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PAULA ZAHN NOW
CBS Fires Don Imus; Interview With Reverend Al Sharpton
Aired April 12, 2007 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome to a brand-new special hour here.
It is our mission to bring intolerance out in the open. And, while the firing of Don Imus brings one issue to a close, the resulting shockwaves raise so many others tonight. This early look at tomorrow's "TIME" magazine says it all: "Who Can Say What?"
So, tonight, we're asking, will Don Imus' firing clean up talk radio or have a damaging effect on free speech?
Plus: Imus isn't the only one who says outrageous things on radio. Why haven't other celebrities suffered the same fate?
Let's get straight to that breaking news right now. Just a few hours ago, CBS announced that it is firing Don Imus, ending his radio show.
Allan Chernoff has been on this story all day. He is here tonight with the latest details about what is going on right now.
And, as I understand it, Don Imus is meeting at this hour with the coach and the members of the Rutgers team.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, that meeting is finally happening, Paula, in New Jersey, in fact, at the governor's mansion.
And, of course, Don Imus has been saying offending things for years and years. He's one of the original shock jocks. But his comments last week about the Rutgers team really struck a nerve, and have now led to the quick collapse of one of biggest names in radio.
CHERNOFF (voice-over): Don Imus appeared to have a sense of what was coming after arriving this morning for a show that would air only on the radio, less than 24 hours after he was dropped by MSNBC.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "IMUS IN THE MORNING")
DON IMUS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: MSNBC folded up yesterday. So, we're just on the radio. And I didn't sense a lot of courage on the part of people from CBS.
(END AUDIO CLIP) CHERNOFF: The longtime radio host helped raise nearly $1 million this morning for children's charities, including his Imus Ranch for Children With Cancer. During the broadcast, Imus said he's tired of apologizing for his offensive remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "IMUS IN THE MORNING")
IMUS: I'm not going on some talk show tour. So, I have apologized enough. The only other people I want to talk to are these young women.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
CHERNOFF: Shortly after Imus finished his broadcast, African- American leaders were at CBS' New York headquarters, known as Black Rock, meeting with chief executive Les Moonves, demanding Imus' ouster.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're unified in saying to CBS that Imus' career at CBS Radio should end, and end now.
CHERNOFF: They emerged believing CBS was not ready to part ways with Imus.
AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: When it came to racism, they blinked. We're going to march until we get that eye open for justice.
CHERNOFF: But, in fact, an internal discussion about Imus' future at CBS had been raging for days, according to a source familiar with the situation. CBS had already imposed a two-week suspension, and refused to say that Imus would return to the air after it ended.
CBS board member Bruce Gordon was lobbying for Imus to be fired.
BRUCE GORDON, DIRECTOR, CBS CORPORATION: I believe in a zero- tolerance policy. In corporations, you have got to have a very firm and strong policy on the respect for diversity in the corporation and in the community you that serve. And, when you violate that policy, there can't be tolerance around it.
CHERNOFF: Late this afternoon, the announcement came from Les Moonves. CBS would stop broadcasting "Imus in the Morning," effective immediately.
CHERNOFF: In a memo to staffers at CBS, Les Moonves says that he's hoping this will actually lead to a more civilized society. And, in terms of financials, well, it's actually going to have very little financial impact on CBS.
A source familiar with the company's financials says that, after Imus' $10-million-a-year salary and other large expenses, his program generated profit of about $2 million a year for CBS. That's a tiny fraction of the $1.6 billion that CBS Corporation earned last year -- Paula.
ZAHN: But, Allan, a lot of people are scratching their head tonight, because this is a man who has had a history of saying outrageous things on the air, particularly degrading to women. So, what was the tipping point on this one?
CHERNOFF: It seems this -- this issue, as we said, really, really did strike a nerve. These were not politicians, not public figures. The women's ballplayers, they were just innocent victims here. And it really seems to have perhaps been the last straw. We may be on the threshold of a real change in society.
The African-American leaders today said that they are going to be calling on other media companies to take action and to eliminate some of the hostile language in music as well. So, this may be the beginning of something much, much bigger than just Don Imus.
ZAHN: We will see. A lot of people are not confident that will happen. But we will be watching.
CHERNOFF: It's not a guarantee. You -- you know there still will be nasty words on the airwaves.
Allan Chernoff, thank you so much for that update.
Now let's find out how CBS finally made the call to dump Don Imus.
With me now, CBS board member Bruce Gordon, who has been calling for Imus to go for days.
Good to see you, Bruce.
GORDON: Paula, good to see you.
ZAHN: Thank you.
Why did CBS end up firing him?
GORDON: I think that Les Moonves has explained it as clearly as it needs to be explained.
Don Imus crossed the line. He violated corporate policy. He damaged CBS' image, its reputation. And the public spoke clearly, consistently, and loudly. And management listened to that feedback, and made what you know I consider to be the right decision.
