April 12, 2007 at 7:44 PM EST - Updated July 26 at 12:51 PM
UPDATE: NEW YORK (AP) - CBS fired Don Imus from his radio program Thursday, the finale to a stunning fall for one of the nation's most prominent broadcasters.
Imus initially was given a two-week suspension for calling the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos" on the air last week, but outrage continued to grow and advertisers bolted from his CBS radio show and its MSNBC simulcast.
"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."
Rutgers women's basketball team spokeswoman Stacey Brann said the team did not have an immediate comment on Imus' firing.
Time Magazine once named the cantankerous broadcaster as one of the 25 Most Influential People in America, and he was a member of the National Broadcaster Hall of Fame.
But Imus found himself at the center of a storm as protests intensified. On Wednesday, MSNBC dropped the simulcast of Imus' show.
Losing Imus will be a financial hit to CBS Radio, which also suffered when Howard Stern departed for satellite radio. The program is worth about $15 million in annual revenue to CBS, which owns Imus' home radio station WFAN-AM and manages Westwood One, the company that syndicates the show across the country.
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 abandon Imus.
Sumner Redstone, chairman of the CBS Corp. board and its chief stockholder, told Newsweek that he had expected Moonves to "do the right thing," although it wasn't clear what he thought that was.
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 Tony Gonzalez, supervisor of the Radiothon phone bank. 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.
He acknowledged again that his comments about the Rutgers women's basketball players a day after they had competed in the NCAA championship game had been "really stupid." He said he had apologized enough and wasn't going to whine about his fate.
Sharpton and Jackson emerged from a meeting with Moonves saying the corporate chief had promised to consider their requests.
"It's not about taking Imus down," Sharpton said. "It's about lifting decency up."
Sheila Johnson, owner of the WNBA's Washington Mystics and, with her ex-husband Robert, co-founder of BET, called Imus' comments reprehensible in an interview with The Associated Press. She said she had called Moonves to urge that CBS cut all ties with the veteran radio star, and was worried that what he said could hurt women's sports.
"I think what Imus has done has put a cloud over what we've tried to do in promoting women's athletics," she said.
Several sponsors, including American Express Co., Sprint Nextel Corp., Staples Inc., Procter & Gamble Co., and General Motors Corp., have said they were pulling ads from Imus' show indefinitely. Imus made a point Thursday to thank one sponsor, Bigelow Tea, for sticking by him.
The list of his potential guests began to shrink, too.
Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham said the magazine's staffers would no longer appear on Imus' show. Meacham, Jonathan Alter, Evan Thomas, Howard Fineman and Michael Isikoff from Newsweek have been frequent guests.
Imus has complained bitterly about a lack of support from one black politician, Harold Ford Jr., even though he strongly backed Ford's campaign for Senate in Tennessee last year. Ford, now head of the Democratic Leadership Council, said Thursday he'll leave it to others to decide Imus' future.
"I don't want to be viewed as piling on right now because Don Imus is a good friend and a decent man," Ford said. "However, he did a reprehensible thing."
Imus' troubles have also affected his wife, author Deirdre Imus, whose household cleaning guide, "Green This!" came out this week. Her promotional tour has been called off "because of the enormous pressure that Deirdre and her family are under," said Simon & Schuster publicist Victoria Meyer.
People are buying it, though: An original printing of 45,000 was increased to 55,000.
Imus still has a lot of support among radio managers across the country, many of whom grew up listening to him, said Tom Taylor, editor of the trade publication Inside Radio.
Yet he's clearly became a political liability for a major corporation - CBS. (General Electric Co. owns NBC Universal, of which MSNBC is a part.) NBC News said anger about Imus among some of its employees had as much to do with ending the MSNBC simulcast as the advertiser defection.
Bryan Monroe, president of the National Association of Black Journalists and vice president and editor director of Ebony and Jet magazines, met with Moonves on Wednesday. It seemed clear Moonves and his aides were struggling with a difficult decision, he said. He urged them to take advantage of an opportunity to take a stand against the coarsening of culture.
"Something happened in the last week around America," Monroe said. "It's not just what the radio host did. America said enough is enough. America said we don't want this kind of conversation, we don't want this kind of vitriol, especially with teenagers."
Rutgers' team, meanwhile, appeared Thursday on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" with their coach, C. Vivian Stringer.
At the end of their appearance, Winfrey said: "I want to borrow a line from Maya Angelou, who is a personal mentor of mine and I know you all also feel the same way about her. And she has said this many times, and I say this to you, on behalf of myself and every woman that I know, you make me proud to spell my name W-O-M-A-N. You've really handled this beautifully."
Imus said earlier Thursday he still wants to meet with the team.
"At some point, I'm not sure when, I'm going to talk to the team," he said. "That's all I'm interested in doing."
Rev. DeForest Soaries, who is Stringer's pastor and has been helping negotiate the terms of the meeting with Imus, said he had not yet talked with Imus or coach Stringer but said: "Right now, as far as I know, the meeting is still on."
Soaries said the fact that Imus was off the air on both MSNBC and CBS took some pressure off of the upcoming meeting with the Rutgers women.
"This removes the burden from Rutgers women to determine the status of Imus' employment," Soaries said in a telephone interview.