Opie is devastated, Anthony is unrepentant, and their fans are livid and seeking revenge.
“Stop firing people for being themselves,” demanded one loyal listener of SiriusXM radio’s transgressive, occasionally tasteless Opie & Anthony Show, after shock jock Anthony Cumia was summarily terminated for a series of tweets—first reported last Wednesday by Gawker—that SiriusXM described as “racially-charged,” “hate-filled,” and “abhorrent.”
“Fascist bloggers don’t get to tell me what I can listen to,” wrote another diehard O&A fan, posting his comment on the web site for a petition to “Reinstate Anthony Cumia.”
“FUCK Sirius XM!” was a typical posting on “Boycott Sirius for Anthony Cumia’s Firing,” a Facebook page claiming 65,000 supporters, adding that “the army is growing.”
Even A-list comedian and frequent O&A guest Colin Quinn weighed in, tweeting sympathetically at Cumia: “I disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death my right to stop u saying it (Voltaire if he worked for gawker).” Show regulars Jay Mohr and Penn Gillette also cheered for Cumia.
So goes Day Six of this strange radio morality play, combining elements of racial resentment and freedom of expression, that began the night of July 2, when Cumia claims he was snapping pictures in Times Square and a young African American woman objected to being photographed by punching him repeatedly in the face. An enraged Cumia vented obscenely on Twitter—the digital equivalent of white-on-black crime in retribution for an alleged physical assault.
Since then, rage and confusion have dominated the discussion, though not to the exclusion of some surprisingly thoughtful analysis from O&A fans who say they are drawn to the show because it is unfiltered, honest, funny and devoid of political correctness.
“I follow him for his comedy, not for his opinions,” said Scott VanDusen, 30, who plans to cancel his SiriusXM subscription if Cumia is not reinstated by week’s end, and described himself as a Libertarian and the owner of software company in Wisconsin.
“I don’t think his opinions are by any means something I agree with,” VanDusen told The Daily Beast. “He handled it incorrectly. In this situation, I’m sure what he said was what anybody else would say when they were being attacked. I’m not the language police, but doing it on a public forum is kind of stupid.”
Diehard Massachusetts fan Patrick Healy said he has already cancelled his SiriusXM subscription. “I’ve been a subscriber for 10 years, and the only reason I subscribed was for their show,” said Healy, 42, who asked that his hometown and job not be identified out of concern that he might face negative consequences for his views.
“I think the show is greatly misunderstood, particularly by people who don’t listen,” Healy said. “Everybody hears the word ‘shock jock’ and they think its all just dick jokes and fart humor. And there’s an element of that, which appeals to some of us who don’t mind a little bit of juvenile this and that, but the vast majority of the content…is extremely relevant. They do have an open discussion about race. And it’s just been proven over and over again that you can’t have an open discussion about race in this country if you’re white.”
Healy, also a Libertarian, added that he finds O&A compelling because “opinions are changed and minds are changed, and it’s an incredibly interesting dialogue. And it’s not just race, it’s politics, it’s a lot of different social things. It makes me think and it makes me laugh. Sometimes it makes me angry—but that’s for me to decide.”
On Monday, Healy sent an email to SiriusXM’s board of directors, who include the chief executives of such companies as Liberty Media and the Los Angeles Times, framing the issue in terms of free speech and consumer choice. “Consumers of a product like SiriusXM are more and more niche consumers,” Healy wrote. “With as many ways to acquire music and media for no charge at all in our digital world, you should really consider what we listen to and why. The Opie and Anthony Show is an uncensored channel. Your company makes it very easy to block so that consumers can elect to NOT listen. Many, many people who subscribe and listen to The Opie and Anthony channel subscribe JUST to listen to Opie and Anthony. Now we are leaving in droves.”
Gregg “Opie” Hughes, Cumia’s on-air partner for the past 20 years going back to their days on local terrestrial radio, was said by a close friend to be “freaked out” by the situation. “Yes, I’m devastated,” he tweeted, adding that he planned to meet today with SiriusXM executives to discuss what if anything the future might hold.
