NEW YORK – Don Imus’ racist remarks got him fired by CBS on Thursday, the finale to a stunning fall for one of the nation’s most prominent broadcasters.
Imus was initially suspended for two weeks after he called the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos” on the air last week. But outrage kept growing and advertisers kept bolting from his CBS radio show and its MSNBC simulcast, which was canceled Wednesday.
“There has been much discussion of the effect language like this has on our young people, particularly young women of color trying to make their way in this society,” CBS President and Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves said in announcing the decision. “That consideration has weighed most heavily on our minds as we made our decision.”
Imus, 66, had a long history of inflammatory remarks. But something struck a raw nerve when he targeted the Rutgers team – which includes a class valedictorian, a future lawyer and a musical prodigy – after they lost in the NCAA championship game.
A spokeswoman for the team said it did not have an immediate comment on Imus’ firing. The team met with Imus for about three hours at the governor’s mansion in Princeton, N.J., Thursday night. Imus left without commenting to reporters, and the team did not immediately issue a statement.
He was fired in the middle of a two-day radio fundraiser for children’s charities. CBS announced that Imus’ wife, Deirdre, and his longtime newsman, Charles McCord, will host today’s show.
The cantankerous Imus, once named one of the 25 Most Influential People in America by Time magazine and a member of the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame, was one of radio’s original shock jocks. His career took flight in the 1970s with cocaine- and vodka-fueled outrageous humor. After sobering up, he settled into a mix of highbrow talk about politics and culture, with locker room humor sprinkled in.
He issued repeated apologies as protests intensified. But it wasn’t enough as everyone from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama to Oprah Winfrey joined the criticism.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson met with Moonves on Thursday to demand Imus’ removal.
Losing Imus will be a financial hit to CBS Radio, which also suffered when Howard Stern departed for satellite radio. The program earns about $15 million in annual revenue for CBS, which owns Imus’ home radio station WFAN-AM and manages Westwood One, the company that syndicates the show nationally. One potential replacement: the sports show “Mike & the Mad Dog,” which airs afternoons on WFAN.
The radiothon had raised more than $1.3 million Thursday before Imus learned that he had lost his job. The annual event has raised more than $40 million since 1990.
“This may be our last radiothon, so we need to raise about $100 million,” Imus cracked at the start of the event.
Sponsors that pulled out of Imus’ show included American Express Co., Sprint Nextel Corp., Staples Inc., Procter & Gamble Co. and General Motors Corp.