News networks condemn
remarks by Don Imus as “racist” and “deplorable” By
The N. Y. Times (April 7,
2007) On Wednesday morning, Don Imus called the students who play for the
Rutgers University women’s basketball team a bunch of “nappy-headed ho’s.”
Even for Mr. Imus, a nationally syndicated radio host who knows his way
around an insult, it was a shocking remark, one that seemed to impugn both
the physical and moral characteristics of a team composed mostly of black
What followed was a familiar dance for Mr. Imus and the media companies
that profit from his ability to shock his way to big audiences: outrage,
indignation and, eventually, the expression of deep regret.
And so on Thursday, Mr. Imus wondered aloud on his show what the big deal
was, saying people should not be offended by “some idiot comment meant to
But as often occurs in a modern media drama, Mr. Imus’s remarks were
picked up on the Web, in this case by the Media Matters for America site (mediamatters.org).
And by Friday, both his radio and television outlets were getting out
MSNBC, which simulcasts Mr. Imus’s show on cable television, issued an
apology, noting that the program is not a production of the network; NBC,
its parent company, called the comments “deplorable.”
CBS Radio, which syndicates the radio show, was sorry as well: “We are
disappointed by Imus’s actions earlier this week which we find completely
inappropriate,” the company said in a statement. “We fully agree that a
sincere apology was called for and will continue to monitor the program’s
content going forward.”
For his part, Mr. Imus appeared doubly sorry: for a time on Friday, the
printed version of his apology, made on Friday morning’s show — he termed
his remarks “thoughtless and stupid” — appeared twice on his home page at
Mr. Imus is one of the most popular radio hosts in the country, with
millions of daily listeners on more than 70 stations around the country.
The television simulcast of his show on MSNBC is surging in the ratings —
“Imus in the Morning,” which the network simulcasts with the New York
radio station WFAN, gained 100,000 viewers in the last year, for an
average daily total of 358,000, according to Nielsen estimates.
But even with Mr. Imus’s success, his comments gave NBC executives pause.
“We take this matter very seriously,” said Allison Gollust, senior vice
president for news communications at NBC. “We find the comments to be
deplorable, and we are continuing to review the situation.”
This is hardly the first time Mr. Imus has made racially insensitive
remarks during a broadcast. In a 1997 interview with “60 Minutes,” he said
he chose one white staffer to tell racial jokes on his show. He once
referred to the PBS anchor Gwen Ifill as “a cleaning lady.” And in 2001 he
took a pledge, guided by the Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page, to
refrain from making further racist comments on his program.
Mr. Imus’s defenders say that he is actually an equal-opportunity
offender: Jews, gays and Roman Catholics are also his frequent targets.
Yesterday’s show, on Good Friday, included a song couplet that managed to
rhyme the words “resurrection” and “erection.”
Mr. Imus made his on-air apology yesterday morning amid the topical humor.
“Want to take a moment to apologize for an insensitive and ill- conceived
remark we made the other morning regarding the Rutgers women’s basketball
team,” Mr. Imus said. “It was completely inappropriate, and we can
understand why people were offended. Our characterization was thoughtless
and stupid, and we are sorry.”
Yesterday’s show also included an interview with Tim Russert, the host of
NBC’s “Meet the Press,” one of a great number of political and media
heavyweights who appear regularly on “Imus in the Morning.” (The NBC
spokeswoman said the statement expressing regret about the remarks
reflected Mr. Russert’s feelings about the matter as well.)
Both Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, and Senator
John McCain, Republican of Arizona, recently appeared on the show, and
media figures including Frank Rich of The New York Times and Chris
Matthews of MSNBC have also spent time with Mr. Imus. Senator Barack Obama,
Democrat of Illinois, appeared on the show some time ago to promote his
book “The Audacity of Hope.”
Richard Prince, a columnist who writes a blog called Journal-isms about
media and diversity, said that Mr. Imus was inoculated to some degree by
his powerful relationships.
“One of the most offensive things about the whole episode is not just
MSNBC playing ball with Imus,” Mr. Prince said. “Not only is the network
supporting this kind of program, but think of all the prominent
journalists and politicians who are also enabling him and these kinds of
Mr. Imus’s radio show is idiosyncratic in tone, ranging from thoughtful
discussions of politics to the kind of coarse talk that would turn heads
in a locker room.
“That’s some rough girls from Rutgers,” Mr. Imus said on Wednesday. “Man,
they got tattoos ...” The program’s executive producer, Bernard McGuirk,
agreed: “Some hardcore ho’s,” he said. Imus continued, “That’s some
nappy-headed ho’s there, I’m going to tell you that.”
Later in the show, Mr. McGuirk characterized the women’s collegiate
basketball championship Tuesday night, between Rutgers and the University
of Tennessee, as “the Jigaboos versus the Wannabes.”
In a joint statement, Myles Brand, the president of the National
Collegiate Athletic Association, and Richard L. McCormick, the president
of Rutgers, said Mr. Imus’s attempt at humor represented an assault on
human dignity. “The N.C.A.A. and Rutgers University are offended by the
insults on MSNBC’s Don Imus program toward the 10 young women on the
Rutgers basketball team,” they said. “It is unconscionable that anyone
would use the airways to utter such disregard for the dignity of human
beings who have accomplished much and deserve great credit. It is
appropriate that Mr. Imus and MSNBC have apologized.”
But for Bryan Monroe, the president of the National Association of Black
Journalists and the editor of Ebony and Jet magazines, Mr. Imus’s apology
was not enough and called on journalists to boycott the show. “It was
stunning, insulting and unbelievable that he went there,” Mr. Monroe said.
“But his apology was too little, too late. No matter how contrite, his
words hurt so many so deeply that after 40 years in the radio business, it
is time for him to go.”
For the time being, though, the apology seemed to be sufficient.
Don Imus and Bryant Monroe, president of the National Association of
Black Journalist, are scheduled to appear on the Rev. Al Sharpton's radio
show at 1p.m. eastern. It can heard at
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