"This decision comes as a result of an ongoing review process, which initially included the announcement of a suspension. It also takes into account many conversations with our own employees," NBC news said in a statement.
Talk-show host Don Imus triggered the uproar on his April 4 show, when he referred to the mostly black Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos." His comments have been widely denounced by civil rights and women's groups.
The decision does not affect Imus' nationally syndicated radio show, and the ultimate decision on the fate of that program will rest with executives at CBS Corp. In a statement, CBS reiterated that Imus will be suspended without pay for two weeks beginning on Monday, and that CBS Radio "will continue to speak with all concerned parties and monitor the situation closely."
MSNBC's action came after a growing list of sponsors - including American Express Co., Sprint Nextel Corp., Staples Inc., Procter & Gamble Co., and General Motors Corp. - said they were pulling ads from Imus' show for the indefinite future.
NBC News President Steve Capus said he made the decision after reading thousands of e-mails and having countless discussions with NBC workers and the public, but he denied the potential loss of advertising dollars had anything to do with it.
"I take no joy in this. It's not a particularly happy moment, but it needed to happen," he said. "I can't ignore the fact that there is a very long list of inappropriate comments, of inappropriate banter, and it has to stop."
NBC's decision came at a time when Imus' program on MSNBC was doing better competitively than it ever has been. For the first three months of the year, its audience was nearly identical to CNN's, leading CNN to replace its morning news team last week.
Calls for Imus' firing from the radio portion of the program have intensified during the past week, and remained strong even after MSNBC's announcment. The show originates from WFAN-AM in New York City and is syndicated nationally by Westwood One, both of which are managed by CBS Corp.
Bruce Gordon, former head of the NAACP and a director of CBS Corp., said before MSNBC's decision Wednesday he hoped the broadcasting company would "make the smart decision" by firing Imus.
"He's crossed the line, he's violated our community," Gordon said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "He needs to face the consequence of that violation."
The 10 members of the Rutgers team spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday about the on-air comments, made the day after the team lost the NCAA championship game to Tennessee. Some of them wiped away tears as their coach, C. Vivian Stringer, criticized Imus for "racist and sexist remarks that are deplorable, despicable, abominable and unconscionable."
Stringer said late Wednesday that she did not call for Imus' firing, but was pleased with the decision by NBC executives.
Imus has apologized repeatedly for his comments. He said Tuesday he hadn't been thinking when making a joke that went "way too far."
The Rev. Al Sharpton said in New York that he would put pressure on CBS, but that the issue was larger than Imus.
"I think we also have to have now a broad discussion on how the music industry allows this to be used," Sharpton said. "I don't think that we should stop at NBC, and I don't think we should stop at Imus."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he planned to meet with CBS and NBC executives on Thursday with a delegation of other civil rights activists and lawmakers to discuss the situation.
"Imus is on 1,040 hours a week and yet they have virtually no black show hosts. That is true for other networks as well," Jackson said. "We must raise the ethical standard for all of them."