Storm circling Don Imus over racial comment

AP Television Writer 4-07

NEW YORK, New York, (AP) - Rutgers women's basketball coach urged the nation to look closely at the players radio host Don Imus referred to as ``nappy-headed hos'' and see them for the human beings they are.

``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.

``These young ladies are the best this nation has to offer and we are so very fortunate to have them at Rutgers. They are young ladies of class, distinction. They are articulate. They are gifted,'' she said.

Rutgers President Richard McCormick also spoke, calling the Imus's words despicable, unconscionable and deeply hurtful to the players, students and their families.

``We cannot stand in silence and let these young women be unfairly attacked,'' McCormick said. ``They did nothing to invite the words that Don Imus used.''

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 and 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 Rutgers comment struck a chord, in part, because it was aimed at a group of young women at the pinnacle of athletic success.

It also came in a different public atmosphere following the Michael Richards and Mel Gibson incidents, said Eric Deggans, columnist for the St. Petersburg Times and chairman of the media monitoring committee of the National Association of Black Journalists. The NABJ's governing board, which doesn't include Deggans, wants Imus canned.

"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 if he could clean up his act as he promised on Monday, he said, ``Well, perhaps I can't.'' But he added, ``I have a history of keeping my word.''

Imus said his staff had been trying to set up a meeting with the Rutgers players to apologize, but he said he didn't expect forgiveness. Of the two-week suspension by MSNBC and CBS Radio, he said: ``I think it's appropriate, and I am going to try to serve it with some dignity.''

The Rev. Al Sharpton also appeared on ``Today'' and called the suspension ``not nearly enough. I think it is too little, too late.'' He said presidential candidates and other politicians should refrain from going on Imus' show in the future.

Comic Bill Maher, CBS News political analyst Jeff Greenfield and former Carter administration official Hamilton Jordan all appeared on Imus' show Tuesday.

Imus, who appeared on Sharpton's syndicated radio program for two hours Monday, accused the minister of lacking courage for refusing an invitation to appear on ``Imus in the Morning.'' Sharpton said he couldn't tell people not to watch the show and then appear on it. ``It's not about courage,'' he said.

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.

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.'' He continued through the day Monday, both on his show and Sharpton's.

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.''

Imus 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. The National Organization for Women is also seeking Imus' ouster.

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.''

Baseball star Cal Ripken Jr., who was to appear on Imus' show Tuesday to discuss a new book, canceled the 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, mocked 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.

Even if he were to be fired, he's likely to land elsewhere in radio, Harrison said.

Imus was mostly contrite in his appearance with Sharpton, although the activist did not change his opinion that Imus should lose his job. At one point Imus seemed incredulous at Sharpton's suggestion that he might walk away from the incident unscathed.

``Unscathed?'' Imus said. ``How do you think I'm unscathed by this? Don't you think I'm humiliated?''

Associated Press writers Deepti Hajela and Jacques Billeaud in New York and Nathaniel Hernandez in Chicago contributed to this report.