Shock for jock: Imus is yanked
MSNBC drops syndicated showMSNBC late Wednesday pulled the plug on "Imus in the Morning," a day after an emotional news conference by the Rutgers University women's basketball team that in the coach's words put a human face on the controversy.
That nationally televised news conference, featuring all 10 of the players and coach Vivian Stringer, in large part put the nail in the coffin of the shock-jock show on MSNBC. But it also was the outrage from NBC Universal employees — who registered loud and clear that they didn't want shock jock Don Imus to work at the same place — that led NBC News to make the decision.
"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," NBC News said late Wednesday. "This is the only decision that makes that possible."
The decision caps a week of mounting pressure on CBS Radio, which syndicates Imus' radio show, and on NBC Universal, whose MSNBC simulcasts it, to drop the highly rated morning program following his sexist and racial remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team. The firestorm of criticism and calls for Imus' dismissal continued unabated even after MSNBC and CBS Radio had announced Monday a two-week suspension of the show.
The decision to drop "Imus" was made by NBC News president Steve Capus in consultation with NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker. NBC Uni parent company General Electric had been monitoring the situation but apparently didn't mandate a decision, sources said. Capus had a two-hour meeting with employees Tuesday, when he heard the outrage from employees that the two-week suspension wasn't enough. Capus also received thousands of e-mails from employees and others concerned about Imus' remarks.
"When you listen to the passion and the people who come to the conclusion that there should not be room for this type of conversation on the air, there wasn't any other decision to make," Capus said Wednesday on MSNBC's "Hardball." MSNBC, like all of NBC's platforms, gave lots of airtime to the controversy almost since it began.
Capus said that what Imus said was racist and that, unfortunately, it wasn't the first time.
"There shouldn't be a place for that on MSNBC," Capus said.
MSNBC's decision to cancel the "Imus" simulcast has not affected CBS Radio's position on the show's future for now.
CBS Radio said Wednesday that it is sticking with Imus' two-week suspension without pay and "will continue to speak with all concerned parties and monitor the situation closely."
"By canceling their simulcast of Don Imus on MSNBC, the National Broadcasting Co. has finally done the right thing," Media Matters for America president and CEO David Brock said. "We hope CBS Radio will again follow NBC's lead."
NBC had been dealing with the fallout from advertisers who not only didn't want to appear on "Imus" but also on MSNBC's daytime programs. They included General Motors and Procter & Gamble, the nation's two biggest advertisers, as well as Staples and DiTech.
"We are accountable first to our consumers," P&G said Wednesday. "Any venue in which our advertising appears that is offensive to our target audience is not acceptable to us either."
But Capus said the decision was more about values than it was about business.
"What price do you pay on your reputation?" he asked on MSNBC. "The reputation of this news division means more to me than ad dollars."
"Imus" was the second-highest-rated morning show on cable news, a gathering place for the political and media elite where such politicians as present and former presidential candidates John McCain, Barack Obama and Joe Lieberman appeared. Such NBC News journalists as Brian Williams, Tim Russert and David Gregory also appeared regularly through a deal whose status was not yet determined.
A network executive said that a decision hadn't been made about whether NBC News personalities could continue to appear on "Imus."
One thing is for sure: Imus will lose his production studio at MSNBC's headquarters in Secaucus, N.J., effective today or Friday. NBC wanted to evict "Imus" immediately but was having trouble logistically rearranging the planned radioathon in Secaucus for Imus' home radio station WFAN-AM, which he was organizing and hosting.
He would be out as of Friday, and no portions from the radioathon would appear on MSNBC.