When Don Imus talks, people listen.
When the Wall Street Journal ran a story that raised questions about the operation of the radio icon's New Mexico ranch for sick children, Imus took his beef to the 3.25 million weekly listeners of his show, "Imus in the Morning."
Imus devoted more than half of his 4 1/2 hour program on Thursday to a denunciation of the story, which he called a "hatchet job." The author fared no better. Imus described veteran Journal finance reporter Robert Frank as "a dishonest punk."
The Journal story said personal use of the 4,000-acre ranch by Imus and his family and an unusually large amount of money spent on a small number of children had attracted the attention of state regulators in New York.
The article described in detail the ranch's lavish 14,000 square foot mansion, swimming pool and guest suites in an Old-West style village — complete with saloon.
According to Imus' 2003 tax filing — the most recent available — the charity has more than $19 million in total assets. The ranch cost $2.6 million to run in 2004, which works out to almost $30,000 per child. It serves about 100 kids for 10-day stays each summer.
The Journal compared this number to another prominent charity for children, which hosts more than 150 kids per summer on one-sixth the budget Imus' charity uses.
Imus fielded the financial newspaper's page-one volley and spiked it back.
He disputed the Journal's contention that his family uses the ranch for personal vacations time by saying, "I have a $30 million estate" in Connecticut. "I don't need a ranch for a vacation."
Imus also shrugged off the Journal's "charity experts" sentiments that his dollar-to-child ratio is unreasonably high.
"Am I spending too much money per child?" he said in Thursday's broadcast. "If you believe that, don't give money to the ranch."
Also in Thursday's broadcast, which is simulcast on MSNBC, Imus said: "They can't maliciously malign me or this ranch … I'm not gonna put up with it. I am the wrong person to malign."
When Imus is criticized, his attacker can expect nothing less than a verbal ballistic missile in return.
Two previous lawsuits by ranch employees also brought forth Imus' wrath.
Twenty-four-year-old Nichole Mallette, who was hired as a nanny for Imus' 6-year-old son, filed a lawsuit against Imus claiming she was abruptly fired, dragged off of the 4,000-acre estate and abandoned. She apparently had been carrying a small knife.
Imus described the nanny, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native as a "terrorist" on the air, as well as a "violent, armed and dangerous criminal."
And, according to the New York Post, when former ranch chef Ron Romero told the media that nearly half of the recipes in the cookbook Imus' wife wrote were his, Imus told listeners, "My suggestion to him is to shut up. I literally will ruin his life."
His spat with the Journal produced a modest ripple of publicity on Friday with headlines ranging from "Imus Has A Cow" (New York Post) to "Imus Vows Revenge on WSJ, Author" (www.newsmax.com).
Separately, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer wrapped up a four-month-long inquiry into the ranch's non-profit status without finding a basis for a formal investigation. Spitzer's office made the announcement on the same day the Journal story was published.
"There were some reports … maybe some misuse of facility or money … we asked several questions, to which they responded in writing. And we found all of their answers satisfactory," spokesman Darren Dopp told CBSNews.com.
The end of the inquiry didn't necessarily signal an end to the feud. Imus told his listeners on Friday that he had retained an industrial-strength lawyer — David Boies, who fought for Al Gore in the 2000 presidential case — to represent him, but hadn't made up his mind about suing the Journal.
"I'm not making any apologies. Would I do it differently, no I wouldn't," he said. "It's changing these kids lives."
By Christine Lagorio