Imus Suspended for Racially Charged Comments

CBS Radio and MSNBC have suspended talk-show host Don Imus for two weeks, addressing outrage over remarks the shock jock made about black members of the women's basketball team at Rutgers University.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

"Imus in the Morning," as it's called, will not be on in the morning, at least for part of the month. CBS announced yesterday that it is suspending the radio talk show host for two weeks. It's a response to public anger over Don Imus's comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team. The radio host's apologies apparently were not enough.

Mr. DON IMUS (Host, "Imus in the Morning"): I'm embarrassed that I did that. I did a bad thing, but I'm a good person.

INSKEEP: That's Imus saying he is sorry on his own show. He also said he was sorry on Al Sharpton's program.

NPR's Juan Williams is following this story and joins us now. Juan, good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Doesn't Don Imus say outrageous things like that all that all time?

WILLIAMS: He does and in fact he has a history of saying things that are racially charged. He once said that Gwen Ifill, who is now the host of "Washington Week" on PBS, was nothing but a maid. She's a black woman. He said awful things about lots of people, but sometimes they are very racially and sexually charged, even homophobic.

INSKEEP: And we should mention that particular remark about Gwen Ifill. I believe he denied making. There are other remarks he has admitted making, which does raise a question of why this particular remark would catch fire.

WILLIAMS: Well, I think that this one really has hit in terms of the corporate backers of Imus, which is CBS Radio, MSNBC, where the show is aired on television, having a sense that they can now have a wider audience. It's not so much that the FCC, which deals with indecency, is going to respond to this. It's really a matter of the advertisers, and the advertisers here for the show have been people like the New York Stock Exchange, like Chrysler.

But CBS also, as you know, Steve, broadcast the NCAA championships so they have a relationship to the athletic industry, especially collegian industry. And you see NBC saying, you know, we understand the consequences here in terms of our relationships, broader relationships because they often use the show as a platform for advertising people like Tim Russert, Andrea Mitchell, even Tom Brokaw used to go on air regularly. It's been a real platform for media and political elites in the country.

INSKEEP: You have civil rights leaders calling for Imus's resignation or firing. Is a suspension going to be enough?

WILLIAMS: Well, I don't - there's no way to judge that, but I think that in large part now it's going to be a response from the advertisers because, as I said, I don't think it's a matter of the FCC putting pressure on corporate owners - CBS's and the NBC's and even Westwood One, which syndicates the radio show. I think it's going to be largely whether or not the advertisers feel the sting, and that will then force the hand of the people who could fire Don Imus.

INSKEEP: We're getting analysis from NPR's Juan Williams. And, Juan, I have to ask you. You published a book last year that criticized the protest tactics of people like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson who are now leading the protest against Don Imus. Now without minimizing what Imus said, is there any danger that there's some overkill here?

WILLIAMS: Well, there's danger there could be a backlash. I mean, what you see is the people, I mean, you know, and lots of people, Steve, in our position are sort of in the media. I'm thinking of people like Evan Thomas of Newsweek, Tom Oliphant used to be with The Boston Globe. They went on the show yesterday -they go back. And in large part, what they're saying is, you know, maybe there's a little bit of overkill, you know, so they're going to get potentially a backlash from doing too much from the idea that he has to go on Al Sharpton's show that Jesse Jackson is leading a protest.

It looks like the same old dance. But what's different in this circumstance is that I think that lots of people feel that the black women on the Rutgers team don't deserve to be called nappy-headed or have a suggestion that they're sexually crazed or something because they got to a championship and they're aggressive players. People see it as genuinely offensive and speaking to a large sector of American life, you know, black women or female athletes.

INSKEEP: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Juan Williams. And you're listening to him on NPR News.

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