CBS Fires Radio Show Host Don Imus

Friday, April 13th 2007, 7:16 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Don Imus' wife took over his radio fundraiser Friday after CBS fired the host for racist remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team. She described Imus' brief meeting with the team the night before and praised the women as ``beautiful and courageous.''

``They gave us the opportunity to listen to what they had to say and why they're hurting and how awful this is,'' author Deirdre Imus said as she co-hosted the fundraiser for children's charities.

``He feels awful,'' she said. ``He asked them, 'I want to know the pain I caused, and I want to know how to fix this and change this.'''

``I have to say that these women are unbelievably courageous and beautiful women,'' she said.

The two-day radio fundraiser had been scheduled long before Don Imus' on-air description of team members as ``nappy-headed hos'' set off a national debate about taste and tolerance.

On Wednesday, a week after the remark and after advertisers began pulling their support, MSNBC said it would no longer televise the show. CBS fired Imus Thursday from the radio show that he has hosted for nearly 30 years.

``He has flourished in a culture that permits a certain level of objectionable expression that hurts and demeans a wide range of people,'' CBS Corp. chief executive Leslie Moonves said in a memo to his staff.

``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,'' Moonves said.

C. Vivian Stringer, the Rutgers team's coach, spoke briefly Thursday night after meeting with Imus and his wife at the governor's mansion.

``We had a very productive meeting,'' she said. ``Hopefully, we can put all of this behind us.''

She did not say if the team forgave Imus for his remark.

Critics said the host's remarks about the women were just the latest in a line of objectionable statements by the ringmaster of a show that mixed high-minded talk about politics and culture with crude, locker-room humor.

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 and with a 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.

Imus apologized on his show late last week after getting complaints about the Rutgers comment. He also tried to explain himself before the Rev. Al Sharpton's radio audience, appearing alternately contrite and combative. But many of his advertisers bailed in disgust, particularly after the Rutgers women spoke of their hurt.

On Friday, Sharpton praised Moonves' decision to can Imus and said it was time to change the culture of publicly degrading other people.

``I think we've got to really used this to really stop this across the board,'' Sharpton told CBS's ``The Early Show.''

Some Imus fans considered the radio host's punishment too harsh.

WFAN DJ Mike Francesa, whose sports show with partner Chris Russo is considered a likely successor to Imus in the morning, said he was embarrassed by the company. ``I'm embarrassed by their decision. It shows, really, the worst lack of taste I've ever seen,'' he said.

Losing Imus will be a financial hit to CBS Radio, which also suffered when Howard Stern left 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 WFAN.

The show's charity fundraiser had raised more than $1.3 million Thursday before Imus learned 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.

Volunteers were getting about 200 more pledges per hour Thursday than they did last year, with most callers expressing support for Imus, said phone bank supervisor Tony Gonzalez. The event benefited Tomorrows Children's Fund, the CJ Foundation for SIDS and the Imus Ranch.

Imus' troubles have also affected his wife, whose book ``Green This!'' came out this week. Her promotional tour has been called off ``because of the enormous pressure that Deirdre and her family are under,'' said Simon & Schuster publicist Victoria Meyer.