CBS, MSNBC Suspend Imus for Racial Comments CBS Radio and MSNBC have suspended talk-show host Don Imus for two weeks. Their decision came at the end of a day in which he repeatedly apologized for disparaging Rutgers University women's basketball players in racially and sexually charged comments on the air last week.
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CBS, MSNBC Suspend Imus for Racial Comments

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CBS, MSNBC Suspend Imus for Racial Comments

CBS, MSNBC Suspend Imus for Racial Comments

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Talk show host Don Imus continued his contrition tour today. Some black activists are calling for Imus to be fired for remarks he made on the air disparaging the Rutgers women's basketball team in terms that were racially and sexually offensive. For several days Imus has been trying to explain the context in which he made the comment and how sorry he is that he did. NPR's David Folkenflik has the story, and we should say the story contains language that some listeners may find offensive.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: What would it take for Don Imus to get fired? The man has a nationally syndicated CBS radio show that attracts an educated upper-class audience, and it is simulcast on MSNBC.

Here are some of the things he said over the years, say, about Palestinians during the burial of PLO leader Yasser Arafat.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW "IMUS IN THE MORNING")

DON IMUS: They're eating dirt, and that fat pig wife of his is living in Paris.

FOLKENFLIK: Here's how Imus referred to his own bosses at CBS radio whom he had described as Jewish management moments earlier.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW "IMUS IN THE MORNING")

IMUS: I'll try to put it in terms that these money-grubbing bastards can understand.

FOLKENFLIK: And others in which he made fun of blacks, Latinos, gays, women, Democrats, Republicans, and a lot other people. Today Imus' remarks were part apology.

IMUS: I'm accepting responsibility because it is my responsibility. Of course, I'm accepting it. And I'm apologizing and asking forgiveness for what I did do but what I did do.

FOLKENFLIK: And part defense...

IMUS: I'm not a jealous. I'm not Tim Russert. I'm not a politician. I don't have any - we don't have an agenda. Our agenda is to try to be funny.

FOLKENFLIK: Talkers magazine publisher Michael Harrison follows radio talk show host like Imus. He said Imus' racially provocative remarks are part of the shtick that he's well paid to perform.

MICHAEL HARRISON: This was not something that was a shock. This is not something that caught his employers by surprise. This is what he's been doing for years.

FOLKENFLIK: So Harrison has two questions...

HARRISON: So why this comment? And why now? That's what I'm asking.

FOLKENFLIK: Here's what Imus and his producer, Bernard McGuirk, actually said about the Rutgers women's basketball players, most of whom are black.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW "IMUS IN THE MORNING")

IMUS: That's some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos...

BERNARD MCGUIRK: Some hardcore ho's.

IMUS: That's some nappy-headed ho's there, I'm going to tell you that.

FOLKENFLIK: The Reverend Al Sharpton was among the first to call for MSNBC and CBS to fire Imus. As Imus appeared on Sharpton's own radio show to apologize again today, Sharpton grilled him.

AL SHARPTON: Let me get this right. You call these people nappy-headed ho's but you wasn't talking racial when you said nappy. Jigaboos and wannabes but you didn't understand what you were saying. You just - what you were saying? You blanked out?

FOLKENFLIK: Imus's show blends his own barbed observations about politics, popular culture and sports with interviews with public figures. Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton famously charmed New Yorker voters on the Imus show when he said that bubba is just southern for mensch. And Imus's interviews with authors helped to move books off the shelves and toured the cash registers. Howard Kurtz is the media critic for The Washington Post. He's just one of the many prominent journalists who have appeared on Imus's show.

HOWARD KURTZ: I was not offended in the slightest when, years ago, I was made some cracks about my ethnicity because it was done in the spirit of humor and I'm fair game for that sort of thing. But it's entirely different situation when he uses offensive language to pick on members of the Rutgers women's basketball team.

FOLKENFLIK: Kurtz thinks this flap will blow over because, he says, most Imus listeners understand that he's not bigoted. And it's not clear how deep the anger really is. The several major groups of black and women journalists have called on reporters to boycott the Imus show. The Reverend Jesse Jackson led 40 people in protest in Chicago today. But this is what it sounded like at a press conference in Los Angeles this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF SILENCE)

FOLKENFLIK: Ultimately, a local set of activist spoke this piece over the fountain, though the six journalists who attended outnumbered the three protesters there. But greater protests are set at NBC headquarters in New York City tomorrow. Executives there are still said to be weighing his status. And CBS radio says it will closely monitor Imus's broadcasts from now on.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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