This Day In History: April 4

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On April 4, 2007, syndicated talk radio host Don Imus ignites a firestorm after making racially disparaging remarks about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, insulting their appearance and tattoos and, most infamously, calling them “nappy-headed hos.” After a nationwide torrent of criticism, Imus apologized and lost his job but ultimately salvaged his career.

The remarks came during a discussion between Imus, his producer, and a reporter about a game between Rutgers and the University of Tennessee. Activists and journalists began to call for Imus to be fired almost immediately. Imus apologized on his show two days later, calling himself “a good man who did a bad thing,” but numerous sponsors, including General Motors, Staples, and other major companies, pulled their advertising. The Rev. Al Sharpton called for Imus to be “taken off the airwaves,” and Barack Obama, who would become the nation’s first African American president, called Imus’ remarks “divisive, hurtful, and offensive.” MSNBC, which simulcast Imus in the Morning on television, dropped the show on April 11. The following morning, Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson met with Les Moonves, CEO of CBS, who announced the cancellation of Imus in the Morning that afternoon.

Imus’ defenders—as well as Imus himself—pointed to the frequent use of words like “ho” in rap music as the source of the problem, arguing that Imus was merely using offensive language that was commonplace in the world of hip-hop. Though many commentators decried what they felt was an over-reaction that ruined Imus’ career, Imus was in fact only off the air from April until December. He signed a five-year deal worth $40 million with New York station WABC and returned to the air on December 3. Two years later, Imus in the Morning returned to television, simulcast on Fox Business News. Imus’ career survived the incident, and he retired due to health reasons in 2018. He died in 2019.