WASHINGTON – MSNBC said late Wednesday it is dropping its simulcast of Don Imus’ morning CBS Radio program after a succession of advertisers suspended sponsorship of the show’s cable TV version and outrage over his racially and sexually insensitive remarks increased.
Imus’ four-decade career as a radio host also appeared to be in jeopardy after a board member at CBS Radio said he hoped the shock jock would be fired. CBS, which syndicates Imus’ show to 70 radio stations across the country, continued to stand by Imus, saying it would “continue to speak with all concerned parties and monitor the situation closely.”
Imus sparked outrage last week when he referred to Rutgers University’s women basketball players as “nappy-headed hos.” Team members have agreed to meet with Imus on Tuesday – a day after the host is to begin serving his two-week suspension from CBS.
In a statement late Wednesday, NBC, which owns the cable news channel, said the decision to drop Imus came after “an ongoing review process” that included “many conversations with our own employees.” The broadcast company added: “Once again, we apologize to the women of the Rutgers basketball team and to our viewers.”
MSNBC said that starting Thursday, it would offer “expanded live news programming” from 5:30 to 9 a.m., the slot formerly occupied by “Imus in the Morning.”
Imus’ comments about the Rutgers team have prompted widespread condemnation and have turned Imus into a touchstone for a national debate on such topics as racial prejudice and the coarseness of popular culture. Some, including radio shock jocks Opie and Anthony, have supported Imus’ freedom of speech and suggested that his slur was no worse than the lyrics of popular rap songs.
The pressure on NBC clearly was building after seven major advertisers – including top sponsors Sprint Nextel Corp. and General Motors Corp. – said over the past two days that they would no longer place ads on MSNBC’s broadcasts of “Imus in the Morning,” at least while the controversy over his comments is raging.
Imus has also lost ad support from American Express, Procter & Gamble, Bigelow Tea, Staples Inc. and drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline.