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MSNBC Cans Imus as Debate on Hate Speech Rages

After several advertisers (General Motors, American Express, Sprint Nextel, GlaxoSmithKline, TD Ameritrade and said they were pulling ads from MSNBC due to Don Imus' racist remarks, the network announced that it would no longer be airing Imus' talk show (see video). CBS radio, another of the show's broadcasters, announced they would monitor the situation closely but stick to the two-week suspension they had put in place. Imus' comments, that memebers of the Rutger's women's basketball team were "nappy-headed hos", has set off a national debate on racism, political correctness, freedom of speech, and tangentially, homophobia and sexism.

Al Sharpton, who has been a vocal leader in efforts to get Imus off the air, said, "This has never been about Don Imus. I have no idea whether his is a good man or not. This is about the use of public airwaves for bigoted, racist speech."

Imus appeared on Al Sharpton's radio show earlier this week and apologized for the comments.

Don_imusImus' comments inspired statements from many of the presidential candidates as well.

Barack Obama, who said he would never again appear on Imus' show, told ABC News: "I understand MSNBC has suspended Mr. Imus, but I would also say that there's nobody on my staff who would still be working for me if they made a comment like that about anybody of any ethnic group. And I would hope that NBC ends up having that same attitude...He didn’t just cross the line. He fed into some of the worst stereotypes that my two young daughters are having to deal with today in America."

On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton said, "I've never wanted to go on his show and I certainly don't ever intend to go on his show, and I felt that way before his latest outrageous, hateful, hurtful comments."

John Edwards made his intentions less specific: "I believe in redemption, I believe in forgiveness...What he said is wrong because it's wrong. It has to be condemned, we have to speak out when people use this kind of language. This is a very serious matter, it should be taken very seriously."

According to CBS, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani have both said they would continue to appear on Imus' show.

In Pennsylvania, a radio DJ was fired for sponsoring a contest in which viewers called in to repeat Imus' poisonous phrase: "I'm a nappy-headed ho."

And at Rutgers, students rallied to protest Imus' remarks, and Mary S. Hartman, university professor and director of the Institute for Women's Leadership, explained to the Home News Tribune why she thought Imus' remarks had touched a national nerve: "I think what (Imus') remark did was to expose the latent anger that we all feel. We are awakened anew to things that we just never paid attention to. I think people are just saying, 'Enough! We're not going to take it anymore!' There is a lot of hope here. Today is the beginning. A celebration of these young women was critically important for us, and to tell the world that this kind of trash radio needs to stop."

Imus on Al Sharpton's Radio show - transcript [nyt]
NBC Drops Imus Show From Its Cable Network [nyt]
Edwards On Imus Spat: 'I Believe In Forgiveness' [cbs]
Obama: Fire Imus [abc]

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  1. Great recap on this vile slur and this whole nasty debacle. While, I'm not one to say he should have been fired, since who knows, he may have made some changes to his show. But, like everything in this country, you have your freedom of speech, but, when the only thing that really matters, money is in the mix and sponsors pull out, the gig is up.

    Words hurt, no matter what they are, racial, homophobic or sexist or who they are slung at under the freedom of speech line and have no place in civil society. But, those who pander for votes, McCain and Rudy, don't realize that it seems, got to show the base we don't care about anything but a vote and freedom of speech, no matter how vile.

    Nice to see it on a gay site so well covered!!

    Posted by: mark | Apr 12, 2007 9:59:29 AM

  2. I have watched Imus's show-and kinda liked it I must say. It was a refreshing change from the same blonde ken and barbie morning shows. However, when I was informed that this was not the first time-or even the 20th time that the show has been bigoted, homophobic, sexist, etc. I then decided he should/and has been cancelled. Yes I do believe in freedom of speech-however (pay attention folks), it should never be used to demean or humiliate another person. Arguments will ensue (sp) thank God, but where, and how do you draw a line? Less of a point here, as more of a question. Where (if) do you say enough is enough? Or, is free speech really 'free speech? I guess now, it is up to the masses to decide. Like in Georgia, and other states, they have decided to ask the 'people' what they describe as distasteful or pornographic in outlawing 'adult gift shops'. really less about freedom of speech, as it is about point of view. i know-have a glass of wine now-I vent.

    Posted by: Otto | Apr 12, 2007 10:09:00 AM

  3. and btw-Rudy and John, now must eat their words. They are just peddling backwards.

    Posted by: Otto | Apr 12, 2007 10:13:20 AM

  4. This is NOT a freedom of speech issue. He's free to say what he wants; MSNBC and CBS are free to fire him for what he said.

    So many people seem to confuse "freedom of speech" with "the right to say whatever you want without reprecussions." We're not all promised our own radio shows, after all.