And, by the way, given our conversation yesterday, I think that he made -- he meaning Les Moonves -- made that decision in a very timely fashion.
ZAHN: Help us understand, internally, what seemed to have the most impact on Les Moonves?
You know, skeptical people out there are saying, well, the almighty dollar talks. But -- but I -- I know that you feel that he truly listened to many of the folks, particularly minorities within the company, who said, we cannot tolerate that.
GORDON: Les was insistent on reaching out to as broad an audience as he could, both inside of CBS and outside of CBS.
I think he wanted to weigh all of the factors, take into account all of the issues. And, by the way, just given on what you just heard on the opening segment of your program, the financials weren't really that substantial. We don't take lightly what a couple million dollars in earnings might represent.
But, when it was all said and done, I think that this was a decision that was fundamentally based on principle. It was a decision that fundamentally said, we at CBS in fact do value diversity and our commitment to it. And, when an employee violates our policy, we're going to act accordingly.
ZAHN: Was there any sensitivity to Les Moonves -- on Les Moonves' part, now that the Rutgers team is actually meeting at this hour with Don Imus, after this decision has been made?
GORDON: I think that Les may have preferred for the meeting to take place before the decision, just so that the -- the women on the team could have a chance to speak with Imus and weigh in.
But, ultimately, I think that he heard and understood all that he needed to, and, based upon that, made a very timely decision. I think, Paula, at this point in time, it's really appropriate to sort of move from the Imus focus, in terms of the personality, to the broader issue of race in media and entertainment.
And that's, frankly, what I'm looking forward to. I think that the discussion on Imus is -- is coming to a close. But I think that a continued conversation on diversity in media and entertainment must continue.
ZAHN: And we will continue that conversation here.
Bruce Gordon, thank you very much for your time tonight.
GORDON: My pleasure.
ZAHN: And one of the most passionate voices pressing for Imus' firing has been the Reverend Al Sharpton. He joins me now.
SHARPTON: Thank you.
ZAHN: You got what you wanted. What's next?
SHARPTON: Well, this is only the first round in a long fight. I don't think this, as I have said to you before, was only about Imus. This was about the responsible and ethical use of the airwaves.
And I think that Imus had to be penalized to keep that precedent. Now we have got to fight the continued use of it by others. He's not the only one. We have got to look at the entertainment world. I mean, I have, as you know, for some time, talked about we have got to deal with the music industry, including some that are in the African- American community...
SHARPTON: ... that are misogynist in their -- what they put out, and that have used words that are disparaging to blacks and others.
And I think that we're going to take that step. I also agree with Bruce Gordon. We have got to deal with the twin issue of diversity in the media, the media itself. So, I think that this is an opening. I think it created a discussion.
But it would be a disservice to everyone if we stopped it on Imus, because this was never just about Imus. It was about all of that. And I think that's where we have to go.
ZAHN: I was just listening to a black female professor from Chicago, who says that picking on Don Imus, she sees, as a bit of a joke, if you will not as aggressively go after particularly black members of the hip-hop culture, who routinely degrade women.
What are you going to do to convince America that you will continue this fight?
SHARPTON: Well, we -- first of all, we have been in the fight before Imus. And, second of all, we will aggressively continue that fight.
Next week, at my National Action Network conference, we have expanded the agenda now. We're going to have a town hall meeting to talk about exactly what companies we're going to deal -- we're going after, exactly what artists, and what companies we're going to challenge on diversity.
So, I think there's no question we're going to continue to fight. Let's not act like the Imus fight was something that started universally. The National Association of Black Journalists raised the question. We came in with National Action Network. Three or four days later, everybody was in it.
So, people are talking about the Imus fight like it just automatically became a fight. He said this eight days ago. It took a whole lot of mobilizing to get us to this point. It was not an immediate reaction on Imus.
ZAHN: So, what are you going to do when he ends back on the radio on satellite?
SHARPTON: Again, I think that has to be a collective decision of how we deal with it. Again, we're not just stalking Imus. We're fighting for what's fair and just for all people, women and people of color, on the airwaves.
ZAHN: Reverend Al Sharpton, thank you.
SHARPTON: Thank you.
ZAHN: Appreciate your dropping by.
Now I want to turn to two media watchers who have been following the Imus outrage all week long, Michael Harrison, editor and publisher of the talk radio trade journal "Talkers" magazine, and Howard Kurtz, who covers the media for "The Washington Post" and CNN.
Howie, you first.
I know you weren't crazy about the idea of his being fired when I talked with you earlier this week. Do you understand this decision tonight?
HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely.
And the reason that CBS came to this decision -- and I think with some reluctance, because, a couple of days ago, they were trying to ride out the storm with this two-week suspension -- is not just because of the universal condemnation about these remarks, which are utterly indefensible, not just because this touch this raw exposed nerve about race, but because employees with -- within CBS, as at NBC, staged a kind of revolt, and went to the executives of those companies, and said, we don't want to be associated with this guy.
