NEW YORK (Reuters) - Radio host Don Imus was dumped by CBS Radio on Thursday in an inglorious end to a 30-year career that erupted in controversy over racist and sexist comments about a women’s college basketball team.
CBS’s decision to pull the plug on the popular “Imus in the Morning” show, which blended locker-room humor with interviews with A-list politicians and celebrities, followed days of uproar after he called the mostly black Rutgers University team “nappy-headed hos.”
The move came one day after he was unceremoniously jettisoned by MSNBC, which had broadcast his radio show on television and after several major advertisers, including General Motors and Procter & Gamble backed out.
Debates over racial expressions are a frequent feature of an American culture still struggling to come to terms with a legacy of slavery and discrimination. “Nappy” is a slur describing the tightly curled hair of many African-Americans. “Ho” is slang for “whore,” and is commonly used in rap music.
“Nappy” is deemed so offensive it has largely fallen out of modern American usage.
“I believe all of us have been deeply upset and revulsed by the statements that were made on our air about the young women who represented Rutgers University ... with such class, energy and talent,” CBS boss Leslie Moonves said in a statement.
CBS said the cancellation was effective immediately. The show was carried on 61 stations across the United States. CBS Corp. unit CBS Radio had originally said it would suspend him for two weeks starting Monday.
The move came hours after what turned out to be Imus’ final CBS broadcast — his annual drive to raise cash for children with cancer.
After overcoming alcoholism and cocaine abuse in the late 1980s, Imus and his wife opened a ranch for children with cancer and siblings of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome victims.
In Thursday’s broadcast, the curmudgeonly 66-year-old radio host called the media hypocritical in its coverage of the flap and said he had apologized enough for his remarks.
He hinted at what was to come from CBS: “I don’t know if this will be my last radiothon, my suspicion is it will be.”
Team captain Essence Carson told the Oprah Winfrey show Imus’ slur “stole our moment of joy.”
“The whole world came down on us,” she said.
CBS will lose about $15 million in annual ad and syndication fees, sources told Reuters. Imus was CBS’ best known host since the loss of rival “shock jock” Howard Stern.
Stern’s antics brought endless government fines, eventually forcing him to make a lucrative move to satellite radio, where he could express himself without regulatory censure.
Experts said unlike Stern and others who moved to satellite after troubles over obscenity, Imus may not be able to follow that path because his woes stemmed from racist remarks.
For years, Imus has insulted blacks, Jews, Arabs, gays, Catholics and women. In December 2004, he referred to publishers of the book “The Christmas Thief” as “thieving Jews.” He later said the phrase “thieving Jews” was redundant.
He has called Arabs “towelheads” and insulted a black reporter: “Isn’t the Times wonderful? It lets the cleaning woman cover the White House?”
Imus sidekick Sid Rosenberg once made racially charged remarks about tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams, saying they should pose for National Geographic magazine.
Rosenberg was eventually fired for making a crude joke about Australian singer Kylie Minogue’s breast cancer.
MSNBC television is a joint venture of Microsoft Corp. and General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal News.
Additional reporting by Paul Thomasch, Kenneth Li, Matthew Robinson, Daniel Trotta and Arthur Spiegelman