    So please, when you're saying you're glad Imus was fired (or if you're saying he shouldn't have been), don't feed into this freedom of speech nonsense so many people are tossing around. Imus' free speech isn't being impacted at all; what's being impacted is his job. If I went to my job and started tossing around racist and sexist comments, I'd expect to be fired.

    Imus is still free to spew all the racist, sexist and homophobic vitriol he wants to. He just won't be doing it on MSNBC any longer.

    Posted by: Dan E | Apr 12, 2007 10:13:35 AM

  5. The NAACP calls for Imus's firing when he spouts hate speech but gives Isiah Washington an award after he calls TR Knight a faggot -- twice.

    Posted by: FernLaPlante | Apr 12, 2007 10:14:43 AM

  6. Fern,

    Wait a minute. Are you trying to tell us that a political organization might have a double standard? Wow. I'm sort of shocked. Does the press know?

    Posted by: James | Apr 12, 2007 10:26:51 AM

  7. This is a crazy thing that is going on but what is even crazier is all these fucking gay people I see on this site that is just NASTY and I can't believe that people would really do this shit.

    Posted by: Jonnette | Apr 12, 2007 10:38:25 AM

  8. Isaiah's slur was a moment of stupidity which he has apologized for over and over again...Lord have mercy. Imus' slur is 400 years old--it's what most of this country feels--most racist folks just know how to keep it in their heads and not spewin' out their mouths.

    Funny though, many black blogs have been pointing out that black Rappers say much worse things about black women in their music (if you want to call it music).

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Apr 12, 2007 10:39:30 AM

  9. He should have called them "faggots" - he would still have a job. There's still one group it's okay to hate . . .


    Posted by: shane | Apr 12, 2007 10:49:22 AM

  10. I am sick over this hypocrisy. I don't listen to Imus. Never have. I wonder why these beautiful talented women are allowing Imus to have control over their self worth? Who cares what he said. The whole world gives him no credibility. The Rev Sharp? Shame on him. A man who is suppose to be forgiving. The Bible says to forgive others otherwise God will NOT forgive you for your sins. Imus made a very stupid remark without thinking. Why are these woman giving him such credibilty? Is Imus the say all for thier own self worth? Give me a break. What about the Lacross boys? Should we punish Rev Sharp and Jessie Jackson for their remarks against them? They called those kids Guilty before the facts were laid out. What about the girl that made up the lies against the Lacross boys? What should be her fate? What she did is MUCH WORSE than what IMUS DID....HYPOCRITES! Different set of rules for different people! THAT IS RACIST! Who's Life has been ruined over stupid words coming from Imus? And we are making such a big thing over some words that have no validation what so ever?

    Posted by: Stopthisnonsense | Apr 12, 2007 10:56:35 AM

  11. And another thing! Rev Sharp and Jessie Jackson should STOP getting everyone all riled up over issues like these! Stop it! Stop doing this for your OWN personal GAIN. You should be coming out and talking about the ignorance of people saying these things and Helping us to rise above this crap! But your making it worse! Your adding to the Controversy. Your stiring up MORE EMOTIONS. Look at Imus for pete's sake, why are you so concerned over what he has to say? You give him more power and more control than what he really has, and that is a SHAME

    Posted by: stopthisnonsense | Apr 12, 2007 11:07:10 AM

  12. And another thing! Rev Sharp and Jessie Jackson should STOP getting everyone all riled up over issues like these! Stop it! Stop doing this for your OWN personal GAIN. You should be coming out and talking about the ignorance of people saying these things and Helping us to rise above this crap! But your making it worse! Your adding to the Controversy. Your stiring up MORE EMOTIONS. Look at Imus for pete's sake, why are you so concerned over what he has to say? You give him more power and more control than what he really has, and that is a SHAME

    Posted by: stopthisnonsense | Apr 12, 2007 11:08:53 AM

  13. Derrick, you continue to willfully misrepresent the Isaiah Washington story which was MUCH more than a "moment of stupidity"—do you describe Michael Richards' or Mel Gibson's tirades simply as "momentS of stupidity"? They apologized, too.

    I'm certainly NOT saying that Washington and Imus are moral equivalents. And because this has been Imus'es modus operandi for years I am stunned that although GLAAD and NGLTF have FINALLY weighed in with short calls for his firing from radio, too, they don't even MENTION his history of homohating slurs, or those of his guests! The National GAY and LESBIAN Task Force specifies that Imus has also targeted Jews as well as Blacks but says NOTHING about his references to "faggots" and "lesbos" ad infinitum! And HRC is STILL TOTALLY silent on him. This, mes amis, is what is called "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory."