At NBC, it was Al Roker, the "Today Show" weatherman, and Ron Allen, a correspondent, African-American correspondent, "NBC Nightly News," who led the charge with NBC News president Steve Capus. So, there was internal pressure, as well as all the outside forces and voices like those of Reverend Sharpton.
ZAHN: Michael, we spoke with you earlier this week, and you thought it was ridiculous that the story was getting as much attention as it has. Do you think that CBS copped out here, when you look at how much more egregious other talk show radio hosts have been?
MICHAEL HARRISON, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "TALKERS": Well, they didn't cop out, inasmuch as they're running a business, and they have to do what's best for their business and their stockholders, and, in this case, even their employees.
So, no, they didn't cop out. It's just unfortunate that Imus himself -- and Sharpton mentioned before, it's not about Imus. I'm glad to hear him say that, because, if it's only about Imus, then we missed the point. It really is a much larger society issue. Imus has become the poster boy, and he's been hanged. He's been executed in the public square for the sins of many, many people.
Now we face the challenge of whether we're going to be a hypocritical society, and let it go there, and feel better about our ourselves, or go further and try to clean up our act, short of restraining and repressing, and, even more so, let's be careful not to trample on the First Amendment, because they're more valuable than a gentle society.
ZAHN: Well, which of the two will it be, Howard Kurtz?
KURTZ: I think it would be terrific if this national conversation went forward and we try to flush some of the toxic sludge off the airwaves, in the cases of some of these television and radio hosts who traffic in anger and in abusing people, as well as the rap artists and others.
But I'm not very confident that's going to happen. These problems have been around for a long time. It's only now, with the case of Imus, this colorful and controversial character, that you get this sustained media attention. And I fear that, a week, two weeks from now, the media will be off to something else -- everybody knows we have a short attention span -- and the pressure on these other people will turn out to -- to fizzle, really.
ZAHN: I wonder about that, Michael, in closing, because what is so clear, when you look at the audiences that are brought in by these hosts, they have made bigotry entertaining, have they not?
But, you know, I have to speak on behalf of radio. Why is radio the scapegoat here, when we have bigotry on television, we have it on sitcoms, we have it on nightly television dramas, we have it in the movies, we have it in music? It's in comedy.
Radio, if you really look at it word for word, pound for pound, is one of the tamer of the mass media. And, yet, we talk about talk show hosts as if they are the only ones out there, or the evilest, most coarse, contentious people in the media. And that is not true.
ZAHN: Howie Kurtz, you get the last word.
KURTZ: It's certainly true that there's a lots of company for radio talk show hosts, in terms of the popular culture.
I mean, look, there is a certain amount of media hypocrisy here. These big media companies are also involved in bringing you the shows that Michael talked about, the entertainment in Hollywood, and signing the rap artists who degrade and humiliate women in their lyrics to these big contracts.
Until there's some pressure on those companies to walk the walk, not just with Don Imus, but more broadly, this situation is going to go on.
ZAHN: Howard Kurtz, Michael Harrison, thank you both.
HARRISON: Thank you.
ZAHN: And in what turned out to be his last radio show today, Don Imus said, "I have apologized enough."
Coming up, I will ask my panel, has he? You better stick around. It's a lively one.
A little bit later on: famous celebrities, outrageous words. Why are they still working, when Don Imus gets the boot? We will answer that for you when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TODAY SHOW")
IMUS: I want these young women to know that I didn't say this out of anger and that I didn't say this out of meanness, and I didn't -- I didn't turn my microphone on and say, this is what I think of the young women at Rutgers.
And, believe me, I know that that phrase didn't originate in the white community. That phrase originated in the black community.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: We continue our coverage of tonight's breaking news: CBS pulling the plug on Don Imus' radio show. CNN has confirmed that Imus and the team are meeting right now at the New Jersey governor's mansion.
Let's go to tonight's "Out in the Open" panel, radio talk show host and NewsMax.com columnist Steve Malzberg, Republican political strategist Amy Holmes, also writer, director and actor John Ridley.
As we know, Don Imus is meeting with the team. Why don't we review all of the apologies that Don Imus has made since he made these horrendous, horrendous remarks?
Let's listen again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "IMUS IN THE MORNING")
IMUS: I'm sorry I did that. I'm embarrassed that I did that. I did a bad thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE AL SHARPTON SHOW")
IMUS: I wish I hadn't said it. I'm sorry I said it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "IMUS IN THE MORNING")
IMUS: I am going to apologize to them and ask them for their forgiveness. (END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: I guess it didn't make much difference, did it, John?
JOHN RIDLEY, FILM DIRECTOR/ACTOR/WRITER: No.
