NEW YORK - Don Imus' racist remarks got him fired by CBS on Thursday, the finale to a stunning fall for one of the nation's most prominent broadcasters.
Imus was initially suspended for two weeks after he called the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos" on the air last week. But outrage kept growing and advertisers kept bolting from his CBS radio show and its MSNBC simulcast, which was canceled Wednesday.
"There has been much discussion of the effect language like this has on our young people, particularly young women of color trying to make their way in this society," CBS President and Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves said in announcing the decision. "That consideration has weighed most heavily on our minds as we made our decision."
Imus had a long history of inflammatory remarks. But something struck a raw nerve when he targeted the Rutgers team which includes a class valedictorian, a future lawyer and a musical prodigy after they lost in the NCAA championship game.
A spokeswoman for the team said it did not have an immediate comment on Imus' firing. But Imus was scheduled to meet with the team Thursday evening, according to the Rev. DeForest Soaries, the pastor of coach Vivian Stringer, who had been helping negotiate terms of the meeting.
The cantankerous Imus, once named one of the 25 Most Influential People in America by Time magazine and a member of the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame, issued repeated apologies as protests intensified. But it wasn't enough as everyone from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to Oprah Winfrey joined the criticism.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson met with Moonves on Thursday to demand Imus' removal, promising a rally outside CBS headquarters Saturday and an effort to persuade more advertisers to defect.
Jackson called the firing "a victory for public decency. No one should use the public airwaves to transmit racial or sexual degradation."
Said Sharpton: "He says he wants to be forgiven. I hope he continues in that process. But we cannot afford a precedent established that the airways can commercialize and mainstream sexism and racism."
Losing Imus will be a financial hit to CBS Radio, which also suffered when Howard Stern departed for satellite radio. The program earns about $15 million in annual revenue for CBS, which owns Imus' home radio station WFAN-AM and manages Westwood One, the company that syndicates the show nationally.
The news came down in the middle of Imus' Radiothon, which has raised more than $40 million since 1990. The Radiothon had raised more than $1.3 million Thursday before Imus learned that he lost his job.
"This may be our last Radiothon, so we need to raise about $100 million," Imus cracked at the start of the event.
Volunteers were getting about 200 more pledges per hour than they did last year, with most callers expressing support for Imus, said phone bank supervisor Tony Gonzalez. The event benefited Tomorrows Children's Fund, the CJ Foundation for SIDS and the Imus Ranch.
Imus, whose suspension was supposed to start next week, was in the awkward situation of broadcasting Thursday's radio program from the MSNBC studios in New Jersey, even though NBC News said the night before that MSNBC would no longer simulcast his program on television.
He didn't attack MSNBC for its decision "I understand the pressure they were under," he said but complained the network was doing some unethical things during the broadcast. He didn't elaborate.
Sponsors that pulled out of Imus' show included American Express Co., Sprint Nextel Corp., Staples Inc., Procter & Gamble Co. and General Motors Corp. Imus made a point Thursday to thank one sponsor, Bigelow Tea, for sticking by him.
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Don Imus' racist remarks got him fired by CBS on Thursday, the finale to a stunning fall for one of the nation's most prominent broadcasters. Imus was initially suspended for two weeks after he called the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos" on the air last week.