The new-model Don Imus returned to Gotham’s airwaves Monday with a big dollop of humility and a promise to mind his words more carefully.
Imus signed on to his “Imus in the Morning” drive-time show on WABC-AM by revisiting the situation in April that led to his firing by CBS Radio and MSNBC, after he referred jokingly to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.”
“In thinking about what happened — and most of you know I haven’t talked to anyone and didn’t see any point in going on some sort of ‘Larry King’ tour to offer a bunch of lame excuses for making essentially a reprehensible remark about innocent people who did not deserve to be made fun of — I think what happened is about what should have happened,” Imus said, as he opened his show in a special staging at Manhattan’s Town Hall theater.
The shock jock’s fans paid $100 a ticket to attend the inaugural broadcast, held as a benefit event for his Imus Ranch charity aiding children with cancer.
His on-air team features some members of his old team that were involved in the Rutgers incident and a few new voices, including black comedians Karith Foster and Tony Powell.
The debut broadcast seemed to answer the question of whether post-scandal Imus would be able to draw the same high-caliber guests: Monday’s lineup included presidential hopefuls John McCain and Chris Dodd, plus historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and political strategists James Carville and Mary Matalin.
Imus’ new radio show is also simulcast on TV, not on the high-profile platform of MSNBC but on a tiny cabler targeting rural America, RFD-TV, which hopes Imus’ program will help broaden its audience and carriage base.
As part of his lengthy opening monologue, Imus recounted details of the four-hour meeting he and his wife, Deirdre, had with the Rutgers’ team during the eye of the storm over his comments in mid-April. He praised them for accepting his apology and promised that he will “never say anything in my lifetime that will make any of these young women at Rutgers regret or feel foolish that they accepted my apology and forgave me.”
Imus further vowed to use his platform as a vehicle to address the heart of the issue that led to his temporary fall from grace. In a news conference on Monday, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who had been one of the strongest proponents of Imus’ ouster from CBS Radio, said that only time will tell if Imus can “redeem” himself.
“We’re willing to have an ongoing discussion about race relations in this country,” Imus said. “There isn’t any reason we can’t do that to learn how to talk to one another. And so I pledge to do that.”
And in his first public comments on how his firing was handled by CBS, which owned his previous outlet, WFAN-FM New York, and syndicated his “Imus in the Morning,” Imus had only kind words for CBS chief Leslie Moonves.
“Les Moonves could not have been more honorable or more straightforward or more decent or more honest in dealing with me,” Imus said. “There was never any point that he said, ‘Ah, everything’s going to be fine’ or whatever. We understood the gravity of the remark. We understood the consequences for the young women at Rutgers. We all recognized, I certainly did, that it was just a matter of time before he did what he had to do.”
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)