I don't know that it did, and I don't know that it should. I think -- ultimately, the only person or persons that he owes an apology to are these ladies at Rutgers. I mean, there's something a little odd to me about Don Imus apologizing to Al Sharpton. I'm sorry. There's a guy who has never met an apology that he liked.
I think that it's that about these ladies. And I also don't understand. Why is he apologizing to people in the media, who have been on the show, who have known about these comments that he's made over and over again? I don't quite understand all that.
So, hopefully, tonight, this is over all the way around, in terms of Don Imus. I do agree there's much to be talked about. But Don Imus, I think, is done.
ZAHN: Amy Holmes, is this the end of it, or do you think we really will see a discussion, an intelligent discussion, about race and the sensitivities about issue of gender and everything else we have witnessed over the last couple of days?
AMY HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, Paula, I would hope so.
And I think that the outcry, the outrage, has been so brought- based, so across the spectrum, that we finally are saying that we're going to reject this type of language about women, about African- American women, specifically.
I remember when C. DeLores Tucker first started her campaign against these lyrics in hip-hop. And she was derided as, you know, old and out of it and unhip and uncool. But now you're hearing all different age groups, all different ethnicities saying, this is just -- this is outrageous.
I would like to add that I'm so proud of these women on the Rutgers basketball team, the way they have comported themselves, and that it's incredibly gracious that they would agree to sit down with Mr. Imus to hash this out.
STEVE MALZBERG, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: And not one of the women on the basketball or the coach has asked for Imus to be fired. Note that.
ZAHN: That is not true.
MALZBERG: Well, who...
ZAHN: I had the coach on yesterday. MALZBERG: And she wanted Imus fired?
ZAHN: She did...
MALZBERG: Did not know that.
ZAHN: She said that she might change her mind, depending on what he said.
MALZBERG: OK. OK.
ZAHN: But, going into it, she said that he had that impression.
ZAHN: Are you ticked off he was fired?
MALZBERG: Yes. Oh, I think it's terrible...
MALZBERG: ... terrible for the industry of talk radio.
I think what he did was -- what he said was reprehensible. He should have been suspended. But to fire him? Why now? And to fire him because Al Sharpton made an issue of this, Al Sharpton, who I could stand here for the next...
HOLMES: That's not why he was fired.
MALZBERG: Excuse me. I didn't interrupt you.
Al Sharpton, who has called Jews diamond merchants, who has called Greeks homos, who has called -- I mean, the list goes on and on.
RIDLEY: Tawana Brawley.
MALZBERG: Tawana Brawley, Freddie's, which was burnt down and seven people were killed, on and on. He's never held accountable.
Jesse Jackson, Hymietown, allegedly spitting in white people's food. And they're the arbiters of what's right and what is acceptable? Give me a break. Is this Bizarro world?
ZAHN: Well, Amy, you -- I think Steve would have to concede a lot of this had to do with advertisers, and that perhaps in the end had a lot more impact than what you're talking about...
ZAHN: ... than what Al Sharpton was asking for. HOLMES: Indeed.
And I think -- I have been, actually, very disappointed in some of my conservative friends, who have made this an issue of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. I agree with Steve that I don't think that those men have the moral authority to be mediating this.
But they weren't. They weren't the people who were out front. And, as conservatives and people who believe in civility and decency, we should be standing behind these girls.
MALZBERG: They were out front, though, Amy. Who else was out front but Al Sharpton?
HOLMES: The National Association of Black Journalists was the very first group to be pushing this forward. I have been on the air all week long.
MALZBERG: Sharpton got the attention. Sharpton got the attention.
HOLMES: He may have gotten the attention, but the people here who we should be supporting are the women of Rutgers. What he said say on the air was not merely just outrageous or edgy. It was a clear racial slur, a sexist slur about...
MALZBERG: He said it about Jews, and nobody wanted him fired.
ZAHN: Let's give John a chance to jump in here.
RIDLEY: I don't believe in arguing.
But here's the thing, I do think that this was more about money than it was about doing the right thing. It's easy to say that they were -- Don Imus was fired.
Why did it take nine days for CBS to suddenly find a heart? I mean, we're talking about GE? These guys make nuclear missiles. They're in the pain business. So, I don't think it was painful for them to sit down with their employees, who -- by the way, I think they sat down with their accountants and looked at what little bit of money they were going to lose.
ZAHN: Right. We heard Allan Chernoff report at the top of the hour, after his salary, the show was pulling in just about $2 million a year. RIDLEY: About $2 million. So, that's not a big deal.
So, to me, why does it take 20 years of this to make a difference? Why does it take Al Sharpton -- I mean, rappers have been saying these kinds of things for over a decade. And now people are upset about it? "Essence" magazine has had a take-back-the-music initiative since 2005. How many people at home know about this?
MALZBERG: Imus has been saying it for two decades. Why now? Why now?
RIDLEY: I agree. I don't like what he said.