Standup comic Jim Norton, who has sat in O&A’s third chair for much of their radio career (during which Opie and Anthony were fired and suspended repeatedly, and fined by the Federal Communications Commission, for various on-air outrages) tweeted: “For 10 years, @AnthonyCumia has made me laugh harder than anyone alive. No one has silenced me, I just have no idea what happens next.”
Hughes and Norton, minus Cumia, are expected to resume the live show on Monday, while Cumia has vowed to launch a paid-subscription podcast from his basement in Roslyn Heights, N.Y.; in the meantime, SiriusXM has been airing O&A “best of” segments in which Cumia is front and center—an especially odd programming choice given that the company has officially condemned its former employee as “hate-filled” and “abhorrent.”
Cumia—who initially deleted his offensive tweets after Gawker splashed them on the web (and they were, at minimum, brazenly offensive, arguably bigoted and misogynistic)—returned this week with a vengeance to the popular social media platform to defend himself and insult his critics.
In a transparent attempt to demonstrate that he’s not racist, Cumia tweeted a photo from his Fourth of July party at his Long Island home of himself with his arm around a black fan known as “Carlton,” with whom he also performed a satirical karaoke version of Ebony & Ivory.
“That one was for the lawyers. Fuck Sirius,” Carlton declared, raising his middle fingers in a gesture of defiance.
“Really appreciate all the support. Best fans ever. Keep giving them hell,” Cumia tweeted on Monday.
Hell is what Cumia’s former employer is getting. While no hard figures are available, it appears that the “Boycott Sirius” movement is gaining traction and potentially doing damage to the publicly traded company’s bottom line. As of this morning, more than 16,000 fans had signed the online petition to give Cumia his job back. Assuming they are current or former customers who either canceled or plan to cancel their SiriusXM subscriptions, that alone could mean a revenue loss of nearly $3 million a year.
An additional planned boycott of the satellite and online radio company’s advertising sponsors—which include such brands as McDonalds, Geico, General Motors, ExxonMobil and American Express—is hardly good news for SiriusXM’s stockholders, who have watched the share price on NASDAQ drop nearly 2 percent since Cumia’s firing was announced on Friday.
SiriusXM’s top communications executive, senior vice president Patrick Reilly—who has been erroneously and viciously targeted by Cumia loyalists as the guy who decided to sack their hero—was understandably reluctant to add fuel to the fire. “Sorry, but I won’t be of any help today for you,” he emailed The Daily Beast. “We have no further updates, and I can’t help on Background. Good luck with the piece.”
The 53-year-old Cumia—who, as Gawker pointed out, has a pungent history of using racially provocative language on the air and in other public forums—described his hostile encounter in Times Square this way:
“So, I’m taking pix in NYC & a black girl who was in frame punched me in the face…I called her a fucking ‘&$;;-:’ because that’s what she WAS! Then she punched me 5 more times. She’s lucky I was a white legal gun owner or she’d be dead. Then 5 blacks started giving me shit! I told them to back the fuck off, this wasn’t their show. The cunt then punched me again. Seems white boys don’t hit back. Lucky savage.”
Cumia then engaged in some angry-white-man sociological theorizing: “They aren’t people…It’s a jungle out in our cities after midnight. Violent savages own the streets. They all came 2 defend this pig. I had to yell like at dogs…The automatic jump to violence in that community is astounding…No discussion, just violence. When will THAT be addressed? Oh, right, never. Slavery did it? Oh, ok.”
O&A fan Scott VanDusen said it’s difficult to believe that SiriusXM management could have been surprised by Cumia’s twitter outburst, given his checkered on-air past, and thus hypocritical that they would throw him under the bus now. It’s as if, like Captain Renault in Casablanca, they were shocked, shocked that gambling was going on.
“That’s what they hired 10 years ago,” VanDusen said. “They knew what they were getting. So now they decide to make a stand in this case? It’s funny, considering all the things he’s said in the past.”