Rutgers team, coach lash out at Imus
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Rutgers women’s basketball coach on Tuesday called the comments radio host Don Imus made about her team “racist and sexist remarks that are deplorable, despicable and unconscionable.”
“These young ladies before you are valedictorians, future doctors, musical prodigies,” coach C. Vivian Stringer told a nationally publicized news conference a day after the uproar over Imus’ comments led to a two-week suspension of his show.
Team member Essence Carson said she and the other players were angry and disgusted but would meet with Imus. They stopped short of saying whether they thought he should be fired for calling the team “nappy-headed hos.”
“We are students first,” Carson said. “We did not do anything to deserve his controversy.”
But she said, “We all agreed the meeting with Mr. Imus will help.”
Imus started the firestorm after the Rutgers team, which includes eight black women, lost the NCAA women’s championship game to Tennessee. He was speaking with producer Bernard McGuirk on the air when he said “that’s some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos …”
“Some hardcore hos,” McGuirk said.
“That’s some nappy-headed hos there, I’m going to tell you that,” Imus said.
The comment struck a chord, in part because it was aimed at a group of young women at the pinnacle of athletic success.
“It’s not about them as black or ‘nappy headed.’ It’s about us as a people,” Stringer said Tuesday. “When there is not equality for all, or when there has been denied equality for one, there has been denied equality for all.”
“While they worked hard in the classroom and accomplished so much and used their gifts and talents,” she said, “We had to experience racist and sexist remarks that are deplorable, despicable, and abominable and unconscionable. It hurts me.”
The National Association of Black Journalists’ governing board and the National Organization for Women, among others, have called for Imus and his show to be canned.
Even White House spokeswoman Dana Perino was asked if President Bush thought Imus’ punishment was strong enough.
“The president believed that the apology was the absolute right thing to do,” Perino said Tuesday. “Beyond that, I think that his employer is going to have to make a decision about any action that they take based on it.”
Imus has tried to defend himself, saying he was a good person who said a bad thing, but he said Tuesday that the two-week suspension by MSNBC and CBS Radio was appropriate.
“What I did was make a stupid, idiotic mistake in a comedy context,” Imus said on his show Tuesday morning, the final week before his suspension starts.
Asked by NBC “Today” host Matt Lauer on the air if he could clean up his act as he promised on Monday, Imus said, “Well, perhaps I can’t.” But he added, “I have a history of keeping my word.”
Imus said he didn’t expect forgiveness from the Rutgers team but wanted to apologize to them.
Rutgers basketball player Matee Ajavon said Tuesday, “Right now, I can’t really say if we have come to a conclusion of whether we will accept the apology.”
Several people have said the suspension isn’t enough. The Rev. Al Sharpton called it “too little, too late” and said presidential candidates and other politicians should refrain from going on Imus’ show in the future.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who marched with about 50 protesters Monday outside NBC offices in Chicago, said Imus’ suspensions will not halt the protests.
“This is a two-week cooling off period,” Jackson said. “It does not challenge the character of the show, its political impact, or the impact that these comments have had on our society.”
MSNBC, which telecasts the radio show, said Imus’ expressions of regret and embarrassment, coupled with his stated dedication to changing the show’s discourse, made it believe suspension was the appropriate response.
“Our future relationship with Imus is contingent on his ability to live up to his word,” the network said late Monday. The suspension was delayed because of a charitable telethon.
Imus, who has made a career of cranky insults in the morning, was fighting for his job following the joke that by his own admission went “way too far.”
His career could be in real danger if the outcry causes advertisers to shy away from him, said Tom Taylor, editor of the trade publication Inside Radio.
Imus isn’t the most popular radio talk-show host – the trade publication Talkers ranks him the 14th most influential – but his audience is heavy on the political and media elite that advertisers pay a premium to reach. Authors, journalists and politicians are frequent guests – and targets for insults.
He has urged critics to recognize that his show is a comedy that spreads insults broadly. Imus or his cast have called Colin Powell a “weasel,” New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson a “fat sissy” and referred to Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, an American Indian, as “the guy from `F Troop.'” He and his colleagues also called the New York Knicks a group of “chest-thumping pimps.”
On his show Monday, Imus called himself “a good person” who made a bad mistake.
“Here’s what I’ve learned: that you can’t make fun of everybody, because some people don’t deserve it,” he said. “And because the climate on this program has been what it’s been for 30 years doesn’t mean that it has to be that way for the next five years or whatever because that has to change, and I understand that.”
Comic Bill Maher, CBS News political analyst Jeff Greenfield and former Carter administration official Hamilton Jordan all appeared on Imus’ show Tuesday. The show was allowed to continue.
Baseball star Cal Ripken Jr., who was to appear on Imus’ show Tuesday to discuss a new book, canceled his appearance.
“He didn’t want anyone getting the message that he agreed in any way, shape or form with the comments,” said John Maroon, Ripken’s publicist. “It was the right thing to do.”
The “Today” show’s Al Roker said Tuesday on his show’s official blog that it was time for Imus to go. “I, for one, am really tired of the diatribes, the ‘humor’ at others’ expense, the cruelty that passes for ‘funny,'” Roker said.
Even Howard Stern of Sirius Satellite Radio, a big fan of unrestricted content, weighed in, mocking Imus’ apology, according to the New York Daily News. “He’s apologizing like a guy who got his first broadcasting job,” Stern said. “He should have said, ‘(expletive) you, it’s a joke.'”
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, whose presidential candidacy has been backed by Imus on the air, said he would still appear on Imus’ program.
“He has apologized,” McCain said. “He said that he is deeply sorry. I’m a great believer in redemption.”
Imus’ radio show originates from WFAN in New York City and is syndicated nationally by Westwood One, both managed by CBS. The show reached an estimated 361,000 viewers on MSNBC in the first three months of the year, up 39 percent from last year. That’s the best competitive position it has ever achieved against CNN (372,000 viewers).
Imus’ fate could ultimately rest with two of the nation’s most prominent media executives: CBS Corp. chief Leslie Moonves and Jeff Zucker, head of NBC Universal.
“He will survive it if he stops apologizing so much,” said Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers. Imus clearly seems under corporate pressure to make amends, but he’s nearly reached the point where he is alienating the fans who appreciate his grumpy outrageousness.
Associated Press writers Deepti Hajela and Jacques Billeaud in New York and Nathaniel Hernandez in Chicago contributed to this report.
If you like this, check out this blog by Vail Daily Web Editor, Austin Richardson: