|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] Imus Campaign
|UNHORSED JOCKEY Behind the Fall of Imus, A Digital Brush Fire In a Blur,
Watchdogs, Blogs, Email, Spur Radio Host's Firing By BROOKS BARNES,
EMILY STEEL and SARAH MCBRIDE April 13, 2007; Page A1
At 6:14 a.m. on Wednesday, April 4, relatively few people were tuned
into the "Imus in the Morning Show" when Don Imus referred to the Rutgers
women's basketball team as "nappy-headed ho's."
Ryan Chiachiere was. A 26-year-old researcher in Washington, D.C., for
liberal watchdog organization Media Matters for America, he was assigned
to monitor Mr. Imus's program. Mr. Chiachiere clipped the video, alerted
his bosses and started working on a blog post for the organization's
Web site. PUBLIC PRESSURE
[Don Imus] â€¢ NBC Takes Don Imus Show off TV 04/12/07
â€¢ P&G, Others Pull Imus Ads 04/11/07
â€¢ Imus Is Suspended Over Race Slurs 04/10/07
â€¢ Text of CBS statement
â€¢ Video: NBC's Steve Capus on discontinuing "Imus"
â€¢ Vote: Should Don Imus get a second chance in radio?
Yesterday, after eight days of dizzying activity, CBS pulled the plug
on Mr. Imus's hugely successful radio show. One day earlier, MSNBC had
canceled its broadcast of the show on cable TV. CBS had originally
suspended Mr. Imus for two weeks, but succumbed amid an escalating
national outcry and an exodus of big advertisers. "All of us have been
deeply upset and revulsed by the statements that were made on our air,"
CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves said yesterday in a written statement.
Mr. Imus, who didn't respond to repeated calls seeking comment, had
for years been making outrageous and frequently crude remarks about
risky subjects such as race, sex and gender, a style that millions of
listeners had embraced. The media executives and advertisers profiting
from Mr. Imus's popularity stood by him as protests occasionally
surfaced. They usually subsided after a few days.
This time it was different. The target was a sympathetic team of young
athletes. In the ensuing furor, the lucrative and often vulgar business
of talk radio found itself running into new limits, as the Internet sent
Mr. Imus to millions of PC screens, driving executives, advertisers and
employees to distance themselves from his racist words.
On the morning of the original broadcast, there was little response to
Mr. Imus's slur. Media Matters posted the video and transcript on its Web
site and sent an email blast to several hundred reporters, as it does
nearly every day. The post received dozens of comments, many heated,
some more than 300 words long. The next day, top news outlets didn't
mention the incident.
On Thursday, at about 3 p.m., NBC News President Steve Capus was
conducting a routine planning meeting in his third-floor offices at
Rockefeller Center when an assistant interrupted him to take an urgent
phone call, according to a person at the meeting. On the other line:
MSNBC General Manager Dan Abrams. Mr. Abrams said MSNBC executives were
fielding complaints from viewers and employees who had seen a video clip
of Mr. Imus's remark on the Media Matters site, this person says.
The group is a Web-based nonprofit organization devoted to monitoring
"conservative misinformation" in print, broadcast, cable, radio and
Internet media outlets. It frequently complains about Rush Limbaugh
and Bill O'Reilly. Although the Imus show isn't generally considered
conservative, some of its guests are.
Mr. Capus called an emergency meeting with MSNBC's management team, the
producers for the TV version of "Imus in the Morning" and the head of
public relations for NBC News. Among other decisions, Mr. Capus asked his
PR team to draft a statement apologizing on behalf of MSNBC but clearly
pointing out that "Imus in the Morning" was a CBS Radio production. MSNBC
and NBC are owned by General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal. [Imus] Darnell
White of NAACP, during a protest of Don Imus outside NBC headquarters
in New York.
At CBS, CEO Leslie Moonves and incoming CBS Radio CEO Dan Mason spoke
on the phone and started debating a course of action. About the same
time, WFAN, the CBS-owned radio station that broadcast Mr. Imus's show,
received a complaint from Rutgers University, according to Bo Dietl,
an investigator and security consultant, and friend to Mr. Imus.
In Chicago, Bryan Monroe, president of the National Association of Black
Journalists, saw an email sent by one of his executive board members at
5:06 p.m. "FYI -- do we need to address" read the subject line. It was
the Media Matters post.
Mr. Monroe, editorial director of Johnson Publishing Co. in charge of
Ebony and Jet magazines, wasn't a regular reader of Media Matters or an
He looked at the email. "My first reaction was: 'Oh, no he didn't,'"
he says. Then he watched the clip. "I heard the words come out of his
mouth and thought, 'Has he lost his mind?'"
Mr. Monroe picked up the phone and started calling other board
members. He had guests over for dinner that night, who also were
African-American. They talked about the controversy during dinner. Later
that night, he was back on the phone with NABJ members and pulled
an all-nighter to draft a statement. It said that the 3,200-member
organization was "outraged and disgusted" by the comments, and called for
"an immediate and sincere apology." Mr. Monroe posted the statement to
the NABJ Web site at 5:30 a.m.
