MSNBC drops Imus

[12 April 2007]

By Jennifer Mann

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - MSNBC said Wednesday that it would drop its simulcast of “Imus in the Morning,” as a growing number of advertisers, including Sprint Nextel Corp., pulled ads from the show.

The uproar began a week ago when talk show personality Don Imus made racist and sexist on-air comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Previously, MSNBC had announced a two-week suspension of the long-time “shock jock.”

“This decision comes as a result of an ongoing review process, which initially included the announcement of a suspension. It also takes into account many conversations with our own employees,” NBC news said in a statement.

Imus still has the radio part of his program, which attracts about 3.5 million listeners weekly, but pressure is building for cancellation of the radio show as well. The show originates from WFAN in New York City and is syndicated nationally by Westwood One, both of which are managed by CBS Corp.

CBS Radio, in a statement issued after the NBC announcement, reaffirmed its decision to suspend Imus, adding that it would “continue to speak with all concerned parties and monitor the situation closely.”

On April 4, the day after Rutgers lost to Tennessee in the NCAA women’s basketball championship game, Imus referred to team members as “nappy-headed hos.” The remark drew immediate calls for his firing from the National Association of Black Journalists, which also encouraged advertisers and sponsors to take action.

On Wednesday, Sprint decided to join the ranks of sponsors pulling its ads.

Sprint spokesman Christopher Doherty said Wednesday that the telecommunications company, which is the Kansas City area’s largest corporate employer, had received calls from customers, as well as concern from employees.

“We and our customers find the comments to be offensive, so we’re pulling our advertising,” Doherty said. “There is no magic trick in determining timing in issues like this.”

Sprint joined General Motors, American Express, Staples, Procter & Gamble and others in pulling their ads.

Sprint last year spent more than $360,000 running ads on the MSNBC morning show that simulcast Imus’ show, according to TNS Media Intelligence, second only to General Motors, which spent almost $692,000. Sprint also spent an undisclosed amount running ads on the radio stations.

Doherty said the ads were for a variety of both Sprint and Nextel products and services.

Kirk Perucca, who owns a management consulting firm in Kansas City that conducts diversity training, applauded Sprint’s action.

“When advertisers pull their support, that’s how we’re going to get people to quit saying and doing these crazy kinds of things,” Perucca said. “It’s not funny; it’s not a joke. Everybody should be offended, and when companies decide it’s not acceptable is when the pressure will come.”

Two days after the incident, Imus went on civil rights activist Al Sharpton’s radio show and apologized. Imus also is slated to meet with team members privately next Tuesday. The team members Tuesday spoke about how his words has been hurtful but had reserved judgment until they met on whether they would forgive him or whether he should be fired.

But the crescendo continued to build for Imus’ to be banished from the air.

In a statement from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, board chairman Julian Bond said: “As long as an audience is attracted to his bigotry and politicians and pundits tolerate his racism and chauvinism to promote themselves, Don Imus will continue to be a serial apologist for prejudice. It is past time his employers took him off the air.”

Bruce Hennes, who has a crisis communications firm in Cleveland, said it was inevitable that Imus would be fired.

“The real question is: Do advertisers want to be associated with this type of commentary?” Hennes said. “If you have no advertisers, you have no show.”

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