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Some talk radio hosts angered by Imus' firing

April 14, 2007|Martin Miller and John Horn | Times Staff Writers

Even as the Rutgers women's basketball team officially accepted the apology of Don Imus on Friday, talk radio hosts predictably were not as forgiving in the wake of this week's stunning ouster of the radio veteran for sexist and racist comments.

In Southern California, talk radio hosts -- most of them conservative -- fulminated about Imus' firing well into Thursday night and Friday, decrying the CBS decision as a threat to 1st Amendment rights and the dawn of a new era of political correctness on radio.

Beyond that, the talkers also rallied around another idea: that the body politic can no longer tolerate a dangerous demagogue who repeatedly utters inflammatory comments. But that person, they said, is not Imus but one of his sharpest critics in the recent controversy: the Rev. Al Sharpton.

The 52-year-old activist hosts "The Al Sharpton Show," which is syndicated in about 20 markets, and spearheaded the charge to fire Imus. His show was in the national spotlight last week when Imus visited the radio program to apologize for calling the Rutgers students "nappy-headed hos."

"If there is a ho in all of this, his name is Al Sharpton. He is a ho for publicity," said John Ziegler on KFI-AM (640) Thursday. "What positive really came out of this? The team was mostly scarred by the damage done by Al Sharpton."

On Friday, Deirdre Imus took her husband's place behind the microphone of his former radio program at WFAN-AM in New York to continue a fundraising event for children's charities. During the program, she praised the Rutgers players for meeting with her husband Thursday.

"They gave us the opportunity to listen to what they had to say and why they're hurting and how awful this is," said Deirdre Imus, whose promotional tour for her new environmental book was abruptly called off because of the controversy surrounding her husband. "I have to say that these women are unbelievably courageous and beautiful women."

Her conciliatory remarks Friday morning stood in contrast to those of her husband's former colleagues. Mark Levin on KABC-AM (790) sounded the day's familiar theme and pounded away at Sharpton.

"Barack Obama is everything that Al Sharpton is not. He's a decent human being.... Just because Sharpton says he speaks for the black community doesn't make it so," said Levin, who called Sharpton a racist and an anti-Semite. "And now this guy has a radio show? What a disgrace."

Levin was especially hard on liberal white journalists such as Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd who have appeared on Imus' show but thus far have been silent about the controversy.

KABC's Doug McIntyre said, too, that free speech was imperiled if "a joke -- a lame, idiotic, stupid joke" could get Imus fired. If that's the case for others, he added, "we're doomed."

Meanwhile, on KRLA-AM (870), syndicated radio host Dennis Miller was perhaps one of the most Solomonic in judging the dismissal.

"At some point, you do not have the right to cry 'nappy- headed ho' in a crowded theater," Miller said. But he blamed Imus' downfall as much on Sharpton as on Imus himself, saying his real misstep was appearing on Sharpton's show. "Imus got sucker-punched by this whole thing."

Still, few doubted that if Imus wants to return to the medium, he will do so.

An obvious spot for Imus would seem to be satellite radio, where the restrictions of terrestrial radio would be much looser and could easily accommodate his famed cantankerousness, off-color humor and questionable social comments.

For the moment, XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio -- home of shock jock Howard Stern -- are trying to get government approval for a merger and have been silent about their interest. An XM spokesman said Friday that currently they are not in talks with Imus.

But satellite radio, always interested in attracting brand names from terrestrial competitors, could easily change their minds, say industry observers.

Observers point to the employment saga of Greg Hughes and Anthony Cumia, better known as shock jocks "Opie & Anthony." Once fired for broadcasting an alleged sexual encounter as it was taking place in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral, CBS Radio apparently was able to overlook the stunt two years later when it returned the duo -- who already had a program on XM -- to the air.

"Imus will be back somewhere," said Tom Taylor, editor of the trade publication Inside Radio. "He's meant a lot to radio for the last 40 years, and if he wants to come back, he will."

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