Friday morning, there was again scant mention of Mr. Imus's travails
in the newspapers, although TV stations were beginning to pick up
the story. Mr. Imus began his program, at 6:06 a.m., with an on-air
apology. People close to Mr. Imus say he felt pressured to apologize by
NBC and CBS executives. He also realized he needed to try to defuse the
"Want to take a moment to apologize for an insensitive and ill-conceived
remark," he said. "Our characterization was thoughtless and stupid,
and we're sorry."
It was Good Friday and many people already were off for the holiday
weekend. News was supposed to slow to a crawl for several days.
Instead, the apology made the story explode. It hit the wires that day,
and reporters began to contact CBS and MSNBC. It quickly became clear
an apology wasn't going to suffice, and that the weekend wouldn't douse
David Carr, who writes a Monday media column for the New York Times
business section, decided to scrap his planned subject and write about
Mr. Imus instead. He called the remark "the kind of unalloyed racial
insult that might not have passed muster on a low-watt AM station in
the Jim Crow South."
Mr. Imus's problems were compounded by a power vacuum at CBS Radio,
which produced his show. Two weeks earlier, CEO Joel Hollander, a longtime
supporter of Mr. Imus and his various charities, had resigned. The company
had been underperforming lately and was still reeling from the loss of
shock-jock Howard Stern to satellite radio. Mr. Hollander's successor,
Mr. Mason, wasn't due to start until April 16. He consulted with CBS
executives by phone and email from his home outside Washington, D.C.
Mr. Imus's show is on just one CBS station -- WFAN -- but the media giant
also earns revenue from syndicating the show to radio stations around
the country. CBS owns 18% of the show's syndicator, Westwood One Inc.
Local stations that carry Imus say they sensed the situation was
drifting. "Nobody had a firm hand on it," says Gabe Hobbs, head of talk
programming at Clear Channel Communications Inc., which airs the Imus show
on a handful of stations, including in Washington, D.C., and Providence,
R.I. Some station managers say Westwood's affiliate-relations staff
stayed in touch with them throughout the week.
Late Friday, WFAN issued a short statement. "We are disappointed by Imus's
actions earlier this week, which we find completely inappropriate." The
station said it would "monitor the program's content going forward."
On Friday, advertisers including Procter & Gamble Co. started talking
about pulling their advertising from MSNBC's daytime schedule, which
Civil-rights leaders such as the Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson
raised the volume of their protests over the weekend, holding rallies
in New York and Chicago. At a Saturday rally at the Harlem headquarters
of the National Action Network, Mr. Sharpton called for Mr. Imus to be
fired. A Sharpton spokesman says more than 200 people attended. Mr. Imus
began to grasp the full consequences of what he had done, says his friend
Mr. Dietl. [Bo Dietl]
"Everybody is coming after me," Mr. Dietl recalls Mr. Imus telling him in
a phone call that day. Mr. Imus and Mr. Dietl discussed the possibility
of Mr. Imus appearing on Mr. Sharpton's radio show on Monday. Mr. Dietl
says he advised against it, saying Mr. Sharpton would use Mr. Imus only
to advance his own agenda. But Mr. Imus told his friend he wanted to
use the show to apologize again.
CBS managers checked in with each other by phone, according to a
spokesman, and NBC News executives gathered for a lengthy conference call
on Sunday to map strategy, says Allison Gollust, head of communications
for NBC News. Ms. Gollust hosted 15 people at her home for Easter dinner
but never saw them.
Both CBS and NBC realized on Monday that critics were focusing their
energy on MSNBC. The channel, critics strategized, was more likely to
pull the plug because it had less to lose. Mr. Imus generates about
$25 million a year for CBS, but only about $8.3 million for MSNBC. And
although Mr. Imus reached over two million radio listeners every morning
and only about 350,000 television viewers, TV was a more visible platform
Mr. Dietl offered to appear on Mr. Sharpton's show with Mr. Imus. "He
said, 'No, Bo, I want to go on myself. I want to show I'm not afraid to
face the music,'" Mr. Dietl recalls, saying Mr. Imus was convinced the
controversy would die down after an apology. But the appearance seemed
to make matters worse, with critics latching on to Mr. Imus's use of
the phrase "you people," in what they said was a bungled apology.
CBS and NBC faced new problems: The Rutgers basketball team called a
news conference for Tuesday morning. Another issue: a two-day charity
"radio-athon" scheduled for Mr. Imus's show on Thursday and Friday.
At 6:30 p.m., MSNBC issued a harsh statement announcing it was suspending
the show for two weeks, calling Mr. Imus's comments "racist" and
"abhorrent." CBS 15 minutes later released its own statement saying it
also would suspend the show.
The Rutgers news conference the next day was devastating. Carried live
on cable TV, it went on for more than an hour. The coach gave a lengthy
speech, before the 10 young women on the team, eight of whom are black,
were introduced. They looked uncomfortable in the media glare. Without
a hint of professional polish, their remarks came across as heartfelt.
