Guests: Vivian Stringer, Barack Obama, Armstrong Williams, Craig Crawford, Jonathan Capehart, Clarence Page, Steve Capus, Robert Johnson, Phil Griffin, DeForest Soaries
DAVID GREGORY, GUEST HOST: Tonight, NBC News announces it will no longer air Don Imus‘ radio program here on MSNBC. We have the latest. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m David Gregory, in for Chris Matthews tonight.
NBC News has announced that MSNBC will no longer simulcast the radio show IMUS IN THE MORNING. A statement released last today by NBC News president Steve Capus said the following, quote, “Effective immediately, MSNBC will no longer simulcast the IMUS IN THE MORNING radio program. This decision comes as a result of an ongoing review process.”
Still Capus‘ statement, “Which initially included the announcement of a suspension. It also takes into account many conversation with our own employees, what matters most to us”—Capus‘ statement continuing now—
“is that the men and women of NBC Universal have confidence in the values we have set for this company. This is the only decision that makes that possible. Once again, we apologize to the women of the Rutgers basketball team and to our viewers. We deeply appreciate the pain this incident has caused.”
That is a statement late today from NBC News president Steve Capus.
Steve Capus will be our guest here on HARDBALL momentarily.
We are joined now by phone, by Rutgers women basketball coach C.
Coach Stringer, welcome. Your reaction to the announcement by this network?
VIVIAN STRINGER, COACH, RUTGERS WOMEN‘S BASKETBALL TEAM: Thank you, David. I was surprised. I didn‘t know what was going to happen. And as you know, the team and I did agree to and we still do, as far as I know, agree to (AUDIO GAP). If—Mr. Imus to understand the man behind the comments that we heard.
Nonetheless, we viewed this as, obviously, very hurtful, but it went across all lines. And I think that perhaps he failed to understand that, as he, you know, pointed barbs toward this team that should have been celebrated, but instead came back to, you know, a 50-second -- 50-second comment that was degrading at the very least.
But I don‘t think that he understood. It wasn‘t just the Rutgers women‘s basketball team, it was all women. And all of us have moms and sisters. And I think that it touched the citizens.
It‘s been my contention all along that too often there are powerful figures who speak for all of us. But yet, in this situation, I think that all of us took a little piece of this. Certainly all African-Americans. And people of any color.
And this happened, it restored my confidence, actually, in people being decent human beings and demanding that there be better standards, not only from Mr. Imus but for a lot of people in a lot of different venues, that we really embrace the notion of preparing our young people and protecting our young people so they can become good and decent people.
GREGORY: Coach, let me ask you, is this meeting with the players and Don Imus still going to happen this week?
STRINGER: Well, as far as I know. I mean, believe me, I just heard about this less than 10 minutes ago. So as I know, I guess it would. Because I would still want to know who this person is. He needs to know who the people are that he hurt.
Because I think we don‘t take time, many times, to think about the fact that we‘re all human beings and behind our titles, coach or president, CEO, we‘re human beings. And that‘s what really happened here.
He still needs to know who this team is. And if he doesn‘t, you know, that‘s all well and good, as well. I don‘t know how the players are going to feel.
But our purpose was not to even make a decision about whether or not he should be fired. Our purpose was to bring about a better understanding and a closure for this basketball team, who, like I said, never got a chance to celebrate anything other than the hurtful statements made by him.
GREGORY: In your conversations with these young ladies and this team, was it their intention as part of this meeting to get him to be part of a dialogue to heal this wound publicly? In other words, did they want him to stay on the air? Or did they want him to be fired? Or did they think he could be constructive by staying on the air?
STRINGER: No. There was no comment on that side of it. I think that if it were intended to bring about a public embarrassment and humiliation, obviously then we could have asked him to come to Rutgers and, you know, apologize profusely and, you know, they could have thrown anything that they wanted out there. But that wasn‘t it. If you noticed, we talked about it being a secret meeting in an undisclosed place.
This hurt all of us. I mean, it hurt our recruiting. It hurt, you know, the former players, Rutgers University, the state and the whole thing. We just really want to know, who are you? What is it? Because we also understand that he has done a lot of good things.
And so, you know, if you noticed, I made a statement about his statements. I didn‘t say him the person. I said that his remarks were sexist and racist. And, you know, we need to be responsible for that.
So I think that the young people just really wanted to look him in the face and see his heart. And feel and know that this is a human being, you know, a walking, talking, breathing, caring person. Not this powerful figure behind a microphone that says anything he wants.
And in particular, to hurt people and to hurt them because they have been totally innocent. All they demonstrated is they worked hard and they rose from, you know, the lowest of the depths to the national stage. And they were supposed to be the Cinderella, and look like they put the slipper on it, and it turned into a pumpkin at that.
GREGORY: Coach Stringer, in addition to the decision by NBC News to no longer the simulcast of the IMUS IN THE MORNING program here on MSNBC, CBS Radio has also suspended without pay for two weeks, Imus who, of course, airs all over the country on the radio, on CBS Radio. That would be effective April 16.
So you‘ve got that suspension without pay. And now being off the air at MSNBC. Is this the just result, in your estimation?
STRINGER: You know, I wasn‘t making a decision. I wanted to hear what he had to say. I think that justice must be served to the people. And that‘s why I‘m saying, we just happened to be an instrument for change.
We happened to be the innocent people to which he referred his remarks to.
But I think that everyone took it as a personal front to them, all women, you know, across this nation. All black females. And all black people, aside from the fact that, you know, those that have been trying to inspire and receive scholarships for athletics, I think that it was just all of us, we the people. I think if we the people, the little people.
Because even though the advertisers are the big, powerful conglomerates that we see, you know, they are also human beings that also depend upon, you know, the average, you know, homeowner or the consumer to support their products.
And I think that what we need to know is that there is a moral consciousness that‘s there and that the people‘s voice can truly be heard. And to me it is not Rutgers who‘s done this.
Mr. Imus created this situation. But he probably awakened, you know, within each and he person, what are we all about? And when does this stop?
STRINGER: And who is it that any of us are so great or so powerful that we can say and do anything to anyone and there not be some repercussions for it? That‘s what I think is going to happen.
IMUS: All right. Coach C. Vivian Stringer, thank you very much for joining us.
STRINGER: You‘re more than welcome. Thank you.
GREGORY: The breaking news here on MSNBC is that Don Imus has been taken off the air at MSNBC. The simulcast of the IMUS IN THE MORNING will no longer air. He has also been suspended by CBS Radio, which airs his program around the country from the flagship station in New York, WFAN. He‘s been suspended for two weeks without pay.
Joining us now is the president of NBC News, Steve Capus, joining us from New York.
The breaking news here on MSNBC is that Don Imus has been taken off the air at MSNBC. The simulcast of the “IMUS IN THE MORNING” program will no longer air. He has also been suspended by CBS Radio, which airs his program around the country from the flagship station in New York, WFAN. He‘s been suspended for two weeks without pay.
Joining us now is the president of NBC News, Steve Capus, joining us from New York. Steve, hello.
STEVE CAPUS, PRESIDENT, NBC NEWS: Hi, David.
GREGORY: And why don‘t you take me through why you made this decision?
CAPUS: Well, it‘s been a week since the original broadcast on the Imus program. And during that time, there have been any number of things that have happened. When I first learned of the comments, we issued an apology and we denounced the comments. They were awful. They were hateful. They were deplorable.
But something also happened right after that, and that is a dialogue that‘s been going on inside the country, and it‘s been going on inside NBC News.
I‘ve received hundreds, if not thousands of emails, both internal and external, with people with very strong views about what should happen. I‘ve listened to those people with their comments. And many of them are people who have worked at NBC News for decades, people who put their lives on the line covering wars and things like that.
These comments were deeply hurtful to many, many people.
And we‘ve had any number of employee conversations, discussions, emails, phone calls. And when you listen to the passion and the people who come to the conclusion that there should not be any room for this sort of conversation and dialogue on our air, it was the only decision we could reach.
GREGORY: And Steve, I don‘t have to tell you. I mean, some of our colleagues, like Al Roker, who did it publicly with a blog on “The Today Show” Web site and others have said essentially that this kind of humor, this platform has been given to—over to Imus for too long now, with this kind discourse and humor.
CAPUS: The Imus program is what it is. And I am proud of some of the things that are on there and not so proud of others. I like that politicians come there to announce that they‘re running for the presidency. I like what Don Imus has done through the years to help kids with cancer at the Imus Ranch. He has raised awareness about autism. He has done any number of good things. And there is no question about that.
I think he is a complex man, and I think in many ways, he is a good man. I don‘t—I think this is not—I‘ve listened to him, by the way, over these last couple of days, and heard him loud and clear talk about how truly sorry he is for these comments. And I believe that. I believe—you know, I take him at his word when he says he‘s not a racist.
But I also believe that those were racist comments. And I believe that it comes—that there have been any number of other comments that have been enormously hurtful to far too many people. And my feeling is that can‘t—that there should not be a place for that on MSNBC.
GREGORY: What was the tipping point, though, Steve? Because people will look at what‘s happened in the past day—General Motors, GlaxoSmithKline, American Express, Ditech.com, Procter & Gamble, companies—Staples—pulling their advertising from MSNBC. And the obvious question that is going to come up that, you know, we‘re feeling the heat and we‘re reacting to dollars.
CAPUS: Look, I understand the people are going to view it that way, and I only say that that—that is not why this decision was made. This decision was made after listening to the people who work for NBC News, who have placed a trust and respect the trust that America has given us.
I ask you, what price do you put on your reputation? And the reputation of this news division means more to me than advertising dollars. Because if you lose your reputation, you lose everything.
And so yesterday, I found out after the fact that some of the advertisers had started to pull their money away. Those types of reports don‘t land on my desk immediately. And honestly, that is not what is behind this.
This is about trust. It‘s about reputation. It‘s about doing what‘s right.
GREGORY: What happened in between the decision-making about the suspension and then the decision to actually pull him off the air?
