, hawking their books and chatting about serious politics.
One day, a sidekick will joke about black tennis players Venus and Serena Williams as animals who should be featured in National Geographic. Then another day, he'll interview Senator Barack Obama. This bipolar split led syndicated columnist Clarence Page to propose a pledge to Imus on air seven years ago.
Mr. CLARENCE PAGE (Syndicated Columnist): Okay number one, I, Don Imus...
Mr. IMUS: I, Don Imus...
Mr. PAGE: ...do solemnly swear...
Mr. IMUS: ...do solemnly swear...
Mr. PAGE: ...that I will promise to cease all simian references to black athletes...
Mr. IMUS: ...that I will promise to cease all simian references to black athletes.
Mr. PAGE: ...abandon all references to non-criminal blacks as thugs, pimps, muggers and Colt 45 drinkers.
Mr. IMUS: I promise to do that.
Mr. PAGE: Very good.
SMITH: This week wasn't the first time that Imus violated that pledge. But it has been the most high profile. Web sites immediately seized on the "nappy-headed" remark as a prime example of racism. The National Association of Black Journalists called for a boycott of the show.
Richard Prince, a member of the organization and a writer of the blog Journal-isms, says Imus is being enabled by the reporters and politicians that appear on air with him.
Mr. RICHARD PRINCE (Member, National Association of Black Journalists; Writer, Journal-isms): You know, they're just listening to this stuff and turning a blind eye to it. And they should be held accountable as well as the networks that broadcast him.
SMITH: Imus' networks, CBS Radio and MSNBC, tripped over themselves to issue apologies. Imus himself, after shrugging the controversy off, read a statement on the air Friday.
Mr. IMUS: It was completely inappropriate and we can understand why people were offended. Our characterization was thoughtless and stupid. That's all. And we're sorry.
SMITH: This weekend, another master of controversy and publicity, the Reverend Al Sharpton, entered the fray. Sharpton promised to start picketing Imus' flagship station, WFAN in New York, if Imus wasn't fired within the week.
Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.