CBS is next on Imus firing line
'Repulsed,' radio show is axedCBS Radio on Thursday canceled "Imus in the Morning," yanking the show off the air after host Don Imus' remarks about the Rutgers University women's basketball team.
The move, made by CBS Corp. 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.
CBS Radio decided to cancel the show after hearing from a number of people and groups. Moonves met with 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 repulsed" by the comments aimed at the Rutgers women. And like NBC Uni execs a day earlier, many in the company said that CBS' integrity couldn't permit the company to continue with the shock jock.
"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."
Many advertisers had suspended sponsorship of Imus' show.
The decision leaves Imus without a place for "Imus in the Morning" for the first time since 1979. 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' wife, Deidre, and his longtime collaborator Charles McCord will take over for Imus to conclude his two-day radiothon on WFAN on Friday morning, CBS said. The popular New York-area sports talk show "Mike and the Mad Dog," which airs weekday afternoons on WFAN, will move into Imus' morning-drive slot next week.
"Imus" had been carried on 61 stations nationwide, including WFAN, through CBS Radio programming partner Westwood One. It was not clear whether the Westwood One affiliates would carry "Mike" or another show.
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 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 interview shows.
Thursday also marked what Imus said could have been his final radioathon, a fund-raiser 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 has run afoul of the FCC.
"He hasn't been found to have violated any FCC regulations, and one would have to see whether 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. Imus reportedly earned as much as $10 million annually under his recently renewed five-year contract.
Peek — who about 20 years ago was the object of on-air ridicule by Imus when he dated a woman who worked on the radio show — said there might be an on-air future for Imus 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."