CAPUS: The days are running together now. But we announced the suspension, and I believed that Imus took some courageous and smart and appropriate actions, with the level of apology that you saw from him on the air day after day, the fact that he went and sat with the Reverend Al Sharpton and spoke on his radio program. And perhaps more importantly than speaking, he listened, and I wanted that process to continue.
At the same time, internally, we were having conversations about what all of this meant. Some of those conversations led to some very interesting reporting on “Nightly News” and “The Today Show” and MSNBC, on NBC stations all across the country—in fact, on every media outlet. There has been an opportunity to have a very important dialogue about race relations and everything—everything that goes under that broad umbrella.
And what has been going on is a lot of conversation, a lot of listening and a lot of talking, and we came to this conclusion. I take no pride—I take no joy in this. It is not a particularly happy moment, but it needed to happen.
GREGORY: Steve, what struck me as I read your decision, since there has been so much conversation about the meeting that is apparently going to happen—although Coach Stringer wasn‘t certain it was going to happen—between Imus and the basketball players at Rutgers. Why not let that meeting go forward and get some feedback from that before making a decision like this?
CAPUS: I don‘t believe that it should be the Rutgers women‘s basketball team that decides Don Imus‘ fate. I mope that meeting still takes place. I think that Imus has things that he wants to say to them, and I believe that that team has things that they want him to hear.
That news conference yesterday by that basketball team and by Vivian Stringer was extraordinary. And that was one of the other things that took place between the time we announced the suspension and when we‘ve made this call.
And I would say that when Vivian Stringer spoke there for about 20 minutes yesterday, from the heart, and she said that she was going to put a human face on this entire situation, many of us took note. I think the entire country did, and appreciated her words and her actions. And to just to watch the members of that team talk about losing their opportunity to celebrate their remarkable achievements on and off the court this year—those comments really hit home.
GREGORY: Defenders of Imus, people close to Imus, other observers
like Mike Lupica this morning, who is a columnist for “The Daily News,” as
you know, and is a frequent guest on the Imus program, said, you know, the
worst thing you do in your public life should not be the last. And if
that‘s the case, then how does Jesse Jackson, who called Jews in New York -
or called New York Hymietown, or the Reverend Sharpton in the way he divided New York City over the Brawley case, how can they be able to apologize and move on, but in this case, Don Imus cannot apologize and move on, especially given his pledge to change his program.
CAPUS: I take no delight in what has happened to Don Imus. Again, I believe he is a good man. But what I would say is, it‘s going to be up to him to decide whether this is his final act. I don‘t think this needs to be the last act for Don Imus. But I can‘t also ignore—and this is what I‘ve heard time and time again from so many people who work for me at NBC News—I can‘t ignore the fact that there is a very long list of inappropriate comments, of inappropriate banter, and it has to stop. It needed to stop. There shouldn‘t—there just should not be a place for that.
And I take no delight in this. I really don‘t.
GREGORY: As the president of the news division, and as a media figure, what do you think the lesson is going to be of this?
CAPUS: Well, look, I‘ll tell you what I don‘t—what I hope doesn‘t happen. I hope we don‘t squander this remarkable opportunity that we have to continue this dialogue that has taken place, to continue the dialogue about what is appropriate conduct and speech, to continue the dialogue about what is happening in America.
I think we have, as broadcasters, a responsibility to address those matters.
This—for the people who were involved in this, from the Rutgers team, this isn‘t a situation, this isn‘t an incident. This is life. And that‘s why when you listen to Vivian Stringer speak yesterday, and the members of that team speak, you understand why those comments came from the heart.
This is not some incident that has happened. This is someone‘s life that we‘re talking about here. And so when you get—when you touch something that deeply, we have a responsibility in our reporting to continue this remarkable national dialogue that has begun.
GREGORY: Steve, what can you say about your conversations with Don Imus today and in the last few days?
CAPUS: I‘ve not spoken with him today, and I intend to. And—I—
look, I‘m one of the people who consider themselves an Imus fan. I listen
to him every morning, and I think very highly of him. I really do. And I
but I needed to make this call, and I believe this is the right call.
GREGORY: Have you talked at all to CBS, and do you have a feeling about what CBS Radio will do about the future of his program?
CAPUS: I don‘t—I have not. My boss has. And I know those conversations took place. We called to inform them that we were going to do this. But I don‘t know what is going to happen with the radio program.
GREGORY: Do you have an opinion about what should happen?
CAPUS: No. That needs to be their call. I—my focus is on NBC.
GREGORY: All right. Steve Capus, the president of our news division and the president of MSNBC as well, making the decision to take Don Imus off the air.
Steve, thanks very much.
CAPUS: Thank you, David.
GREGORY: We‘ll have more on HARDBALL, much more on the cancellation by NBC News of the “IMUS IN THE MORNING” program by this network, and we‘ll continue with more HARDBALL after this.
GREGORY: We are back on HARDBALL. The breaking news of this hour, MSNBC and NBC News have decided to take Don Imus off the air. The simulcast of the IMUS IN THE MORNING radio program will no longer be simulcast on this network, MSNBC. He has also been suspended without pay for two weeks by CBS Radio.
We‘ve been talking to NBC News president Steve Capus.
