I wrote a big piece last year for Philadelphia Magazine, about the “Knockout Game,” that moral panic that briefly seized America last November and December, when local news stations and newspaper websites convinced white Americans that random black people could and would punch them at any moment. This “epidemic” happened, for some reason, for only a brief two-month period in late 2013, but never before or after, even though various top law enforcement officials questioned whether it even existed at all.
When researching the piece, I spent a lot of time on Twitter, and while doing so I read a whole lot of racist tweets, and I noticed a pattern: A lot of the sort of tweets that did things like refer to black men as “animals” and “vermin” either tagged the Twitter handle @anthonycumia, or were tweeted directly at Anthony Cumia, the cohost of the long-running Opie and Anthony radio show.
On a couple of occasions I clicked over to the feed itself, and was sort of surprised that this Twitter account by a well-known public figure was so full of full-on white supremacist venom, the kind normally found on white power websites, as well as your average big city newspaper comments section. I found it especially shocking that this was established to the point where the white racists of Twitter, in large numbers, knew that if they had new anti-black stories or anecdotes to share, Cumia was their guy. Call him a sort of unofficial King of Racist Twitter.
That all came to a head last week, when Cumia went on a Twitter rant about a confrontation he allegedly had with an black woman in Times Square, which was later joined by several black men. The hours-long rant, liberally punctuated with the c-word and various racial slurs directed at African-Americans in general- culminating in the unfortunate phrase “they aren’t people”- has since been deleted, although you can find it here.
This led, over the holiday weekend, to the announcement that Sirius XM had fired Cumia. According to The Wrap’s account:
“SiriusXM has terminated its relationship with Anthony Cumia of the Opie & Anthony channel,” Patrick Reilly, senior vice president, Communications, SiriusXM told TheWrap. ”The decision was made, and Cumia informed, late Thursday, July 3 after careful consideration of his racially-charged and hate-filled remarks on social media.”
Reilly concluded: “Those remarks and postings are abhorrent to SiriusXM, and his behavior is wholly inconsistent with what SiriusXM represents.”
The company is absolutely justified in their decision and honestly, it would have been indefensible if they’d done anything else.
Cumia’s version of events doesn’t pass the smell test – Times Square isn’t a deserted dark alley, there are always hundreds of people and lots of police around, and there’s a giant police station right there on 43rd Street. When this supposed major violent confrontation happened, why did no one whip out a camera phone? Why did no cops break it up or arrest anyone?
But even if Cumia is telling the absolute truth that he was innocently taking pictures and a woman attacked him, it brings to mind that famous quote from Justified (as raised on Facebook by my friend Isaac)- “you run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. You run into assholes all day long, you’re the asshole.”
And even if we don’t know exactly what happened in Times Square that night, there’s no ambiguity about Cumia’s vicious comments. And we know exactly what Cumia has been saying, publicly, unambiguously and in his own voice, for years and years. This Gawker dossier, published last week, is a by no means exhaustive list.
Sirius XM is a publicly traded company, accountable to its shareholders- some of whom, I would imagine are black. As are some of the company’s employees and even more importantly, some of their customers. Can you blame the company for not wanting an open white supremacist as one of their main public faces?
And besides- if you or I or anyone else made public comments along the lines of Cumia’s, and our boss heard about them? We’d probably get fired too.
Not to mention- open racism is bad for business. Read the comments of that Gawker piece. It’s full of people who were longtime O&A fans who dropped the show at some point when the racism started to overwhelm the comedy. I had to stop listening to Adam Carolla’s podcast for the same reason- at this point in his career Carolla’s a lot more interested in complaining about the Mexicans than he is in being funny. (Howard Stern, on the other hand, has become much less racially provocative- and even more notably, dramatically less anti-gay- with age and the passage of time.)
The blogger Chez Pazienza, a self-proclaimed longtime O&A fan, said it best:
Anyone who’s listened to Opie and Anthony for a long time, as I have, could imagine that there might eventually come a day when Ant would do something to get himself kicked off-air. He’s always been a reactionary asshole, but just within the past couple of years it feels like something has changed — like his beliefs and behavior both on-air and off have become more caustic and not as easy to chalk up to amusing misanthropy. He’s entitled to his views, as are we all, but particularly on Twitter he’s become an unstoppable geyser of paranoid resentment and bigoted, hyper-conservative antagonism — and it’s infected his performance on the show as well. I don’t have to agree with your politics to think you’re brilliantly funny — and Ant is absolutely hilarious — but when you begin abandoning humor in favor of regularly raging against whatever bizarre injustices you believe are being committed against wealthy, heavily armed white people like yourself, it becomes exhausting.
The reactions from Cumia’s defenders, when they haven’t been disgusting, have been laughable. No, Cumia’s First Amendment rights haven’t been violated, as there’s nothing in the constitution guaranteeing one the right to a radio show. The First Amendment does not, and never has, shielded one from the consequences of their speech.
They fired him on the Fourth of July? It was actually the 3rd. Cumia’s been saying these sort of things for years? That’s a strike against him, not for him. The sociopathic behavior happened off-air? So what? “Some of his best friends are black”? Please. And that’s to say nothing of the much, much uglier stuff.
There is one place where I agree with Cumia’s defenders- he shouldn’t have to issue a public apology because obviously, he’s not sorry. But I’m not going to praise him for having the courage of his convictions, when those convictions are so hateful and odious.
Cumia’s had a whole bunch of chances already, and I’ve got a feeling he’ll get more chances in the future. Of all the racial injustices in America today, his momentary lack of a radio show is very, very low on the list.
What is happening to our country? First Donald Sterling, now Anthony Cumia. It’s almost like no one with a decades-old record of virulent racism is safe.