The heat is on shock jock Don Imus.
After calling the NCAA finalists of the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy headed hos" on his radio show last week, many people believed Imus has crossed the line one too many times. After repeated apologies and appeals for forgiveness and a two-week suspension by CBS radio and MSNBC, the protests and demands that Imus be fired continue.
Others believe he deserves a far longer suspension.
"Two weeks is not really much of a suspension for something as offensive and obnoxious as that," says David Bositis, a senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C. "And a lot of politicians are also going to have to rethink paying court to him as well."
The coach of the Rutgers women's basketball team, who spoke out at a press conference on Tuesday morning, said the focus on Imus's racist and sexist comments obscured the real issue, which is the team's accomplishments. They'd opened the season with a humiliating 40-point loss, but came back "through perseverance" to make it to the finals.
"These are 10 young women who have accomplished so much – they are valedictorians, future doctors, and musical prodigies," says C. Vivian Stringer, the Rutgers coach. "They are the best of what the nation has to offer."During the press conference, which was highly emotional, players made itevident how deeply painful the remarks were. They're hoping to convey thatto Imus during a private meeting with him."It's more than the game of basketball, it's more than Rutgers women's basketball team," team leader Essence Carson told reporters. "As Coach Stringer says, we realize that it's about women across the world, across this nation. It just so happens that we finally take a stand. And we ask that you continue to support us and not look at it as [though] we're attacking a major broadcasting figure. We're attacking something – an issue – that we know isn't right." [Editor's Note: The original version misstated C. Vivian Stringer's name.)
Imus, who has been called "an equal opportunity insulter," was one of the first shock jocks in America who rose to fame with a foul mouth and outrageous commentaries. But since the early 1990s, his radio show, which is also broadcast on MSNBC, has also become a "must do" stop for politicians, journalists, and well-known authors. That's because he's always managed to mix intelligence with crass comedy.
And because he's been such a favorite of the political and media elite, he's gotten a pass when he's stepped over the line before. He's called then-New York Times reporter Gwen Ifill a "cleaning lady" and a black sports writer for the paper a "quota hire."
"There clearly seems to be enough outrage this time, and enough of a track record on Imus's part ... for his bosses to [punish him]," says Mark Jurkowitz, the associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism in Washington, D.C. "Is two weeks enough? My sense is that his bosses actually expect a change in behavior this time around."
Yesterday Imus again made media rounds insisting that he is "not a racist." On his own radio show Tuesday morning he said, "What I did was make a stupid, idiotic mistake in a comedy context." (His suspension starts next Monday.)
But his apologies are not going down well on the gritty streets of Manhattan. This is the city where Imus's outrages first gained him fame. It's a tough town where good-natured insults are routinely hurled and greeted with a smile. It's also the nation's richest melting pot, where there's both tolerance and an acute awareness of the nation's larger racial problems.
"What Imus said was extremely racist and he should be reprimanded," says Giselle Mitchell, as she walked to work on Canal Street. "But I didn't let it cut me too deep because I'm used to the racism in this country."
For Allen Wiggins of Queens, it wasn't just that Imus made a racist comment, but that it was aimed at high achieving young women. And he certainly doesn't buy Imus's excuse that it was just a stupid joke.
"No, for certain issues like that, you're supposed to think before you talk," says Mr. Wiggins.
But Imus still has some New York fans. Tom Ambrosio, who's from Long Island, thinks the issue has been blown out of proportion. "We take things too personally now. If a black comic were to make the same comment, it wouldn't be an issue."
Mr. Ambrosio is white. Both Ms. Mitchell and Wiggins are black. Their different reactions are reflective of the vast gap in perceptions between the races.
"For whites to say that it wasn't that big a deal is basically showing indifference to how African-Americans feel, in particular to how African-American women feel," says Mr. Bositis. "But if he's sufficiently punished, then I think there will be an appreciation for the hurtfulness of what he said."