Earlier today, I spoke to Senator Barack Obama about the Don Imus incident. This is what he had to say.
GREGORY: Senator Obama, I want to begin by asking you about Don Imus.
You have condemned his remarks about the women‘ basketball team at Rutgers.
Let me ask you pointedly, do you think he should be fired?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don‘t think MSNBC should be carrying the kinds of hateful remarks that Imus uttered the other day. And he has a track record of making those kinds of remarks.
Look, I‘ve got two daughters who are African-American, gorgeous, tall, and I hope that at some point, are interested enough in sports that they get athletic scholarships. And my wife and I every day are reinforcing our love for them and how special they are.
I don‘t want them to be getting a bunch of information that somehow they‘re less than anybody else. And I don‘t think MSNBC should want to promote that kind of language.
GREGORY: So he should be off the air, off MSNBC and off CBS, off the air completely in your judgment?
OBAMA: Ultimately, you guys are going to have to make that view. He would not be working for me.
GREGORY: Is there a larger conversation that this incident has started about public discourse in this country, about race in this country, and if so, what is that conversation you‘d like to see?
OBAMA: Well, I think it goes beyond race. Obviously, what this reveals is that we still have a host of racial stereotypes that are out there. And that we are fast and loose in playing with those racial stereotypes and bandying them about and thinking that there aren‘t going to be any consequences to it. And that‘s a problem.
But I also think there‘s a broader problem of a coarsening of the culture, where we think that it‘s entertainment to insult people. And I don‘t think it‘s that funny. And I think that we need to think about how are we promoting tolerance and how are we promoting intelligent debate, and that‘s not been the trend in too much of our media. That‘s something I think that we‘ve all got to think about.
GREGORY: The final point on this, you‘ve been a guest on the Imus program to promote your books. Will you or would you be a guest on his show in the future?
OBAMA: No, I would not. I was on their once, actually, after the Democratic National Convention. I spoke about my book briefly. That‘s been my only experience on the show. And he was fine when I was on that show.
But I don‘t want to be an enabler or be encouraging in anyway of the kind of programming that results in the unbelievably offensive statements that were made just a few days ago.
GREGORY: Senator Obama in a conversation earlier today, obviously before the NBC News decision to take Don Imus off of MSNBC.
We‘re joined by radio talk show host and syndicated columnist Armstrong Williams; MSNBC political analyst Craig Crawford of “Congressional Quarterly”, a frequent Imus guest; Jonathan Capehart of the “Washington Post”; and Clarence Page of the “Chicago Tribune”.
And Clarence, you are on the phone. Yes?
All right. OK. We‘ll get to Clarence Page in just a moment.
Armstrong Williams, we are doing our best to report about ourselves.
CLARENCE PAGE, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”: Can you hear me?
GREGORY: I can hear you, Clarence, right. We‘re just getting started, and we‘ll get to you in just a moment.
GREGORY: Armstrong, did you see this coming over the past couple of days?
ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, you know, the thing that I think many of us did not consider, which I thought was critical by the president Steve Capus, was a conversation among trusted employees who have a legacy and a reputation at NBC and MSNBC.
And as someone who‘s an employee myself, that is something that‘s very important, and you have to consider that. And NBC made a decision that I think we all must respect.
Because you can look at Capus. He really agonized. You could tell Imus was a friend and this was a sad day for him. But he had—it had nothing to do with advertisers, which he said, which I believe. And it had nothing to do, really, with public opinion.
It had to do with people like Al Roker and others who work inside that building, who give their name and reputation and everything they have to make your network what it is today. He made a decision for the employees. And I think we have to respect that and admire him for it.
GREGORY: Clarence Page, I know that I can tell you, there were internal telephone calls and meetings where a lot of people, mostly African-American colleagues, voiced their views about this.
Al Roker‘s name is mentioned because he spoke about it publicly. Gwen Ifill, who is a former colleague here at NBC News, wrote about it powerfully, I thought, in the “New York Times”. Your reaction to this?
PAGE: Well, I, too, was moved to take a strong stand over the weekend, because of all the reaction I was hearing from my professional broadcast colleagues and my own family and folks in (inaudible).
GREGORY: Yes, I‘m sorry, Clarence. I don‘t know what the interference is. But we can hear you fine.
PAGE: I was interrupted by one of your directors, I think.
But I was—I, too, was getting that kind of—of really emotional reaction. I mean, when people just repeat those words to themselves, nappy-headed hos, that just, it just evokes a visceral reaction.
So I‘m not that surprised, and I‘m somewhat gratified that there was that kind of negative response from inside that gratified that MSNBC was considerate enough to respond to it.
GREGORY: Craig Crawford, we‘ve had a debate in the past few days about whether there‘s a racial divide in terms of how these—in terms of the reaction. I don‘t think there‘s much of a divide in terms of how people view these comments as being repugnant. I don‘t think there‘s any disagreement about it.
But we‘ve talk about on this program about you thinking that such a move would be over the line. And now he‘s effectively been fired from MSNBC, and we‘ll see what happens at CBS. And Don Imus has apologized profusely. He has wanted to apologize in person to the lady basketball players, the lady‘s team at Rutgers.