MALZBERG: Neither do I.
RIDLEY: I don't mind that he's gone. I think he was gone in the right way, by the way, because of the market influences.
If he was fired, he would have been picked up by FOX News tomorrow. The fact that he can't make money...
ZAHN: So, what about all the other days that have gotten away with a lot more than that, not only in hip-hop, but on the radio every day?
RIDLEY: Excuse me. What about Bill Bennett, who is on this very network? He said, if you want to take a bite out of crime, abort all black babies. Why is he...
MALZBERG: No, you're taking that out of context.
HOLMES: That's not what he said.
No, I'm not taking that out of context.
MALZBERG: ... way out of context.
RIDLEY: Explain that to my kids, how that's out of context.
ZAHN: All right. All right.
RIDLEY: Explain to my children...
MALZBERG: Gee whiz.
RIDLEY: ... how that is out of context, please. ZAHN: We will be back. The debate will continue.
Steve, John, Amy, thanks.
Could the Don Imus fire storm actually clean up talk radio? Coming up, I'm going to ask some other radio hosts just how much they will be minding their P's and Q's from now on.
And, then, a little bit later on, outrageous words from famous celebrities. What's going to happen to them down the road? Does this set a new trend?
ZAHN: Welcome back.
We're spending the hour on tonight's breaking news, the firing of Don Imus and what it may mean for free speech in the U.S.
Right now, let's bring that out in the open for what it may mean for the future of talk radio.
Today, in a memo to CBS staff, network president Les Moonves made it clear he hopes this leads to a big change in what we hear on the air.
He said: "Imus has flourished in a culture that permits a certain level of objectionable expression that hurts and demeans a wide range of people. In taking him off the air, I believe we take an important and necessary step not just in solving a unique problem, but in changing that culture, which extends far beyond the walls of our company."
Let's turn to two radio professionals, radio host Roland Martin, who is also a CNN contributor, and national syndicated radio host Dennis Prager.
DENNIS PRAGER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Hi.
ZAHN: ... "TIME" magazine is out tonight. Its cover story is "Who Can Say What?" now, now that Imus has been fired.
PRAGER: That's right.
It's a real issue. I have to tell you, Paula, in a certain sense, I am not your ideal guest. I'm deeply torn. First, what he said is so awful, frankly. I'm a talk show host 25 years. And it's very painful for me to critique another talk show host, but it's awful.
On the other hand, it's so commonplace in American culture today that, all of a sudden, for it to be isolated, for all this revulsion, and to see Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton as the arbiters of our morality, it's almost like theaters where neither side is at all admirable, and we're stuck in the middle. And I don't want to be frozen.
PRAGER: And let me just tell you, what you just heard...
ZAHN: Dennis, answer the question. Will you be frozen? Will this make a difference?
ZAHN: Will this have a chilling effect on what you say on radio?
PRAGER: Only if what you just heard from a previous guest of yours just before me that -- about the Bill Bennett comment, which was so out of place, what was said about the Bill Bennett comment -- if they start attacking serious commentary, not -- not the obvious objectionable gross one that you just heard from Don Imus, then there will be a chilling effect.
ZAHN: Roland Martin, you have got to think that -- that radio hosts out there are going to think twice about what they're saying before they spew some racial slur. And you, more than anyone, can be honest about how much of this stuff you have heard on the air that is far worse than anything Don Imus has said.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, people should think twice about what they say.
I don't understand what the big deal is. I know for a fact the seven words I cannot say on radio. So, why is this really a big deal? It's a matter of not insulting people. It's a matter of speaking to really who they are.
And I'm not going to sit here and defend Imus, like some people keep trying to do. The fact of the matter is this. CBS has not suspended him over the years for the nonsense you heard on the show. The reason you have such an outcry wasn't just because of the statement. It was because, when they pulled those curtains open, Paula and they saw the background, they saw the years of his comments, people said, wait a minute. This is absolutely ridiculous. And let me also say this Paula because I'm sick and tired of this. This was not a matter of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson versus Don Imus. The National Association of Black Journalists first came out and called for him to be fired. They led this effort. Now National Organization of Women, they launched a dump Imus campaign on Monday. You have people who want to make this a Sharpton/Jackson versus Imus. But, please, state the real facts, as opposed to your gender.
ZAHN: All right, but let's come back to the issue of Don Imus and his sins on the air.
ZAHN: Wouldn't you think that some other guys would have been fired along the way that have said things that are far more humiliating to women. I am just equally outraged as you two are by what he said on the air. That's not to diminish the impact of what he said. But you know (inaudible) every day.