    While the whole fucking western world is focused on Imus and the bigotted venality he represents and cultivates, while the subject of hate speech actually leads many newscasts ahead of the war and everything else, our so-called gay leaders would have a free platform for a "teaching moment" about the similar callous use of gay slurs. And should anyone need a reminder of the product of such hate speech and attitudes, read Andy's piece below about the latest gay hate crime against a gay teen in "liberal" Colorado—the very kind of hate crime that Imus was seen laughing about [in concept] in the video clip Andy posted a couple of days ago. The FIFTEEN-YEAR OLD in Colorado is lucky to be alive! He's also only the latest victim we KNOW about. But does anyone actually think out of the thousands of schools and towns in this homoloathing country that he was the ONLY one who was assaulted yesterday or the day before or....

    I'm sorry if people are tired of hearing it but WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH HRC, GLAAD, AND NGLTF???!!!! And I urge each of you to e-mail them and ask them why they are missing in this action; why they've thrown down their weapons in this major battle in the Culture War; why they aren't demanding that MSNBC demand that Chris Matthews start playing by the rules of public decency himself instead of repeatedly giving Ann Coulter the spotlight to call people fags and equate being gay with hating women—or just as bad if not worse mocking gays himself ON THE IMUS SHOW by laughing about "Fudgepack Mountain."

    WHERE IS YOUR ANGER?????!!!!!!!

    Posted by: Leland | Apr 12, 2007 11:09:11 AM

  14. You know those "Against Abortions? Don't Have One!" bumper stickers? I'm gonna make one that says "Don't Want To Hear Mean Jokes? Don't Listen To Assholes On The Radio." It's that simple.

    Posted by: dave | Apr 12, 2007 11:17:28 AM

  15. So, "nappy-haired ho's" is bad and can cause you to be fired, but "kike", "faggot", and "niggah" are a-okay in terms of job security? Lord help this country...

    Posted by: Kamasutra Jones | Apr 12, 2007 11:18:21 AM

  16. Let me be clear: Don Imus’s comments regarding the Rutgers Women’s Basketballs team were racist, disgusting and hateful. I can’t help but wonder, however, where the leaders of the African-American community–who are now calling for Imus’s firing–were when Isaiah Washington, the African-American actor from “Grey’s Anatomy”, used a homophobic slur numerous times and then lied about it. Oh, that’s right. They were giving him an NAACP Image Award. Seems like a double standard to me.

    If someone could send me a list of the racial, ethnic, religious and sexual slurs that I can and can’t use, I’d really appreciate it.

    Posted by: Scribe62 | Apr 12, 2007 11:24:35 AM

  17. Sharpton certainly is the expert on bigoted, racist speak...he spews so much himself.

    Posted by: stm007 | Apr 12, 2007 11:26:03 AM

  18. Do I think Don Imus is a racist? Probably not. Do I think what he said in regard to the Rutgers team (and countless other times and circumstances) is racist? Yes.
    Words have power, it's true, however, I think I have more power than the word(s) do. I was brought up to believe in myself and my abilities and my sense of self-worth...and God knows that came in handy as I grew up and came to terms with being gay...and throught the countless times in high school I was called fag, sissy, etc..etc.. I didnot like it or always come out feeling good, but it did not change how I felt about myself or saw my place in the world. I would hope that the Rutgers team has a similar experience. Don Imus is not the "decider" when it comes to their self-worth or place in the world and if he chose low-hanging fruit (or what he thought was low-hanging) in order to get a laugh and ratings then bad on him. Period.

    If CBS, NBC and a host of sponsors want to abandon him now, as opposed to any number of opportunities they had in the past...well, let's hope that represents a fundamental change in how they see thier responsibilities as stewards of the broadcast medium.

    One further point - I do worry, however, that events like this will have a chilling effect on intelligent, envelope-pushing thought and talk. If we're leaving the decision of what is right and wrong to charlatans like Al Sharpton (how loudly would he have yelped if Imus got him a big enough check, fast enough?) then there will never be a clear line between free-speech and censorhip. People will be allowed to let thier own individual biases and/or ignorances determine that form them. God Bless Us All!

