FOLLOWING GANGSTA MOMENT, IMUS SHOT DOWN

There was no Imus in the Morning on MSNBC today (Thursday) as the network, unable to hold back a tidal wave of outrage over Don Imus's remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team, announced that it had decided to fire the shock jock. Imus, who had affected the idiom of black "gangsta" rappers to describe the team -- and later apologized -- appeared uncharacteristically enervated by the onslaught of denunciations and sponsor withdrawals. (For the time being, he was permitted to continue with his radio show, which airs on CBS-owned WFAN in New York and is syndicated by Westwood One, which is controlled by CBS.) He launched his annual "Radiothon" charity fundraiser today by remarking, "I've been running my mouth for 30 years and I've said some stupid stuff. ... [but this] was really stupid." But Bill Handel, who hosts a popular morning talk show on KFI in Los Angeles that is heard over most of the western U.S., said that he never knows how the public will react to his comments. "Imus has said things that are far more offensive than this," Handel told the Los Angeles Times. "I've said things that are far more offensive than this. It's lightning in a bottle." He suggested that the difference may be that Imus's show was televised. "Talk radio is used to controversy; talk radio is controversy. Television is not." Today's New York Times observed that the initial racial reference to the Rutgers team on last week's program was made by Bernard McGuirk, the show's producer and one of Imus's regular cast members. McGuirk, the Times noted, has made similar comments in the past -- often lampooning New York Cardinal Edward Egan (and the late Cardinal John O'Connor) and referring to the New York Knicks as "chest-bumping pimps" -- all without a similar backlash. Meanwhile, Andrew Tyndall, whose Tyndall Report monitors the nightly newscasts, marveled at the amount of time the three networks devoted to the Imus affair Wednesday night. "NBC was the most egregious in spending inappropriate time on the story," Tyndall said, noting that it devoted a full ten minutes to it. Ironically, the first word of the Imus firing Wednesday did not appear on any of the TV broadcast or cable networks or their websites but on the TVNewser blog, hosted by 21-year-old Brian Stelter.

WAS COURIC'S "MEMORY" FAULTY?

Although Katie Couric began a recent "Katie Couric's Notebook," which aired on CBS Radio and was posted on the CBSNews website, by remarking, "I still remember when I got my first library card," she was reading the words of a CBS producer who had in fact plagiarized the "Notebook" essay from the Wall Street Journal, the network acknowledged Wednesday. Network spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said that Couric was not aware that the copy had been plagiarized. "She was stunned and very upset," Genelius told Reuters. "It's the same reaction we all had." In today's (Thursday) New York Sun, columnist David Blum commented, "For $15 million a year, wouldn't you think Katie Couric could find the time in her day to reflect on her own feelings ... and not on those of a Wall Street Journal reporter named Jeffrey Zaslow?" Blum further objected to the fact that CBS News had fired the producer without revealing her identity. He rectified that by revealing that her name is Melissa McNamara, who joined the network in October 2005. He further chastised CBS for describing its deletion of the Couric piece as a "correction." "It should have admitted the deception rather than pretend ... that it was a mistake," Blum commented.

COOPER: $50 MILLION RICHER?

CNN has given Anderson Cooper a huge pay boost -- $50 million over the next five years, the New York Post's "Page Six" column reported today (Thursday). The newspaper quoted a source as saying that Cooper "just got an incremental amount added on to his original contract to keep him happy for the next two years and then will make a much larger amount for the following three years -- all of which will be worth $50 million."

SANJAYA FINALLY WINS PRAISE

Not only did Sanjaya Malakar -- described by Reuters as "questionably gifted" -- survive another round of American Idol Wednesday night, but the 17-year-old actually received some favorable notices for his performance of the classic "Besame Mucho" on a Latin-themed edition of the show. (Even judge Simon Cowell grudgingly remarked that it "wasn't horrible.") Once again the show dominated Wednesday's ratings, scoring a 17.6 rating and a 26 share, and giving Fox another Wednesday-night victory.

NBC ANNOUNCES NEXT SEASON'S FOOTBALL PLANS

NBC plans to kick off the 2006-2007 football season with a Thursday-night telecast featuring the Super Bowl champs the Indianapolis Colts taking on the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 6. The regular season of Sunday-night NFL telecasts is set to begin three days later with the New York Giants battling the Dallas Cowboys. In a statement, NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol said, "In the inaugural season of NBC Sunday Night Football, we saw a shift in viewer interest from Monday night to Sunday night. NBC Sunday Night Football created a new destination to reach viewers and changed what was 36 years of traditional viewing habits on Sunday and Monday nights."

Brian B.