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U.S. News

MSNBC drops Don Imus show as advertisers pull out

NEW YORK (Reuters) - NBC Universal will drop its television show hosted by Don Imus, the broadcaster said on Wednesday after the shock jock’s racist comments prompted a slew of major advertisers to withdraw their commercials.

Radio talk-show host Don Imus talks to Rev. Al Sharpton (not pictured) during Sharpton's radio show in New York April 9, 2007. REUTERS/Chip East

The media company’s decision to cancel the broadcast of Imus in the Morning on cable network MSNBC comes a day after executives at NBC and CBS Radio suspended the daily program for two weeks starting next Monday.

Since then, some of the show’s biggest advertisers including General Motors and Sprint Nextel said they would no longer run commercials after Imus made an on-air racial slur about a college women’s basketball team.

“Effective immediately, MSNBC will no longer simulcast the ‘Imus in the Morning’ radio program,” NBC Universal said in a statement. “Once again, we apologize to the women of the Rutgers basketball team and to our viewers. We deeply regret the pain this incident has caused.”

CBS Corp. said it will continue to assess the situation.

Imus, 66, has apologized for referring to members of the Rutgers University team as “nappy-headed hos” on his April 4 show. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

The apology failed to keep most of his highest-spending advertisers from pulling their sponsorships.

Besides GM and Sprint, American Express, drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline and home loans Web site Ditech.com also joined the exodus on Wednesday. The were among the show’s top advertisers, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

GM, one of the biggest U.S. advertisers, said in a statement that it welcomed Imus’ apology but would suspend advertising while it continued to monitor the situation.

The automaker declined to say how much it spent on advertising on the show. According to figures from TNS, the GM ran $692,OOO worth of commercial spots on MSNBC’s broadcast of the Imus show last year.

Sprint said in a statement that it does “not want our advertising associated with content which we, our customers and the public find offensive.”

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On Tuesday, Procter & Gamble Co. and Staples Inc. also pulled their spots. TD Ameritrade, another advertiser, said it was evaluating the show.

CBS KEEPS EYE ON IMUS

After MSNBC’s decision, a spokesman for CBS Corp. said, “He has been suspended for two weeks without pay, and we will continue to talk with all the concerned parties and monitor the situation closely.”

Imus is perhaps the biggest national star at CBS Radio after it lost Howard Stern to Sirius Satellite Radio last year. The radio business is currently CBS Corp.’s third-largest revenue source after TV and outdoor advertising.

CBS shares fell 1.3 percent to close at $30.99 on the New York Stock Exchange.

One analyst, who declined to be identified, estimated that CBS could lose $500,000 to $750,000 in revenue based on the advertisers that have announced they are leaving, assuming that Imus’ two-week hiatus does not become a permanent exile.

His future at CBS Radio may depend on the outcome of a meeting planned between him and the Rutgers basketball team next Tuesday.

Other broadcasters faced with charges of racism have been forced out of their jobs in the past. Rush Limbaugh resigned from a job on ESPN after he made racially insensitive remarks about a football player, and “Jimmy the Greek” Snyder was fired as a sports analyst by CBS for saying blacks were “bred to be better athletes” from slavery.

Imus is scheduled to host a charity “Radiothon” on April 12 and 13 on WFAN, a CBS-owned station in New York. The annual event benefits Tomorrows Children’s Fund, the CJ Foundation for SIDS and the Imus Ranch.

David Jurist, co-president of Tomorrows Children’s Fund, declined to comment on Imus’ Rutgers remarks but said he was “beyond proud” to be associated with Imus and would “stand by” him.

Asked whether the Radiothon would be affected, he said: “I want to think that people realize that they are sending in money for children who are sick and dying.”

Julie Kwon, a spokeswoman for the CJ Foundation for Sids, said, “The Radiothon is about the charities. The money raised for the Radiothon hopefully won’t be affected.”

NBC Universal is 80 percent owned by General Electric and 20 percent by Vivendi.

Additional reporting by Sue Zeidler in Los Angeles

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