    Posted by: hoya86 | Apr 12, 2007 11:48:02 AM

  19. I wanted to make a few points. First, I agree with some of the posters that there's too much energy around this. Perhaps it is, as one poster said, Imus reminded some people how prejudiced some people can be. With all of that said, what I find it intersting is that Imus is being treated as an individual on these blogs. When black people have made s allegedly homophobic commentcomemnts these blogs are crazy with people using the n-word. Or making comments like: why don't they understand gay people, black people should know better, etc. It's as if ALL black people are homophobic and the comments of one are attributed to all. Don Imus is one man. He may be white and may be an example that some white people are prejudiced, bigoted, insensitve, or whatever. But, his actions are simply his actions and no one else (other than those directly culpable) should have to pay a penance for his behavior. What if black people started randomly holding white people "accountable" for his conduct? Isn't that kind of crazy? Isn't that unfair? Second, I understand why STOPTHIS thinks Jackson and Sharpton are at fault, but I think things are more complex than that. I was on CNN's Burden of Proof several times years ago. (This was the legal show with Greta Van Susteren before she jumped to Fox.) You would meet people before the show and they'd be sweet. On the show, they'd turn into pitt bulls and say the most incendiary things. I was shocked, but realized it's INFO-TAINMENT. And to make matters worse, the media (white controlled) always goes to Sharpton and Jackson because they want the drama. Sharpton and Jackson know (to some extent) that this is the dance. If they didn't provide some drama, they'd never get media attention. Most white people associate Sharpton and Jackson with racial discord. Fortunately, that's not their entire legacy. The use the media attention to do other things. Please also remember that, until very recently, very little media attention was paid to African Americans that accussed whites of crimes. Tawana Brawley and the Duke Lacrosse case are relatively recent. There was a time when these types of allegations from black women would have gotten very little media attention-- and maybe no serious attention from law enforcement. I remember an episode from LA LAW years ago where a white cop was accussed of shooting a black person. A black lawyer from the firm was hired to defend the cop. There was a black demagogue in the show who was drawing all sorts of attention to the case. At the end of the show, the black lawyer asked him, why did you do all of this. And the demagogue said that it wasn't that he didn't think the cop was guilty. Instead, he wanted to make sure the processed "worked." You may not like Jackson and Sharpton, but believe me, prosecutors and police officers are more likely to be careful knowing that these guys are around than if they weren't. (And one more thing about the Duke case, it is a terrible tragedy. It outlines that ANYONE can effectively be convicted as guitly without evidence. This is why you NEVER try cases in the media. Good prosecutors tred very lightly.) Lastly, I've posted a few times. And I often mentioned that I'm Buddhist. It really doesn't matter whether you use the f-word, n-word, c-word, etc. People should be treated with respect, compassion, and love. That doesn't mean we cannot disagree. It doesn't mean that we cannot talk about "bad" behavior. But, it does mean that we talk about it in way without the hate and anger destroying us in the process of the dialogue. Peace & Love to all.

    Posted by: bmf6c | Apr 12, 2007 11:49:39 AM

  20. DAN E has got it correct:
    Imus' freedom of speech is something he will always have. He can say what he wants and be applauded or have people dis-associate with him.
    This slur happened to be while he was at work, on the job. He deserves to be re-primanded, which he was (2 week suspension). I think being fired is extreme, but if it were to happen repeatedly, yeah, pull 'em for good.

    Posted by: Stephen | Apr 12, 2007 11:52:28 AM

  21. When Imus' show is cancelled, it won't be because of this squalid incident. The "nappy ho" comment is just a catalyst, a convenient excuse to cancel a show that has become a tired exercise in intentionally offensive behavior for its own sake. While I don't usually have this much hope for the American public, I do hold out hope that this is an indication that we've finally started to become bored by this form of "lowest-common-denominator" broadcasting.

    On the other hand, maybe people are just as shallow and quietly hateful as they've always been, and Imus is just being fired because he's old and looks like he's melting.

    Posted by: Brian | Apr 12, 2007 12:00:44 PM

  22. Leland: If I didn't admire your thinking and your writing as much as I do, I would simply dismiss you.

    I have a scar running down my face from a gay bashing/attempted sexual assault incident, a fractured collar bone from a gay bashing, and numerous emotional scars from gay bashings over the last 4 decades. I do not take violence against gay people lightly. But that is why I don't believe Isaiah's stupid, ignorant, asshole mistake is in the same league as violent gay-bashing. I mean, he portrayed a gay character back in the 1990's (Get On the Bus) when it was considered "career suicide" for a black actor trying to build a career in movies and television.

    Leland, you just don't like him!

    But like I say, I admire your stuff and so I listen to (read) what you have to say.

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Apr 12, 2007 12:04:30 PM

  23. I still have mixed feelings over the whole Imus ordeal. Part of me believes he's getting what he deserves and the other part of me thinks its really that big of a deal. If you haven't seen it already, you should check out this story over at Highbrid Nation. The guy who wrote it worked at WFAN with Imus and gives some interesting insight into whether the man is really a racist or not. You all should check it out if you get a chance.

    Posted by: Evorgleb | Apr 12, 2007 12:25:04 PM

  24. This is Don Imus' "Et tu, Brute?" moment. He has pissed off so many people that they are now stabbing him in the back. I think it is deserved but the media attention is absurd. There is way too much given to this incident and the way it's been handled by the media is horrible. I actually think this will make the racial divide in this country worse and longer lasting.

    Posted by: Jack! | Apr 12, 2007 1:23:51 PM

  25. Yeah, every so often a shock jock gets zapped himself/herself. Live by the shock, die by the shock. Is anyone going after Howard Stern (the shock jock, not the lawyer) for his comments about women over the years?

    Posted by: anon | Apr 12, 2007 1:44:36 PM

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