CBS Radio cuts Imus; Moonves 'deeply upset'
EmptyNEW YORK -- CBS Radio on Thursday permanently canceled "Imus in the Morning," yanking the show off the air after host Don Imus' sexist and racist remarks against the Rutgers University women's basketball team.
The move, made by CBS president and CEO Leslie Moonves, follows by a day NBC Universal's decision to pull the plug on the MSNBC simulcast of the show. Both companies originally had announced two-week suspensions but separately came to the conclusion that they could no longer continue the program. But CBS Radio decided to cancel the show after hearing from a number of people and groups, including a meeting between Moonves and the Rev. Al Sharpton, who led a protest on a rainy Thursday morning at CBS headquarters in Manhattan.
Moonves said he and others at CBS had been "deeply upset and revulsed" by the slurs aimed at the Rutgers women. And like NBC Uni a day earlier, many in the company had said that CBS' integrity couldn't allow them to continue with Imus.
"In our meetings with concerned groups, 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," Moonves said. "That consideration has weighed most heavily on our minds as we made our decision, as have the many e-mails, phone calls and personal discussions we have had with our colleagues across CBS Corp. and our many other constituencies."
In an internal memo to CBS employees, Moonves said it had taken time for the company to hear from the constituencies.
"We have been trying, as best as is possible in such a complex and emotional environment, to determine what is, indeed, the right thing to do," Moonves wrote. "I believe that in taking this action, we are doing the right thing."
This leaves Imus without a place for "Imus in the Morning" for the first time since 1979, when he was rehired by WNBC after his pioneering shock-jock show. CBS Radio owns New York's WFAN-AM, one of the most profitable radio stations in the country thanks in large measure to Imus' show.
"Imus" had been carried on 61 stations nationwide through Westwood One, including home station WFAN. Sources said it will be replaced, at least for the time being, by the popular team of "Mike and the Mad Dog" sports talk show in the New York area, though that apparently is not set in stone.
Imus had been the morning-drive host for WFAN and its predecessor, WNBC-AM, continuously since 1979 and from 1971-77, when Imus was fired. He always has made a living on the edge of comedy, first with his radio show and then with the simulcast on MSNBC that had been the second-highest-rated morning show in cable news, surpassing CNN's "American Morning." His show also had been a place where the media and political elite would appear, including NBC and ABC News personalities, senators and one-time presidential candidates Joe Lieberman, John Kerry and John McCain.
"He has flourished in a culture that permits a certain level of objectionable expression that hurts and demeans a wide range of people," Moonves said. "In taking him off the air, I believe we take an important and necessary step not just in solving a unique problem, but in changing that culture, which extends far beyond the walls of our company."
On what turned out to be his final radio program Thursday morning, broadcast from the MSNBC studios in Secaucus, N.J., but not televised, Imus mixed anger at his depiction with acknowledgment about what he had done to cause the controversy.
"I'm not whining about this. ... We wouldn't be here had I not said it," Imus said. He also vowed not to appear on the so-called "talk show circuit," including Larry King and Barbara Walters interviews.
Thursday also marked what Imus said could have been his final radioathon, a fund-raiser over the air that raises money for charities that support children with cancer and families of sudden infant death syndrome. The efforts have raised more than $50 million during the past two decades and was said to have received commitments for about $1 million on Thursday.
Entertainment lawyer Barry Peek, partner at Meyer Suozzi English & Klein in New York, raised the possibility that Imus could sue over his dismissal given the fact that it isn't clear whether he had violated FCC regulations.
"He hasn't been found to have violated any FCC regulations, and one would have to see whether or not this is a cause for discharge under his contract and maybe the others on the show," Peek said. "Don Imus was hired to be outrageous."
CBS declined comment about Imus' contract.
Peek -- who once about 20 years ago was the object of on-air ridicule by Imus while dating one of the women who worked on the radio show -- said there still might be an on-air future for him somewhere.
"Imus has been around for a long, long time," Peek said. "He has a lot of followers in the political world, and I think for sure he will probably be picked up on satellite. I don't think that any mainstream station will pick him up in the near future."