NEW YORK - Black radio Sunday debated the appropriate response to WFAN-AM morning host Don Imus calling the Rutgers University women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos” last week.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and the National Association of Black Journalists were joined by many callers and guests in demanding Imus be fired, which WFAN and its parent CBS Radio gave no indication is in their plans.
CBS and MSNBC, which simulcasts his show, condemned the comment and said they will monitor him. Imus apologized on the air Friday and Monday, which may not be enough to put it behind him.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a past target of Imus criticism, Sunday used his WWPR-FM show to call for disciplinary action and also ask rappers and other black public figures to re-examine their own use of terms like “bitch,” “ho” and the n-word.
“When we lower our walls, we invite more of this in,” said Jackson, who has long criticized the entertainment industry for use of derogatory words.
Using those words in rap music “legitimizes negative stereotypes,” said sports reporter Bobby Childs on WRKS-FM.
The “Open Line” team on WRKS asked listeners to flood CBS with calls. James Mtume of WRKS, an Imus listener, said, “We’re not gonna get him fired, he makes too much money for everyone,” but called a show of outrage essential to address larger issues of exclusion and disrespect.
(According to the Associated Press, a contrite Imus described himself Monday as “a good person” who made a bad mistake by making the racially charged comments.
Speaking on his radio show Monday morning, Imus said he was not trying to downplay what he called “the repulsiveness” of the remarks, but he said it was important to understand the context of his comments.
“We were kidding around, but that doesn’t change it. That doesn’t make it any less repugnant,” AP quoted him as saying. “I’m not a bad person. I’m a good person, but I said a bad thing. But these young women deserve to know it was not said with malice.”
Imus said he hoped to meet the players and their parents and coaches. He was scheduled to appear later Monday on a radio show hosted by Sharpton.)
Several hosts, including Jackson, called for boycotting Imus advertisers and pressuring guests to skip his show. One regular guest, former Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford Jr., is black, and when Ford ran for the Senate last fall, Imus blasted what he called blatantly racist tactics used against him.
A black Imus listener, Carl Smith, called WRKS to suggest better atonement for Imus would be apologizing personally to the Rutgers team or starting a scholarship.
Imus’ defenders have noted that his radio persona is a cranky character who routinely calls Vice President Dick Cheney a “war criminal” and makes unflattering weight and appearance references to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
He also uses insults as a term of good-natured endearment and it also been suggested he let the Rutgers discussion roll last Wednesday - a day when he was in an unusually good mood - because it felt like a passing wisecrack among the guys.
At best, however, he let it roll about 10 seconds too long. Unlike Dick Cheney, the Rutgers players are college students with whom Imus had no prior relationship or philosophical disagreement. So the comments came off as small and mean.
It was noted on Jackson’s show that had 50 Cent made the same remark, no one would have noticed, and that similar comments have been heard on hip-hop radio.
But while Jackson and others warned that this helped put offensive phrases into general circulation, there was unanimous agreement on black radio Sunday that Imus had no license to pick it up.
Imus is starting his annual radiothon this week, and a backlash could hurt the charities the radiothon benefits.
CBS Radio, still reeling financially from the loss of Howard Stern, can ill afford a slip in the value of Imus, who just signed a new five-year deal. MSNBC last week reported that a 39 percent jump in Imus’ ratings is helping close its gap with CNN.