Starr: Don Imus Is Us

Media mogul Sumner Redstone says he's looking to his chief lieutenant, CBS Corp. chief executive Leslie Moonves, to "do the right thing" when it comes to deciding whether to fire Don Imus, the CBS Radio star shock jock now being whipsawed in a storm of racial controversy.

"He'll make the ultimate decision. But I'm confident he will deal with it in an appropriate manner," Redstone, the chairman of CBS parent company Viacom Inc., said in a phone interview with NEWSWEEK from his Beverly Hills home . His comments come as MSNBC announced it is dropping its daily simulcast of the "Imus in the Morning" radio show, amid furor over Imus' racial slur against the Rutgers women basketball team and the news that major advertisers are withdrawing support for the show.

Redstone's remarks could pressure Moonves into firing Imus ("do the right thing" is an oblique comment—and the title of a Spike Lee film). Redstone says he discussed the Imus matter with Moonves in a phone conversation Wednesday morning, and that Moonves "may discuss it with me again before he takes any action." Redstone declined to specify a time frame for the decision. Moonves couldn't immediately be reached by NEWSWEEK for comment, but CBS' chief spokesman, Gil Schwartz, described Redstone's comments as "appropriate." CBS, whose WFAN radio station in New York is home to the shock jock's nationally syndicated show, had previously announced a decision to suspend Imus for two weeks without pay, beginning Monday, April 16. "During that time we'll continue to speak with all concerned parties and monitor the situation closely," CBS Radio said in the statement.

"I have absolute confidence that Les will do the right thing," Redstone said in the interview on Wednesday evening. "My point is that to the best of my knowledge, Les has done everything right" as CEO of the broadcasting giant. "He has been terrific in the way he runs the company." Redstone took pains to underscore that the decision on whether to fire Imus will be up to Moonves.

By handing Imus' fate to Moonves, Redstone appears intent on avoiding yet another controversy about his own management style. Last year, the mogul kicked Tom Cruise to the curb, publicly blasting the star's erratic behavior and severing his lucrative production agreement with Paramount Pictures. (The studio is also owned by Viacom.) Cruise, a member of Scientology, had made controversial statements about his religious beliefs. Yet many Hollywood veterans were stunned by the Viacom founder's public disassociation from a star who had generated billions of dollars at the worldwide box office. Redstone's unilateral action on the Cruise matter also left Hollywood and Wall Street confused about who, exactly, was in charge of day-to-day management at Viacom, effectively undermining then-CEO Tom Freston. The Viacom board, led by Redstone, later fired Freston, who helped launch MTV and had been one of the industry's most popular executives.

While getting rid of Imus might quiet the public controversy, it will certainly hit CBS where it hurts: in the pocketbook. Imus' show is syndicated by Westwood One, which CBS partly owns, and draws an estimated audience of 2.25 million, according to The Wall Street Journal, citing the trade publication Talkers. According to the Journal, the "Imus in the Morning" show accounts for 25 percent of the revenues of WFAN in New York—or roughly $20 million, The New York Times reported. That figure swells to more than $50 million when ad revenue for affiliates and cable outlet MSNBC are added, according to the Times.