The state of America is dangerous for talk show hosts.
The demise of Don Imus this week could have a chilling affect on free speech in this country. Every time a broadcaster says something offensive or controversial, will they become the target of the Al Sharptons across the political spectrum.
Now to better understand what the future holds, we begin tonight with a look at how Imus unraveled and why it makes us wonder who could be next:
HANNITY (voice-over): The Rutgers women's basketball team has accepted Don Imus' apology. But what does that mean for him? Well, he is still out of a job and the fallout from his controversial comments continues.
So today, 11 days after the firestorm began, we examine how all of this came to ahead so quickly.
The Wall Street Journal reported on this [on] Friday and this is how the chain reaction happened. It was Wednesday April 4th around 6:00 a.m. Imus on his radio show, "Imus in the Morning," referred to the ladies of the Rutgers University basketball team in a derogatory and racist way.
DON IMUS, FORMER TALK SHOW HOST: Some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and
PRODUCER BERNARD MCGUIRK: ...some hard-core hos.
IMUS: ...some nappy headed hos.
HANNITY: Some but not many picked up on the controversial remarks. But it wasn't until Thursday, April 5th the firestorm began. Later that day MSNBC released this statement, quote, "While simulcast by MSNBC, 'Imus in the Morning' is not a production of the cable network and is produced by WFAN Radio."
It added, quote, as Imus makes clear every day, his views are not those of MSNBC. We regret his remarks are aired on MSNBC and apologize for these offensive comments. Now starting to feel the pressure from various groups, on the morning of Friday April 6th, Imus apologized on his show.
IMUS: I am sorry I did that. I am embarrassed that I did that. I did a bad thing. But I am a good person.
HANNITY: But that was just the beginning. On television shows, radio programs, blogs and op-ed pages across the country, people were blasting his comments, calling them racist, beyond offensive and insensitive. The National Association of Black Journalists said his apology was "too little too late."
The NCAA released this statement: "The NCAA and Rutgers University are offended by the insults on MSNBC's Don Imus program. It is unconscionable that anyone would use the airwaves to utter such disregard for dignity of human beings."
But that was not nearly the worst of what was yet to come. Saturday April 7th at a rally in New York City, Reverend Al Sharpton denounced Imus' remarks and called for the firing of the legendary radio host.
REV. AL SHARPTON, ACTIVIST: Don Imus should be fired! And taken off the airwaves.
This is not about insensitiviy, this is about the abusive, racist, sexist use of federally regulated airwaves.
HANNITY: And as the weekend passed and bloggers and columnists had a field day, MSNBC, CBS and Don Imus, well, they tried damage control.
When Monday morning came the heat intensified. Reverend Jesse Jackson led a march of 50 protestors outside NBC offices in Chicago. The calls for him to be fired were growing and Imus himself appeared on Al Sharpton's radio show to tell his side of the story.
IMUS: Unscathed? Are you crazy? How am I unscathed by this? Don't you think I am humiliated, don't you think I'm embarrassed.
SHARPTON: You are not as humiliated as young black women are.
IMUS: I didn't say I was. I didn't say I was. It's not a contest of who is the most humiliated.
HANNITY: Then the first big blow. Both NBC News and CBS Radio announced they would suspend Imus for two weeks beginning on April the 16th. Tuesday, April the 10th, the Rutgers basketball team held a news conference criticizing Imus.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We hope to come to some type of understanding of what the remarks really entailed, his reasons why they were said and we would like to express our great hurt.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In my case, unless a ho stands for achievement and something you are getting done and you are a wonderful person, then I am not a ho.
HANNITY: But by the end of business on Tuesday, Imus still had a job, his show was still being carried by both CBS Radio and MSNBC.
It wasn't until Wednesday when advertisers such as American Express and General Motors started abandoning his radio show that Imus' fate was sealed as NBC and CBS saw millions of dollars being lost—the writing on the wall became apparent.
By Wednesday evening MSNBC had announced the cancellation of their simulcast of his radio show. Then on Thursday afternoon the final shoe dropped, [when] CBS Radio announced they were canceling "Imus in the Morning."
CBS president Les Moonves released a statement and the journey from shock jock to unemployed was complete.
The speed with which Don Imus' star fell is truly remarkable. The speed with which the opposition mobilized against him left many observers dizzy.
The discussion was relatively brief but his judgment was swift and for many of us left in the broadcasting business the entire episode poses more questions than answers.
While his comments were truly offensive, is this the appropriate end to a long career? Is Al Sharpton right? Will this start a reexamination of what is allowed to be broadcast on our country's airwaves and if so who will be next and who gets to decide?
Sean Hannity currently serves as host of FOX News Channel's (FNC) Hannity (weekdays 10-11PM/ET). He joined the network in 1996 and is based in New York. Click here for more information on Sean Hannity.