NEW YORK -- CBS Radio and MSNBC are suspending the talk show of Don Imus for two weeks in an effort to staunch the furor that erupted after the host called the Rutgers University women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos."
CBS Radio, which owns the New York sports station that produces "Imus in the Morning," and MSNBC, which simulcasts the program, announced the suspension last night after a day in which the calls for Imus's dismissal grew louder, despite his pledge to curtail offensive remarks on his show.
The move came after high-level discussions at both networks drew in
"Don Imus has expressed profound regret and embarrassment and has made a commitment to listen to all of those who have raised legitimate expressions of outrage," read a statement from NBC News, which runs MSNBC. "In addition, his dedication -- in his words -- to change the discourse on his program moving forward has confirmed for us that this action is appropriate. Our future relationship with Imus is contingent on his ability to live up to his word."
Imus made the remark about the predominantly black team last week during a free-wheeling discussion about the NCAA women's basketball championship, triggering sharp condemnation from black leaders, women's groups, and journalism observers.
Imus apologized two days later, but calls from black leaders for him to be fired have mounted. Yesterday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson led a protest demanding his dismissal in front of the NBC offices in Chicago, one of several he plans to hold around the country. Rutgers University president Richard McCormick denounced Imus's comments as "extremely hurtful."
The controversy has created a dicey situation for both NBC and CBS Radio, which have garnered sizable audiences for Imus's show. It airs on 70 radio stations and draws millions of listeners. Ratings for the MSNBC simulcast are up sharply this year, putting the cable channel in a close race with CNN's second-place morning show. It also draws an audience of largely affluent, younger listeners, which are prized by advertisers.
In Boston, Imus is heard on WTKK, 96.9 FM.
He is known for his biting brand of humor and proudly calls himself an equal opportunity offender. But this latest incident spotlighted the racially charge language he uses on his show, a frequent stop for NBC journalists such as Tim Russert, as well as politicians from both sides of the aisle. HBO's Bill Maher and CBS's Jeff Greenfield were scheduled to appear on the program today.
Imus said he spent the weekend reaching out to black leaders, adding that he wants to express his regrets in person to the Rutgers basketball players. "They need to know that I'm a good person who said a bad thing," he said.
"This program has been, for 30 or 35 years, a program that makes fun of everybody," Imus added. "It makes fun of me and it makes fun of everybody on the planet. . . . That's got to change -- some of that -- because some people don't deserve to be made fun of, like these young women."
Imus also made an extensive appearance on the Rev. Al Sharpton's nationally syndicated radio show to make amends. "Our agenda is to try to be funny, and sometimes we go too far," he told the civil-rights leader. " In this case, we went way too far."
But Sharpton called the comment "racist" and "abominable," adding: "You should be fired for saying it."