PRAGER: Actually, the truth is, among most of my colleagues, you don't hear this sort of talk. I'll give you something that I think was unbelievably objectionable that didn't register at all on the Richter scale and America's moral revulsion, when Rosie O'Donnell said on her show, "The View" that she as certain that there were incendiary devices planted in one of the twin towers to blow it up and nothing happened. The woman is indicting the United States of blowing up its own people and she goes on the next day as if nothing happened. With all honesty and I can't stand the way Imus ran a show. But with all honesty, what Rosie O'Donnell said and got applauded for by those women in the audience was far more destructive to our culture than what Don Imus did in his buffoonery.
ZAHN: What about that, Roland?
MARTIN: Let me try to explain what happened with the Imus piece. You can take any kind of story and say well, why did this all of a sudden rise to this level? It's something that you really cannot explain. It's a matter of, he makes the comment. The language he used. It's a matter of the NCAA women's basketball championship. It's all kinds of factors that came into play. The fact of the matter is, he made the comment. It was highly insulting and people took action.
Now, the question is, are we now going to launch a national conversation, not just about racism but about sexism about how women are treated. Let me tell you something, we should go after those with rap lyrics. But those are not the only people we should deal with when it comes to sexism in America. It is going to cause people to have a conversation which we need. I heard Howard Kurtz say the media has a short attention span. I would hope that my colleagues in the media, talk radio, cable television, newspapers and magazines will say, wait a minute, let's put our energy and our focus on this issue, among others and keep raising the issue so we educate America.
PRAGER: I'd like to ask one more question.
ZAHN: I have time for a brief thought, Dennis.
PRAGER: A quick question to Roland. Is it sex - you say we should combat sexism and it's just an open question. It is sexist if one says that one does not want female clergy in, let's say, the Catholic Church. Is that sexism that we should ban from radio?
MARTIN: First of all, that is ideology. That's a matter of a church doctrine. You can discuss it. You can debate it. PRAGER: So that's OK? All I'm saying is, if we fight sexism on radio, we're going to fight people who don't think women should be ordained and they're going to get fired.
ZAHN: You two are raising some interesting questions on where this may go as we debate (INAUDIBLE) and what concentrates commentary and what doesn't. Dennis Prager, Roland Martin. I promise you we will continue to cover these things right here.
Don Imus is hardly the first celebrity whose words have sparked outrage. Next in our special hour, we're going to hear what some other famous people have said on the air. Will they have to watch what they say from now on? What will the consequences be? And if Don Imus could be fired for saying or describing women as hos, will hip- hop's biggest stars finally clean up their acts and what's their incentive?
ZAHN: Welcome back to our special hour of "Shock Waves." We're looking at how this afternoon's firing of Don Imus may affect the media and even free speech from coast to coast. Tonight, some big name celebrities may be looking at themselves in the mirror and asking, am I next? After all, they've been running off their mouths and saying some really outrageous things.
ZAHN (voice-over): Everyone agrees, Don Imus' remarks about the women's basketball team from Rutgers are outrageous. But in a drunken rant last year, Mel Gibson cursed Jewish people saying the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. Gibson apologized and went into rehab for alcoholism. And plenty of people still bought tickets to see his movie "Apocalypto." It took in $115 million worldwide.
Comedian Michael Richards repeated use of the "N" word at a comedy club last November generated a fire storm. Author and commentator Ann Coulter's book contracts were not canceled, after this anti-gay description of presidential candidate John Edwards.
ANN COULTER: I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word faggot. So...
ZAHN: Coulter hasn't been shunned by the talk shows. But the NBA canceled former player Tim Hardaway's league-related appearance, after this anti-gay rant.
TIM HARDAWAY, FMR. MIAMI HEAT PLAYER: You know, I hate gay people. So, I let it be known. I don't like gay people. I don't like to be around gay people.
ZAHN: ABC is taking heat because of Rosie O'Donnell on "The View" when she questioned whether the World Trade Center's twin towers collapsed on 9/11, because someone may have planted explosives not because of the hijacked jets that were used as bombs. (END VIDEOTAPE)
ZAHN: Now, to our out in the open panel to address all of this, with me again CNN contributor Roland Martin who also hosts his own radio show, a clean one, I might add, radio host to newsmax.com, columnist Steve Malzberg, no talk of your being fired later, either, along with Republican political strategist Amy Holmes. Steve, where have we set the bar a fireable offense considering what we just heard in that piece?
STEVE MALZBERG, COLUMNIST, NEWSMAX.COM: I don't think we've set the bar. I think the danger here is that Al Sharpton has made it very clear, you had Howard Kurtz, a media critic, with all due respect to him and this network, he's anxious to get other talk show hosts fired. He hopes they go after other talk show hosts and get them off the air for the pollution that he doesn't like. Who cares what he likes? Who cares what people like? I think if you start taking people's free speech away. I know, Rosie says it's all a free speech issue. It's America. When you're on the radio, you have a responsibility. But I think Dennis Prager made a great point. You want to treat women well. You don't want to say negative things about women so if you take the position, either gays shouldn't be priests, let's say for gays or women shouldn't be in the clergy, does that mean you're anti-gay and anti-female and you got thrown off the air? You have to watch it.
