NEW YORK – MSNBC said Wednesday it will drop its simulcast of the "Imus in the Morning" radio program, responding to growing outrage about the radio host's racial slur against the Rutgers women's basketball team.
"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," NBC news said in a statement.
The announcement also was made on air.
Talk-show host Don Imus triggered the uproar on his April 4 show, when he referred to the mostly black Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos." His comments have been widely denounced by civil rights and women's groups.
The decision does not affect Imus' nationally syndicated radio show, and the ultimate decision on the fate of that program will rest with executives at CBS Corp. In a statement, CBS reiterated that Imus will be suspended without pay for two weeks beginning on Monday, and that CBS Radio "will continue to speak with all concerned parties and monitor the situation closely."
MSNBC's action came after a growing list of sponsors — including American Express Co., Sprint Nextel Corp., Staples Inc., Procter & Gamble Co., and General Motors Corp. — said they were pulling ads from Imus' show for the indefinite future.
NBC News President Steve Capus said he made the decision after reading thousands of e-mails and having countless discussions with NBC workers and the public, but he denied the potential loss of advertising dollars had anything to do with it.
"I take no joy in this. It's not a particularly happy moment, but it needed to happen," he said. "I can't ignore the fact that there is a very long list of inappropriate comments, of inappropriate banter, and it has to stop."
NBC's decision came at a time when Imus' program on MSNBC was doing better competitively than it ever has been. For the first three months of the year, its audience was nearly identical to CNN's, leading CNN to replace its morning news team last week.
Calls for Imus' firing from the radio portion of the program have intensified during the past week, and remained strong even after MSNBC's announcement. The show originates from WFAN-AM in New York City and is syndicated nationally by Westwood One, both of which are managed by CBS Corp. MSNBC, which had been simulcasting the show, is a unit of General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal.
Bruce Gordon, former head of the NAACP and a director of CBS Corp., said before MSNBC's decision Wednesday he hoped the broadcasting company would "make the smart decision" by firing Imus.
"He's crossed the line, he's violated our community," Gordon said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "He needs to face the consequence of that violation."
Gordon, a longtime telecommunications executive, stepped down in March after 19 months as head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one of the foremost U.S. civil rights organizations.
He said he had spoken with CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves and hoped the company, after reviewing the situation, would fire Imus rather than let him return to the air at the end of his suspension.
A CBS spokesman, Dana McClintock, declined comment on the remarks by Gordon, who is one of at least two minorities on the 13-member board.
The 10 members of the Rutgers team spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday about the on-air comments, made the day after the team lost the NCAA championship game to Tennessee. Some of them wiped away tears as their coach, C. Vivian Stringer, criticized Imus for "racist and sexist remarks that are deplorable, despicable, abominable and unconscionable."
The women, eight of whom are black, agreed to meet with Imus privately next Tuesday and hear his explanation. They held back from saying whether they'd accept Imus' apologies or passing judgment on whether a two-week suspension imposed by CBS Radio and MSNBC was sufficient.
Stringer said late Wednesday that she did not call for Imus' firing, but was pleased with the decision by NBC executives.
Imus has apologized repeatedly for his comments. He said Tuesday he hadn't been thinking when making a joke that went "way too far." He also said that those who called for his firing without knowing him, his philanthropic work or what his show was about would be making an "ill-informed" choice.
At the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, N.J., about 300 students and faculty rallied earlier in the day to cheer for their team, which lost in the national championship game, and add their voices to the crescendo of calls for Imus' ouster. One of the speakers was Chidimma Acholonu, president of the campus chapter of the NAACP.
"This is not a battle against one man. This is a battle against a way of thought," she said. "Don Imus does not understand the power of his words, so it is our responsibility to remind him."