April 11, 2007 -- Advertisers like Procter & Gamble are pulling their spots. Civil rights groups and basketball stars alike condemn him, prompting a "mea culpa" tour by embattled radio shock jock Don Imus.
But a funny thing happened on the road to condemnation for one of America's most popular radio and TV talk show hosts. In politically correct Washington, amid a race with the first viable African-American presidential candidate, none of the leading contenders for the presidency is calling for Imus to be fired, that is, until now.
Obama told ABC News' Jake Tapper Wednesday he would never reappear on Imus' show and wants him fired.
Candidates Condemn...to a Point
The other major presidential candidates -- Republicans including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Democrats including former Sen. John Edwards and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. -- have only offered varying degrees of condemnation for his racially tinged remark that the Rutgers University women's basketball team was populated by "nappy-headed ho's."
Read carefully between the lines:
Giuliani calls it "very wrong."
McCain calls it a "very bad comment."
Dodd calls the comment "hurtful" and "wrong and unacceptable."
Edwards, joining the critics chorus on Wednesday, calls it "wrong" and added, "I think he knows that."
Even Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., whose family has a long and sordid history with the shock, has resisted calling for Imus' head. The Clintons were targeted by some of Imus' most pointed barbs at the 1996 Washington Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner.
Imus quipped that if he had to bet on a Clinton to face a subpoena he would have picked Roger, the president's rabble-rousing half brother.
He recalled the president saying "Go, baby" while doing radio play-by-play at an Orioles game and added, "I remember commenting at the time, I bet that's not the first time he's said that."
"I've never wanted to go on his show and I certainly don't ever intend to go on his show, and I felt that way before his latest outrageous, hateful, hurtful comments," Clinton said in response to the Imus uproar, according to her Web site, which featured a large photo of the offended Rutgers team and a link for supporters to offer the team words of support.
Yet missing from those remarks is any clear call for Imus to step down or be dismissed.
Calls for Imus Ouster
The campaign trail condemnations are, for the most part, a far cry from the outrage heard among civil activists such as Al Sharpton and former NAACP head and current CBS Corp. board member Bruce Gordon, who urged Imus' ouster.
"He's crossed the line, he's violated our community," Gordon told The Associated Press. "He needs to face the consequence of that violation."
Imus' nationally syndicated program originates from CBS Corp.'s WFAN radio station and is simulcast on MSNBC, a unit of General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal.
Political Power of Imus
Even outside of the 2008 race, politicians have declined to echo the call for Imus' ouster.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a statement Wednesday expressing her "deep disgust" with Imus' "racist and sexist words," but the speaker went no further than calling his suspension "in order."
Perhaps it is the political power Imus wields.
Washington's relationship with the Stetson-topped shock jock has always been an arm's length affair.
His talk show has long been a base that major politicians had to touch on the campaign trail. Dodd announced his 2008 presidential campaign on the show. And then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton told Imus in 1991, "You can call me Bubba."
Dodd, Giuliani and McCain are all occasional guests, garnering the comparatively friendly treatment the hosts reserves for his regulars.
Few 2008 contenders have even said they would shun his show.
McCain and Giuliani have both said they would continue to appear on Imus' show, if asked. Edwards is undecided, saying, "I think we should wait and see what happens with that. Ultimately, it's not my decision whether to fire him or not."