NEW YORK – NBC News and CBS Radio both issued suspensions of Don Imus' radio show following racist on-air remarks he made about the Rutgers' University Women's Basketball team.
CBS said in a statement that it would suspend its broadcast of "Imus in the Morning" for two weeks starting April 16.
NBC also said in a statement that its decision to temporarily remove the simulcast of "Imus in the Morning" from the MSNBC weekday schedule for a similar period of time came "after careful consideration in the days since his racist, abhorrent comments were made."
NBC referred to Imus' statements that he would change the direction of his program as evidence that the suspension was appropriate. Some critics have been calling for the channel to fire the controversial talk show host.
The Rev. Al Sharpton said Imus should not be "let off the hook" for his racially charged comments about the team and should be fired no matter what he says to defend himself, as the talk jock appeared on his radio show Monday.
"I don’t know what’s in your heart and I’m not going to call you a name, I’m not going to call you a bigot. I’m going to say what you said was racist, I’m going to say what you said was abominable, I’m going to say you should be fired for saying it," Sharpton told Imus.
"You could be fired and the nicest guy in the world, but you ought to be fired … I will give you credit for showing up and I’ll even give you more credit if you decide to change your mind about resigning," he continued.
Earlier, Imus tried to put "in context" his remarks referring to the mostly black team as "nappy-headed hos."
“At the time I said it … I didn’t think it was racial. I wasn’t even thinking racial. I was thinking like a 'West Side Story' deal, like one side’s tough, one side’s not so tough," he said.
"I’m not thinking that it is a racial insult that’s being uttered at somebody at the time. I think it’s in the process of this, what we’re trying to rap and be funny. I mean I understand it’s not funny. I understand there’s no excuse for it. I’m not pretending that there is. I wish I hadn’t of said it. I’m sorry I said it," he continued.
Imus also said everybody calling him a racist and a bigot should think twice.
"I’ve heard people say 'I don’t know what’s in his heart and I’ve never listened to his show, but I want him fired.' That’s an ill-informed decision," Imus said.
The meeting prompted a series of testy exchanges, and Imus grew visibly frustrated at times. During one exchange, Imus said he can't win with "you people." Sharpton was clearly irritated by that remark.
During commercial breaks, Sharpton walked out of the studio and said few words to Imus.
On his own nationally syndicated radio show Monday morning, Imus said he would change his ways in the future.
"Here's what I've learned: that you can't make fun of everybody, because some people don't deserve it," he said. "And because the climate on this program has been what it's been for 30 years doesn't mean it's going to be what it's been for the next five years or whatever."
Imus said he was "embarrassed" by the remarks, and that he had made the comments in the course of "trying to be funny."
"I'm not a bad person. I'm a good person, but I said a bad thing. But these young women deserve to know it was not said with malice," he said.
Imus said he hoped to meet the Rutgers players and their parents and coaches and said he was grateful that he was scheduled to appear on Sharpton's show.
"It's not going to be easy, but I'm not looking for it to be easy," Imus said.
Sharpton said he has complained to the Federal Communications Commission about the matter.
"Somewhere we must draw the line in what is tolerable in mainstream media," Sharpton said Sunday. "We cannot keep going through offending us and then apologizing and then acting like it never happened. Somewhere we've got to stop this."
Meanwhile, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and about 50 others marched Monday outside the Chicago offices of NBC, the General Electric Co. subsidiary that owns MSNBC, carrying signs and shouting "Imus must go." Jackson said Imus' comments contribute to "a climate of degradation" and stem from a lack of blacks as program hosts.
"Imus in the Morning" is broadcast on more than 70 stations and MSNBC.
James E. Harris, president of the New Jersey chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, demanded Sunday that Imus "resign or be terminated immediately."
Allison Gollust, a spokeswoman for MSNBC, said the network considers Imus' comments "deplorable" and is reviewing the matter.
Karen Mateo, a spokeswoman for CBS Radio — Imus' employer and the owner of his New York radio home, WFAN-AM — said the company was "disappointed" in Imus' actions and characterized his comments as "completely inappropriate."
Imus made the now infamous remark during his show Wednesday.
The Rutgers team, which includes eight black women, had lost the day before in the NCAA women's championship game. Imus was speaking with producer Bernard McGuirk about the game when the exchange began on "Imus in the Morning."
"That's some rough girls from Rutgers," Imus said. "Man, they got tattoos..."
"Some hardcore hos," McGuirk said.
"That's some nappy-headed hos there, I'm going to tell you that," Imus said.
Imus also apologized on the air Friday, but his mea culpa has not quieted the uproar.
On Monday, Imus pointed to his involvement with the Imus Ranch, a cattle farm for children with cancer and blood disorders in Ribera, N.M. Ten percent of the children who come to the ranch are black, he said.
"I'm not a white man who doesn't know any African-Americans," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.