Do you think this is a case of NBC News caving in to the political and economic pressure?
CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”: Well, in listening to Capus, I could hear the angst in his voice, David, and I can certainly understand that. I didn‘t think he deserved another chance, because knowing him as I do, I really believe he would seize upon this cause and put his heart into it like he does so many causes and make a difference and possibly more of a difference than having been fired.
But I also thought after we did the segment on HARDBALL last night, David, and later on that evening, as I read my e-mail for starters, a lot of it is supportive of Imus but a lot of it not. I began to think, you know, he has become a vessel for discrimination of all kinds everywhere.
People were relating stories of their personal lives and discrimination, and he‘d just become a symbol of discrimination and bias.
I went through the day. I‘m very loyal. I‘m Scotch-Irish. I‘m loyal to inanimate objects. And he had been a friend and someone I felt the need to stand up for. But at the he said of the day yesterday, I came to the conclusion that he was probably not going to last.
GREGORY: Jonathan Capehart, when you look at this, this is an example of a feeding frenzy leading to him being taken down. That‘s one perspective. Or that what he said was so awful that it created a tipping point, where people stopped and said, enough of this kind of humor. What is it to you?
JONATHAN CAPEHART, WASHINGTON POST: I think it‘s the latter. I think that the decision made by MSNBC—and speaking personally, not for the board—was a moral decision. I think that what Don Imus said was not just over the line, it obliterated the line. And because of the prominence of someone like Don Imus, where, you know, people like Senator Obama have gone on the show, Senator Biden has gone on the show, other people who are promoting...
GREGORY: I‘ve been a frequent guest on there.
CAPEHART: And lots of my colleagues at the “Washington Post” and “Newsweek” have been on. Because he is this—was—maybe from an MSNBC perspective—a prominent person. You wanted to go on his show. It was a must-do, as we said in our editorial, to do his show.
But when you call people names, when you call a group of women nappy-headed hos, what it says about him and about that show is not terribly nice.
But I think the larger issue here is that what made him feel comfortable to say that? And I would argue that we have gotten to a point where words like ho, words—I‘m not sure if I can say the b-word on the air or even the n-word, they‘ve become so mainstream that I think people don‘t understand or even remember the power of those words. And I do think that what you described as a feeding frenzy was really, I think, people saying, as you said, enough. Like, the moral outrage had gotten to the point where they figured, because Imus is so prominent, that if he can get away with it, then who is the next person? And you have to draw the line somewhere.
And it‘s too bad—it‘s too bad for Imus, given all the good works that everyone keeps talking about.
GREGORY: We‘re going to take a break. The panel is going to stay with us. Again, if you‘re just joining us, Don Imus has been taken off the air here at MSNBC by NBC News. You heard earlier from NBC News President Steve Capus. We‘ll play some of that for you as we proceed in the hour.
We‘ll come back with our panel and continue to discuss this news.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: In a blatant...
GREGORY: The Reverend Al Sharpton now reacting to MSNBC taking Don Imus off the air.
SHARPTON: ... sexism and racism. It is our hope that CBS will do the same. Tomorrow morning at 11:00, I will join others and we will rally in front of CBS to ask that they also do this.
The issue for us is not and has not been the person of Don Imus. It has been the use of the airwaves to blatantly promote sexism and racism, as his ugly and venomous statements about these young basketball students at Rutgers University.
It is our feeling that this is only the beginning. This must be a walk that CBS now does, it must be a walk that others would do.
Then we must have a broad discussion on what is permitted and what is not permitted in terms of airwaves.
What this particular issue becomes interesting, when it was revealed today that when Mr. Imus had insisted that he was just a good person, that now the revelations coming out of his own private conversations, suddenly speaks to otherwise and other that views.
We feel that his private conversations only undermines his defense to those he was contracted to. It is his public statements that he should have been fired for, that we demanded that firing, and that we now go to CBS with.
Let me add that when we began the campaign yesterday with advertisers, it showed power that people have when people determine that they will not spend money to subsidize being insulted and offended.
Out of the many issues that we fought, I think this has become one that hit a core with a lot of people of all races, of all backgrounds. To see young people who are not doing wrong, who have not engaged in some anti-social or destructive behavior, but have excelled academically and then athletically, being just called some nappy-headed hos, and then the entire conversation, jigaboos versus wannabes. Something I think struck in many people around this country—black and white and Latino and Asian and others—saying that there must be a line.
There are those that say, what about those in entertainment? Well, we must also have that discussion. But we could not have that discussion without first saying that those that are given serious stature, with presidential candidates and U.S. senators and broadcast anchor people appearing on their shows can use those same platforms to denigrate and desecrate people by race and by sex. Let‘s remember, Joe Biden announced his race for president on Mr. Imus‘ show. This was no ordinary platform. And I think that it is very important.
It is a significant step. It is one, though, we do not gloat in. It is really sad that in 2007, that we would even have to deal with this kind of issue. You would think that we had learned these lessons long ago.
I hope that what NBC does is the beginning of us reappraising how we use the public airwaves, even how we use our own language.