For years, Mr. Imus had been somewhat inoculated from criticism because
along with the edgy shtick, he addressed serious issues with guests from
the political and media establishment. Presidential candidates (John
Kerry, John McCain, Joseph Biden) top journalists (NBC's Tim Russert,
David Gregory and Andrea Mitchell) and writers with a book to sell made
stops on the show. Mr. Imus also pushed worthy charities, including his
New Mexico ranch which hosted children with cancer.
But it soon became clear that events were moving at a speed he couldn't
P&G, the nation's largest advertiser, and one of its most conservative,
says it quietly pulled ads from the TV broadcast on Friday but it didn't
announce it until Tuesday when reporters started calling. P&G pulled
ads from MSNBC's daytime schedule.
Mr. Capus called a meeting for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday with African-American
employees in the news division, many of whom had complained to managers
that MSNBC was sticking with Mr. Imus. The meeting, slated for 45 minutes,
stretched for nearly two hours as employees -- some emotional and frank --
argued for axing the broadcast, according to two people who attended.
Jarred by the confrontation, Mr. Capus left the meeting and started
lobbying CEO Jeff Zucker to pull the plug, according to a person familiar
with the matter.
Senior NBC executives arrived at work on Wednesday to a flood
of advertisers clamoring to pull their money from "Imus in the
Morning." General Motors Corp., American Express Co., and GlaxoSmithKline
PLC all followed P&G's lead. American Express's CEO Kenneth Chenault,
an African-American, made the decision personally on Tuesday morning,
says a spokeswoman for the financial giant.
At Sprint Nextel Corp., CEO Gary D. Forsee heard about the incident
and agreed the spots should be pulled. Sprint employees had lobbied
for the move, including members of an African-American Sprint employee
group called the Diamond Network, says spokesman Chris Doherty. Sprint
publicly confirmed its decision Wednesday.
Mark LaNeve, GM's vice president of North American vehicle sales, service
and marketing, had been an occasional guest on Mr. Imus's program,
appearing as recently as last Thursday. Over the years Mr. LaNeve
had arranged for GM to donate vehicles to Mr. Imus's ranch for sick
children. On Tuesday, as advertisers were beginning to pull out, GM
said it had "no plans to make any changes at this point." A day later
GM changed its mind. Yesterday, Mr. LaNeve and another top marketing
executive decided to drop the ads altogether.
At NBC Universal, the only debate left was whether to announce the
cancellation of the simulcast that day or wait until the charity telethon
was concluded. In the early afternoon, Mr. Zucker checked in with GE
CEO Jeffrey Immelt, who had in turn been taking the pulse of GE board
members, according to a person close to Mr. Immelt. At a 5 p.m. meeting,
Mr. Zucker made the call to pull the plug immediately. "This is the
right thing to do," Mr. Zucker said, according to a person in the room.
Communications executives drafted statements to release to employees and
the media. NBC News executives called Mr. Imus, and Mr. Zucker placed
a tense phone call to CBS's Mr. Moonves around 6 p.m. letting him know
Mr. Dietl had been reaching out to Mr. Moonves's boss, CBS Chairman Sumner
Redstone, on Mr. Imus's behalf. "Two words should not ruin a person's
career," he recalls telling Mr. Redstone. A spokesman for Mr. Redstone
confirms the media mogul spoke with Mr. Dietl but otherwise declines
On Wednesday, CBS board member Bruce Gordon, a former head of the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, dropped a
bomb by telling the Associated Press he had called on Mr. Moonves to
fire Mr. Imus.
Mr. Redstone left the decision to pull the show largely to Mr. Moonves,
says a person familiar with the matter. On Thursday morning, Mr. Moonves
spent an hour and a half meeting with about 10 African-American leaders
and women's rights advocates.
Mr. Moonves called Mr. Imus late yesterday afternoon at home and told
him that his show was canceled, according to a person familiar with the
matter. Mr. Imus was awoken from a nap to take the call, Mr. Dietl says.
Other controversial radio hosts have gravitated to satellite, where there
are fewer rules governing on-air standards. That happened with Mr. Stern,
and with Opie & Anthony, a duo fired from CBS in August 2002 for
encouraging a couple to have sex in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral.
But right now, the two satellite companies, Sirius Satellite Radio
Inc. and XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc., are trying to merge, and need
approval from the Federal Communications Commissions. FCC chief Kevin
Martin is sensitive to complaints about indecency, and the companies
wouldn't want to do anything that would jeopardize their merger prospects,
says one satellite radio executive.
Mr. Imus's friend Mr. Dietl, a former New York City Police Department
detective, blames the brouhaha on a fundamental mistake made by the radio
host. While many others can get away with using offensive language,
Mr. Dietl says, "the problem here was the people he talked about were
innocent, lovely young ladies who strived and did something great."
--Neal Boudette, Ellen Byron, Brian Steinberg and Suzanne Vranica
contributed to this article.
Write to Brooks Barnes at brooks.barnes-at-wsj.com, Emily Steel at
emily.steel-at-wsj.com and Sarah McBride at sarah.mcbride-at-wsj.com Click to
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