This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
Honestly, I'm shocked. CBS has today fired their cash cow Don Imus, following NBC's decision yesterday to cut Imus loose in the wake of his hateful reference to the women's basketball players of Rutgers University as "nappy-headed hos." For those of you comparing the Imus case to Anna Nicole Smith the last few days, kvetching that you've been fed up with the ongoing tabloid-style round-the-clock chatter, make no mistake. This is no tabloid gossip.
Today is nothing short of a seminal day in American history. Those weren't the grocery-store check-out rags where we read the women's rebuttal to Imus yesterday. Their proud faces, their dignified words were on the front pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times. These young women are scholar-athletes, some heading toward medical school and other worthy pursuits.
They gave their hearts to a season of athletic success that should have earned them pride and memories of an elevated college experience as they reached the final of the National Championship. But a national radio host with a huge following demeaned them with three words that, despite his repeated apologies, couldn't possibly be interpreted as anything but pure dispicable, deep-seeded hatred. In their response, the young women exuded dignity. They uttered phrases that captured the nation. One said, "I am someone's child." And right from wrong was clearly laid out when team captain Essence Carson poignantly stated, "Mr. Imus has stolen a moment of grace from us."
The executives at NBC considered multiples of thousands of emails, along with discussions with hundreds of NBC employees, and quickly determined the level of outrage to be palpable nationwide. NBC continues to honor free speech, but they concluded yesterday that a paid voice on their air cannot continue to spit venom that blatantly offends their own core values. Imus doesn't simply dish out political rhetoric, a la Bill O'Reilly, that offends those on the other side of the voting booth. He cuts deep and disturbingly cruel bigotry that media leaders such as NBC evidently don't want to foster. But as night fell yesterday, the question remained.
The MSNBC televised version of the Imus radio show produces minimal profits. Perhaps it was easy for NBC to drop the show, the public relations gains weighing in higher than the financial losses. The real test lay with CBS. With the Imus in the Morning pulling in close to $20 million in revenues for the New York flagship station, WFAN, and close to another $20 million throughout 60 other CBS stations across the country, CBS brass were up against a seemingly tougher decision than NBC.
So bravo to Les Moonves and CBS for stepping up quickly and boldly and doing the right thing, despite losing their biggest money-maker. Imus says he's a good man who said a bad thing, but both NBC and CBS recognized him as the racist misogynist he has always been. I remember hearing Imus call reporter Howard Kurtz a "beanie-wearing Jew boy," and that's the day he lost me. Well, he's been wrist-slapped multiple times for similar degrading remarks. He's apologized and promised to tone down the hatred multiple times. But this time he went too far. The public won't take it anymore. The show's sponsors have dropped out and his bosses have laid down the law. You can't call young black champions "nappy headed." You can't call young women scholar-athletes "whores." Not on their air.
This is a vital day in America. The women's basketball team at Rutgers University just might have taken the first step toward the end of vilifying blacks and women and Jews, the end of degradation on the basis of race and gender in our society.
Bravo to those honorable young women and kudos as well to the corporate and media giants who so often are seen as ruthless, heartless chasers of the bottom line. This time the bottom line was not what they valued most.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.
Photo: Spencer Platt, Getty Images