All of us can do better, but none of us have the right to use public airwaves in the way that Mr. Imus has consistently done. Mr. Imus said...
GREGORY: The Reverend Al Sharpton speaking in New York in reaction to the decision by this network, MSNBC, to take Don Imus off the air, and saying that he will pressure CBS Radio, beginning tomorrow, to do the same. CBS Radio has suspended Imus for two weeks without pay because of his remarks last week.
We‘re joined by phone now by Robert Johnson, the founder, of course, of Black Entertainment Television. And he is on the phone.
Mr. Johnson, thanks for being here.
ROBERT JOHNSON, BET FOUNDER: Delighted to be here.
GREGORY: Your reaction to this.
JOHNSON: Well, I think absolutely, Don Imus should be fired by both, as he was by MSNBC, and also by CBS.
I think the issue is—and I‘ve watched the show and I‘ve seen Don Imus in a sort of iconoclastic way, chat with politicians and authors and other, quote, intellectuals, and you know, you would think that a guy who could sort of joust with these people would understand the historical significance of a white individual saying such derogatory things about black women, who during slavery were basically used and abused in the worst way possible. And not only that, saying it with some impunity, that he would think that black men would not rise up in outrage when some white man would say that on the air about their, you know, by extension, mothers, daughters, sisters.
And there is no way he could claim any intellectual mantle, and there is no way anybody who went on his show for intellectual jousting could say, hey, this is a guy who allows us to sort of have this kind of freewheeling debate.
Don Imus, you know, showed a deep side of racism that exists in this country, that sort of creeps out and then people express surprise. And I think—I can‘t see how CBS could not let him go.
GREGORY: Why do you think NBC made this decision?
JOHNSON: Well, I think NBC made the decision because of leadership.
You know, I know very well Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of GE, which is a partner in MSNBC, and GE is one of the most admired companies in the country. And they have employees, African-Americans and white employees, who recognize that to hold that mantle or that brand, they have to act as one of the most admired companies in the country. And I think it was no question that Jeffrey Immelt and his people, whether it reached his level or not, made the decision that this is important to us as a company to reflect the diversity of our employees. And therefore, when this kind of thing happens, whether it happens with a guy who makes us $10 million a year or a guy who sweeps the floors—this is not something they tolerate, and they did the right thing in letting him go.
GREGORY: This has become a national conversation. This incident has the country debating race, race relations, the racial divide, decency, our public discourse, and I wonder whether you think, as the founder of BET, that you and others in the black community also have a responsibility to look at some of the images on BET, some of the language in rap lyrics, like the word ho, and the b-word and the n-word that is replete in the lyrics of rap music, and say that has to be part of this national conversation as well.
JOHNSON: Yes, David, I think that African-Americans have always felt that we have a responsibility for our own destiny, and we will continue to hold that to be the case. And clearly, I join with Reverend Sharpton in saying that if anybody within the African-American community wants to hold a debate on how we treat ourselves, we ought to do it, and I‘ll be the first one to ante up a place to hold it and have that debate. And I did that when I was at BET.
I told the record industry, look, guys, if you guys want to stop making these kinds of video, believe me, I have no problems in not showing them. And when you talk to the artists, the creative people, it‘s up to you to stop this, and we‘ll be glad to show other products that you produce.
But comparing Don Imus to an artist in a music video is apples and oranges.
GREGORY: Why is that the case, in your judgment?
JOHNSON: Well, he held court on a show that was considered one of the
to be one of the highest platforms for political discourse. A show that was a haven for intellectuals to come in and talk about issues. A show where people will come on and announce their candidacy for the president of the United States, representing, in the case of Joe Biden, the Democratic Party, which has over 90 percent black support.
When you have someone who has that platform, it‘s far different from a comedy show, it‘s far different from a video show. And he should have known, with that kind of intellectual fire power as his guests, he should have known that to denigrate black women, the basketball players at Rutgers, in the way he did, and by extension, to basically say to all black America, you can‘t touch me. And not only did he say it, but his sidekick said it, and no one has said anything about him. It was like, we are so powerful because we have these white intellectuals who embrace us and come on our show, that we can say anything, and black America will simply roll over. Because it‘s about money, it‘s about political support, it‘s about being an intellectual opportunity for people to debate.
And as a black person, we—if he had said this—and David, this is true—if he had said this about Jewish Americans, you can ask anybody in black America, the feeling would have been he would have been off the network, not in two weeks, but the next day. And that‘s why black America feels so offended when our so-called...
GREGORY: It is worth pointing out, Mr. Johnson, that he has been for 30 years pretty tough on blacks and Jews and women and Catholics and all the rest. So I don‘t know if that‘s quite right.
JOHNSON: Well, here‘s the thing. At some point, when you say something and it just keeps, you know, scraping and scraping, at some point, it hits a vein, and the pain is so severe that you can no longer do it.
You know, people can point out that Mussolini made the trains run on time. You know, people could point out, you know, things about—I remember when Minister Farrakhan said Adolf Hitler was great in his wickedness, and all of a sudden people couldn‘t understand that.
