Execs expect him to ‘live up’ to apology
By Peter Johnson
Radio’s Don Imus continued his public mea culpa Monday for calling female Rutgers basketball players “nappy-headed hos” even as CBS Radio, which airs his morning show, and MSNBC, which simulcasts it, suspended him for two weeks beginning April 16.
“His dedication — in his words — to change the discourse on his program moving forward has confirmed for us that this action is appropriate,” NBC News said in a statement. “Our future relationship with Imus is contingent on his ability to live up to his word.”
And if he wants to keep his job, experts say, he needs to go face to face with those who want his head. “He has got to go out to the source of the criticism, seek absolution and hope that at some point in the next few days people will reach out to him,” says Richard Levick, a communications strategist.
That’s what Imus did Monday in an appearance on the Rev. Al Sharpton’s radio show. Imus said last week’s remarks were “repugnant and repulsive and horrible.” But Sharpton was unswayed: “I and others feel you should be fired.” Imus also has requested a meeting with team members and their families.
In Chicago, the Rev. Jesse Jackson led a protest outside NBC’s offices and said others are planned across the country.
Many experts predict Imus will survive, because his loyal fan base accepts him and his humor. Bob Steele, a media ethicist at the Poynter Institute, believes Imus also has support inside CBS and NBC, which have “been willing for years to run the risk that his behavior, as problematic as it has been, will not hurt their bottom lines.”
Nonetheless, Steele says Imus “has a significant pattern of racism and homophobia and mean-spirited comments about women and about religion. He can argue all he wants that he is an equal-opportunity offender, but that doesn’t justify it.”
Critics also are targeting Imus’ high-profile guests, including presidential candidates and network anchors. “To the extent that Imus’ pattern of offensive speech is being discussed in the media now, it could put pressure on the authors, pundits, politicians and journalists who go on his show regularly to either publicly distance themselves from his behavior or risk being seen as having legitimized it,” says Karl Frisch of Media Matters for America, which first publicized Imus’ remarks last week.
Imus apologized again on his own show Monday. “Here’s what I have learned: You can’t make fun of everybody, because some people don’t deserve it. I’m embarrassed that I did that. I did a bad thing, but I’m a good person.”