NEW YORK – MSNBC said Wednesday it will drop its simulcast of the “Imus in the Morning” radio program, responding to growing outrage over the radio host’s racial slur against the Rutgers women’s basketball team.
In a statement, NBC News announced "this decision comes as a result of an ongoing review process, which initially included the announcement of a suspension. It also takes into account many conversations with our own employees. What matters to us most is that the men and women of NBC Universal have confidence in the values we have set for this company. This is the only decision that makes that possible."
The network statement went on to say, "Once again, we apologize to the women of the Rutgers basketball team and to our viewers. We deeply regret the pain this incident has caused."
(MSNBC TV is wholly owned by NBC Universal. MSNBC.com is a joint venture between NBC Universal and Microsoft).
The network’s decision came after a growing list of sponsors — including American Express Co., Staples Inc., Procter & Gamble Co., and General Motors Corp. — said they were pulling ads from Imus’ show for the indefinite future.
But it did not end calls for Imus to be fired from the radio portion of his program. The show originates from WFAN-AM in New York City and is syndicated nationally by Westwood One, both of which are managed by CBS Corp. For its part, CBS has not announced plans to discontinue the show.
Before the announcement was made, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) had appeared on the MSNBC program "Hardball," where host David Gregory asked the senator and presidential candidate if he thought Imus should be fired.
"I don’t think MSNBC should be carrying the kinds of hateful remarks that Imus uttered the other day," Obama said.
He went on to note that he and his wife have "two daughters who are African-American, gorgeous, tall, and I hope, at some point, are interested enough in sports that they get athletic scholarships. … I don’t want them to be getting a bunch of information that, somehow, they’re less than anybody else. And I don’t think MSNBC should want to promote that kind of language."
Obama went on to say that he would not be a guest on Imus’ show in the future.
On his April 4 show, Imus and his producer had referred to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as "nappy-headed hos."
The 10 members of the Rutgers team spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday about the on-air comments, made the day after the team lost the NCAA championship game to Tennessee.
Some of them wiped away tears as their coach, C. Vivian Stringer, criticized Imus for “racist and sexist remarks that are deplorable, despicable, abominable and unconscionable.” The women, eight of whom are black, called his comments insensitive and hurtful.
The women agreed, however, to meet with Imus privately next Tuesday and hear his explanation. They held back from saying whether they’d accept Imus’ apologies or passing judgment on whether a two-week suspension imposed by CBS Radio and MSNBC was sufficient.
Several players said they wanted to ask him why he would make such thoughtless statements.
Junior forward Essence Carson said she had done some research on Imus and his past inflammatory and derogatory statements about other people.
“Just knowing that this has happened time and time before, I felt that it might be time to make a stand,” she said Wednesday on NBC’s “TODAY” show.
“He doesn’t know who we are as people,” Carson said. “That’s why we are just so appalled with his insensitive remarks, not only about African-American women, but about women as a whole.”
Advertisers had been pulling out
Earlier Wednesday and Tuesday, advertisers had begun pulling out of supporting the Imus show. General Motors Corp., a significant advertiser on the show, said on Wednesday that it was suspending its advertising but could resume it at a later date.
“This is a very fluid situation, and we’ll just continue to monitor it as it goes forward when he returns to the air,” GM spokeswoman Ryndee Carney said, adding that GM would continue to support Imus’ charitable efforts for children dealing with cancer and autism.
American Express said Wednesday that it had also pulled its advertising from Imus’ show as of Tuesday. “Our policy isn’t to advertise on controversial programming,” company spokeswoman Judy Tenzer said.
Procter & Gamble Co. and the office supply chain Staples Inc. have also said they would pull out, and Bigelow Tea said it was considering doing so. How many other advertisers follow suit could depend largely on how Imus handles the fallout from the controversy.
Kim Hillyer, a spokeswoman for TD Ameritrade, said the brokerage was “evaluating” its continued advertising plans in the program but did not have any further comment.
Imus’ program is worth about $15 million to CBS Corp. through advertising on WFAN and syndication fees received from MSNBC and Westwood One.
A CBS Radio spokeswoman declined to comment on the advertiser actions or to identify other advertisers that may have pulled out of Imus’ shows.