The point is, at some point, you abuse your right to be in a public environment with your words. And that‘s whether you‘re black or whether you‘re white. You abuse that right. At some point, if this country is going to stand for anything other than just total people using words without disregard to the consequences, then you have to take a stand.
And I think black America, white America, and anyone who sees this as an uncontrolled, unthinking, racist remark has to take a stand.
GREGORY: All right. Robert Johnson, founder, of course, of Black Entertainment Television. Thank you very much for calling in with your views...
JOHNSON: Thank you, David.
GREGORY: ... and your reaction tonight.
Again, the news here is us: MSNBC has decided to take Don Imus off the air, simulcasting his show on MSNBC, “IMUS IN THE MORNING.” CBS is suspending him for two weeks without pay.
This is HARDBALL. We‘ll have more in just a moment.
GREGORY: Coming up, NBC News will no longer air Don Imus‘ radio show on this network. More from our panel when HARDBALL returns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAPUS: I‘ve received hundreds, if not thousands of emails, both internal and external, with people with very strong views about what should happen. I‘ve listened to those people with their comments. And many of them are people who have worked at NBC News for decades, people who put their lives on the line covering wars and things like that.
These comments were deeply hurtful to many, many people.
And we‘ve had any number of employee conversations, discussions, emails, phone calls. And when you listen to the passion and the people who come to the conclusion that there should not be any room for this sort of conversation and dialogue on our air, it was the only decision we could reach.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was NBC News President Steve Capus in our conversation about the decision he made to take Don Imus off the air here at MSNBC. Reverend Al Sharpton, holding a press conference this hour, saying he will begin a protest against CBS Radio, to push CBS to do the same thing. We have not heard comment from Don Imus himself. WNBC in New York reporting that CBS is saying that Imus will not comment on MSNBC‘s decision. He had said that he would take the suspension of two weeks with dignity.
I‘m back with my panel now. We‘ve just spoken to Bob Johnson, founder of BET. Armstrong Williams, just some reaction to what you‘ve heard here the last few minutes.
WILLIAMS: You know, I actually think this is a good moment in our country, where we‘re having this debate, and I think a lot of good can come from this, if people are honest and if we adhere to the same moral standard.
I enjoyed what Bob Johnson had to say, but I was a little stunned that he said he went to the record companies and the record companies did not comply. He did not have to air those videos, and the way they exploit women on his network. I just thought he was a little disingenuous there.
GREGORY: And this is a question about—that Don Imus has raised, which is the word ho comes out of the hip-hop culture in the first place.
WILLIAMS: Reverend Sharpton, whom I respect as my friend, I mean, he even used the term “white interloper.” In order for them to have the moral authority on this issue, in order for us to make progress here, they must all look in their own homes.
And I don‘t agree with Bob Johnson, that if the African-American community decides that we need to look at this issue—if the African-American community and the rest of the country can decide Don Imus‘ fate, then the rest of the country should also sit in judgment of anybody else that used this kind of terminology and disrespects women and used the n-word and these derogatory terms.
I think Bob Johnson needs a reality check to realize that he needs to check his own house also, and see what he needs to do better to contribute to this national debate.
GREGORY: Clarence Page, do you think that Don Imus has—as Reverend Sharpton has suggested the last couple of days, by appearing publicly, has done himself in essentially? Has done a disservice to himself?
PAGE: Well, I think when you say appearing publicly, you mean by going around and apologizing?
GREGORY: On “The Today”—well, right, on “The Today” program, on his own program. In other words, has he made this worse for himself in some way?
PAGE: Well, no. I don‘t think he would have done the apologizing if things weren‘t already sinking rapidly underneath his feet. Remember last Friday, he gave one apology at the beginning of his program and thought that was going to be enough. By Monday, this had percolated up so that he was apologizing every hour. He goes on Al Sharpton‘s program like a national confessional. And by the end of the day, MSNBC and then CBS were giving him a two-week suspension.
The fact is, this has snowballed, and I think it‘s because, first of all, you have got this cheap shot at these wonderful young women at this college, who are, you know, not rich and famous or powerful, politically powerful celebrities, but just wonderfully admirable young Americans. And then you have got a slow news weekend, and then you‘ve got the Internet. And the general visceral reaction of people to these very negative words. I think that all compounded itself to where Don could see that he was in trouble. It turns out, indeed, he is.
GREGORY: Craig Crawford, you and I are both guests on the “IMUS IN THE MORNING” program. And you know, this may be a knock on us, but you can become sort of numb to the humor there. What made this different?
CRAWFORD: Well, I‘ve thought about this a lot, as I‘m sure you have, David. And you know, the segments I would do with him, none of that stuff was going on. And so it‘s, you know...
GREGORY: Well, that‘s right. That‘s the case with...
CRAWFORD: But that doesn‘t excuse it. It‘s just I wasn‘t always as aware of it. Although I listened to the show a lot, and so, you know—because the show was almost schizophrenic in a way. Because part of the show was the stuff we did, where you‘d talk about the news, and he‘d have newsmakers on. And then there were the comedy bits and the skits and the sports, which frankly, I have to admit, I don‘t pay much attention to sports, so I didn‘t pay attention to those either. And I think that‘s where a lot of this stuff that is so troublesome, so upsetting to people occurred.