MARTIN: Oh, Steve, stop it. It's different if you're on radio, Steve, and you say, hey, I don't want any hos serving as a priest. It's a lot different if you say, I disagree with women being priests. You know better, so stop this nonsense. It's a matter of insulting women and being sexist. We can have debates on radio, Steve. We can have dialogues. We can have discussions. But when you cross the line, you know that's wrong. And I will say this Steve, how would you feel if someone said that about your wife. Are you going to say, hey, you're a talk show host, just go right ahead.
MALZBERG: I have had talk show hosts in New York unfortunately say something directly about my wife. I didn't seek to get the person fired. He didn't get fired. Look, here's the deal. People take things out of context. So you might say, oh you can say that, but then they come up with a 30-second byte completely out of context. They do it for all of the hosts and they do try to get you fired. It happened to me.
ZAHN: You're not going to tell me Don Imus' comments were taken out of context?
MALZBERG: No. I never said that. Don Imus should have been suspended, but not fired, absolutely.
AMY HOLMES: If I can jump in here and we're talking about free speech, we know that on the public airwaves that are profanities and vulgarities that you cannot use. And Don Imus was being paid, paid money to have those words come out of his mouth. And in a free market, people at NBC, Steve Capus and Les Moonves at CBS, they have the choice to decide if their companies are going to be associated with someone who regularly, repeatedly uses racial, ethnic, religious slurs.
MALZBERG: And they were spurred on and threatened in my view. I consider, when you say, if CBS doesn't capitulate today, we'll march tomorrow, then we'll go to the sponsors. To me that's -- excuse me, that's extortion on the part of Al Sharpton, and expressed by Al Sharpton and got him fired. That's what happened.
HOLMES: You keep trying to invoke Al Sharpton.
ZAHN: Will you acknowledge here tonight, when you look at all the awful stuff that has been said about Jews on the air and Muslims and women, there seems to be a stronger visceral reaction to the anti- black stuff.
MARTIN: Well, first of all, I think what you have is standard, Paula. It's a standard based upon the forum. It's a standard based upon who says it. And it's also a matter of timing. There have been comments made in the past that did not generate the same level of reaction. So there have been other comments that have been made where people say we accept the apology. It's an ebb and flow there. That's what it boils down to. And so we have to understand that. There's some people on the job who will make a comment and they won't get fired. But some others will make a comment, they will get fired.
HOLMES: If I can jump in here, the only reason why this is controversial is because Don Imus is rich and famous and he has powerful friends. If it was any one of us on this panel who used those types of words who routinely slurred people based on ethnicity and religion, we would be canned that day.
ZAHN: It took over a week for CBS to make this decision.
MALZBERG: Yes, here's what's going to happen. They're going to go after conservative talk show hosts next and they're going to try to bring back the Fairness Doctrine based on (INAUDIBLE) conservative talk shows and that's what their goal is. You see. My prediction.
ZAHN: Aren't you the guys dominating the airwaves right now, Steve?
MALZBERG: Yes, but if they bring back the Fairness Doctrine -- because the market demands it. The liberals fail on talk radio.
MARTIN: I tell you what Steve, you conservatives, just don't say ho, you get to keep your job.
ZAHN: I don't think he will be saying -- I hope he doesn't say that. I'll fire him.
We're not done yet. Please stay right there, lots more to cover. Over the past few months, we've asked whether hip-hop is art or poison. A lot of people really take offense that the way rappers treat women. Are some of raps biggest acts due for the Imus treatment? That's next in our out in the open special. Are you still with us, panel? They are fired up. They got a lot to share with you tonight. Please stay with us.
ZAHN: We're spending the hours on the shock waves caused by the firing of Don Imus. CBS radio canceled his morning show just hours ago after a week of outrage over his racist and sexist remark about the Rutgers University women's basketball team. This week, he defended himself over and over again by pointing a finger at hip-hop culture and its treatment of women.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DON IMUS: I may be a white man, but I know that these young women, young black women all through that society are demeaned and disparaged and disrespected by their own black men and they are called that name. I know that doesn't give me obviously any right to say it. But it doesn't give them any right to say it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Does Imus have a point there and is hip hop the next target? Back to our out in the open panel now, Roland Martin, Steve Malzberg, Amy Holmes. Amy Holmes, what about that, that somehow because this kind of language, this vile language is so common among hip-hop stars, it's somehow given white men the permission to use the same derogatory language directed at women?
HOLMES: Paula, I think it has and I think that it's mainstreamed that denigrating language. Let's remember that 80 percent of the consumers of this gangster rap hip-hop music that uses this type of language are Caucasian teenaged boys. So you have black artists, black music video producers and directors and the music videos, that's another whole topic there, promoting this type of stuff and it spreads into the mainstream so much so that it ends up on MSNBC, a news organization at CBS radio in the mouth of Don Imus.
