The other shoe dropped tonight in the Don Imus fiasco as MSNBC announced that they were dropping his simulcast from their airwaves permanently, after a previously announced two week suspension.
In a statement, NBC News announced "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. What matters to us most is that the men and women of NBC Universal have confidence in the values we have set for this company. This is the only decision that makes that possible."
MSNBC's decision comes after a day of advertiser defections from Imus' program. Proctor & Gamble, General Motors, Staples and American Express, among others, all either suspended or permanently pulled their ads. Politicians, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton also called for Imus to be fired.
"I understand MSNBC has suspended Mr. Imus," Obama told ABC News, "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."
Obama said he appeared once on Imus' show two years ago, and "I have no intention of returning."
When MSNBC and CBS Radio suspended Imus on Monday, I wrote that I thought that the suspension was appropriate. I also said that producer Sid Rosenberg should be fired because of a history of past similar racist remarks. I didn't, at that time believe that Imus should have been fired for his comments. Knowing what I know now, though, I don't think MSNBC could have done anything different.
I was unaware of the history of comments made by Imus, including numerous borderline or outright racist and insensitive comments in the past. The New York Post had a short sampling.
Some of us recall, years ago, listening to a Mets game when WFAN ambushed listeners with an "Imus In The Morning" promo, a clip from the show that asked whether Mother Teresa is a legitimate candidate for sainthood or "a no-good bitch."
Some of us also recall when Channel 4 sports anchor Len Berman resigned his gig at WFAN after a short and failing run.
Imus could've called Berman "Lenny the Bum" or "Lenny the Quitter." Instead he referred to him as "Lenny the Jew."
He also had similar awful comments about the great White House reporter Gwen Ifill, as she wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times.
It was not until five years later, when Mr. Imus and I were both working under the NBC News umbrella — his show was being simulcast on MSNBC; I was a Capitol Hill correspondent for the network — that I discovered why people were asking those questions. It took Lars-Erik Nelson, a columnist for The New York Daily News, to finally explain what no one else had wanted to repeat.
“Isn’t The Times wonderful,” Mr. Nelson quoted Mr. Imus as saying on the radio. “It lets the cleaning lady cover the White House.”
I was taken aback but not outraged. I’d certainly been called worse and indeed jumped at the chance to use the old insult to explain to my NBC bosses why I did not want to appear on the Imus show.
Like I thought Sid Rosenberg should be fired because of the history of his remarks, having a full appreciation of the history of Imus' comments, I understand why MSNBC did what it did, and why they had to do what they did. With the public pressure mounting, advertisers jumping ship, and Imus' own comments proving this was not a one-time slip of the tongue, he had to go. And so, he is. And CBS Radio has not yet announced what they plan to do with Imus, but I wouldn't be surprised if they announced a similar decision in the coming days. Even though Imus' shtick may be to make fun of people, when you have a history of using racist, anti-semitic, and otherwise vile language, you lose your right to host a national radio show and have it simulcast on a cable news network. And that's the right call.