So I think maybe I wasn‘t as aware, although I knew it. I mean, when I‘d go around the country and talk to people, you know, at book signings and things like that, and Imus fans would come up, so many of them would say, you know, I love this stuff that you do, I love the newsmaker, the senators, but I just wish he wouldn‘t do that other stuff. I wish Bernie wouldn‘t do the cardinal skit. You know, that makes my skin crawl.
And so I think his own audience was actually wishing that he wouldn‘t do some of those things. But they just weren‘t listening.
I think the problem is, you know, he started out as the original shock jock 30 years ago. And so—and it evolved after Howard Stern became so big into more of a serious news show, but they kept those elements of that early shock jock period in the show probably longer than they should have.
GREGORY: Jonathan, do you think that people will look at people in the media, at NBC and elsewhere, and a lot of white people, frankly, and say, you know what? You just—you‘ve become so numb to this kind of racist humor. You basically condone it. You accept it. And it takes something like this for you to say, whoa! Maybe that really shouldn‘t be part of our public discourse.
CAPEHART: Well, right now, because of the decision made by MSNBC, this will just be one less program that‘s adding that kind of humor and that kind of conversation to the discourse.
I think that, you know, to go back to Bob Johnson, he could have been part of the solution—just a tiny part, but he could have been a part of the solution. And I think right now, that the conversation that the nation is now engaged in, that Armstrong talked about, needs to move from Imus. Imus was a symptom of a larger problem. And the problem is, we have gotten to the point where the b-word, the n-word, ho and a whole lot of other words are now mainstream.
I spent this afternoon looking up rap lyrics from various artists, and after about a half an hour, I couldn‘t read anymore. I mean, these—and these are from popular artists. I‘m not going to name the names. I figure people can pretty much figure out who they are. But to think that on radio stations, that these songs are being played. And even when they play the clean version, there is nothing left to the imagination.
GREGORY: Clarence Page, let me talk about Imus for a little bit. I mean, this is a guy who is an addict, was a coke addict and a drunk. He did something in his life. He got sober. He made amends to people that he hurt. He made changes. And he made a difference in his life, and he made lots of differences. Children with cancer, with that ranch out there, supporting our troops with the Fallen Heroes Fund, supporting autism.
Why isn‘t it more appropriate that Imus uses this moment and uses himself to heal this wound publicly by yet again making amends to these young women, making changes to his program, and therefore, making a difference on this issue?
PAGE: Well, I suppose because he‘s done it so many times before. People, after a while, feel like, well, when is he going down this slope again?
He made the same argument back in 2000, when I first urged him to take a pledge over the air to avoid this kind of gutter humor. He doesn‘t need to do it. He is smarter than that.
But I think Craig is right. He definitely got into the habit over the years and just couldn‘t break away from it, even to the point of using Bernard as his alter ego, if you will...
GREGORY: Clarence, let me just interrupt you for a second. I just want to get—we‘re joined now on the phone by one of my bosses, Phil Griffin, who is vice president of NBC News and overseeing MSNBC and “The Today” program. Phil has also been at the center of all of these discussions with Don Imus.
Phil, are you on with us?
PHIL GRIFFIN, NBC SR. VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, hey, David.
GREGORY: Phil, what can you tell us about your conversations with Imus, how he reacted to this?
GRIFFIN: Look, he knew what was going on. You know, he was following the story. He knew that it hit a nerve in a big way. So honestly, his reaction was a little bit, I knew it was coming. And he said, look, I was responsible for those words, and that‘s why we‘re here, having this discussion right now. And that was his direct quote. You know, he feels terrible, but he understands the situation.
GREGORY: Is he still going to go forward and meet with the young ladies at Rutgers, Phil?
GRIFFIN: Yes, he is. I was also with Reverend...
GRIFFIN: ... Soaries, who is coordinating that. And he said it doesn‘t matter, that my show, the simulcast has been canceled, but he wants to reach out to the women. He knows that—he knows the pain he has caused.
You know, Don, you know, in his heart, knows that—just the nerve he has hit and the pain that he has caused these women. And I think he has a total understanding of it.
GREGORY: All right. Phil, thank you very much. Reverend Soaries is on the phone with us. Reverend, I have got about just 20 seconds left. I just want a comment from you quickly.
REV. DEFOREST SOARIES: Yes, sir. I think that Mr. Imus will probably meet with the women at Rutgers, and he will probably get a better sense of why this touched off such a nerve and how this really impacted these women. He‘ll be a better man having gone through this, but he‘ll be a better man without the platform of electronic television.
GREGORY: All right. Reverend Soaries, DeForest Soaries, thank you very much for joining us. Armstrong Williams, Craig Crawford, Jonathan Capehart and Clarence Page as well. Our coverage continues now on “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann. Again, MSNBC has taken Don Imus off the air. There will be more pressure for CBS Radio to do the same, according to Al Sharpton. And Keith Olbermann continues our coverage right now. Have a good evening.
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