ZAHN: Roland, I want you to respond to this. Rapper Snoop Dogg fired back at Imus' suggestion, saying among other things that we cannot say on the TV. We will put them on the screen. You can read it. I'm not saying it out loud. I will read the last part of this. We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we feel. I will not let them say we are in the same league as him. Are they in the same league?
MARTIN: They're not in the same league as Don Imus in terms of their platform, but they are in the same gutter as Don Imus in terms of their positions. The fact of the matter is their lyrics are detestable. They are sickening and so they should be checked, but not just them. Here's another thing, Paula, people haven't thought about. You have teachers out there who are saying, hey, get rid of these lyrics. Well, you know what, some of the pension funds, they have GE stock. So the same lyrics that they detest, they're paying for their pensions. If we want to go after hip-hop, I am 100 percent behind it and we also should go after sexism. When you watch a boxing match, you see the ring girl walk around with the card, round three, round four. That's also how you have sexism in America. Let's go after hip-hop, but let's also be honest about the reality of sexism. Hip hop is 30 years old. It didn't just begin.
ZAHN: But is the reality, Steve that hip-hop is going to get way with a lot more than Don Imus got a way with. I want to listen to something that state Senator John Sampson had to say. He is one of two black state senators who have called on black shock jocks and entertainers to clean up their acts. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN SAMPSON, NY STATE SEN: We want people to clean up their acts irrespective of race, color and creed. It's about cleaning up their act and showing respect where respect is due.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: You're laughing. You don't see that happening.
MALZBERG: ... going to happen. If black radio stations didn't want to play hip-hop anymore, they'd stop tomorrow or they would have stopped yesterday. They're not going to stop. Radio stations that play music that's geared towards urban listeners. I was on an urban talk radio station in New York. What's that?
ZAHN: A lot of those urban listeners are white.
MALZBERG: But the point is, they're not going to stop and that's my point. If they wanted to stop, they would have stopped already and politicians are very...
MALZBERG: Wait a minute, you had Barack Obama who took a week to realize his daughters were insulted by this. He announced that yesterday and wanted Imus fired after a week.
MARTIN: Wait a minute. John McCain --
MALZBERG: I'm not talking about John McCain.
MALZBERG: He had his arm around Ludacris, who wrote a song called "Ho," "Ho."
HOLMES: Do you agree that this can also start at home and parents don't need to be buying these albums for their children. They don't need to be allowing their children to watch the videos.
ZAHN: All right. (INAUDIBLE) so I can get my commercial break and someone can pay for the segment. Roland Martin, Steve Malzberg, Amy Holmes, thank you.
There's another aspect of the Imus story, money, big money. We were just talking a little bit about that and the hip-hop culture. Coming up next, what the controversy is costing Don Imus' former bosses. We'll be right back.
ZAHN: We're back with a news break. The Dow closed 68 points higher. Nasdaq gained 21. The S&P finished almost 9 points higher. Let's take a look at the Imus effect on the market and media stocks. The story broke a week ago and so far, despite some ups and downs of the major players, held steady and today, CBS parent Viacom and MSNBC parent, General Electric, both closed just a few cents higher.
We move onto something we do every Thursday. Coming up next, a remarkable woman who not only found life after work, she overcame cancer in the process. We'll be right back.
ZAHN: You're about to meet a woman, "Life after Work" a woman who faced death, now devoting her life to helping others do the same. Here's Mary Snow.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You have cancer. Three words that changed Monica Knoll's life.
MONICA KNOLL, FOUNDER, CANCER 101: I think everybody will attest that when you hear those words, you have cancer, you really feel like you've been kicked in the stomach.
SNOW: It was October 2000 and Knoll was only 36 years old, working as a marketing executive for a health club chain. As she began treatment, Monica realized how difficult it was keeping up with the details of her care.
KNOLL: It was so overwhelming to manage a multitude of doctor's appointments with my business responsibilities.
SNOW: So after finishing her treatments, Knoll launched cancer 101 to help new cancer patients deal with the disease. There's a website culling the mountain of information on the web to key resources and support groups, podcasts, outlining what to do in the first 24 hours of your diagnosis and a central part of the program, a custom planner.
KNOLL: This is a cancer planner. It really allows the caregiver and the patient to get organized, a place to keep their notes, a place to keep business cards, addresses, telephone numbers, billing information as the invoices start to come in.
SNOW: But in the midst of launching cancer 101, Knoll faced another challenge.
KNOLL: Just as I was about to launch the program, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had the opportunity to actually test pilot both cancer 101 this past fall. And I know now more than ever that cancer 101 really does help others. It does need to grow to provide the tools for other cancers.
SNOW: Mary Snow, CNN, New York.
ZAHN: And that's it for us. Thanks very much for joining us.
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