OR on Anthony Cumia and the State of Free Speech

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Radio show host Anthony Cumia relaxes in his backyard.

 

Otaku Revolution is a mix of odd personalities. Of the four main contributors two are Opie & Anthony fans, one is a Howard Stern fan, and one non-affiliated. What we all share, perhaps to our detriment, is a propensity for speaking our mind.

This past week co-host to the Opie & Anthony radio show, Anthony Cumia, was allegedly attacked while taking photos around Times Square in New York City. Following the attack he went on a racially tinged Twitter tirade verbally attacking the person who physically assault him and the society which, in his and the mind of many, promote such physical confrontations. SiriusXM would later fire Anthony for his tweets. For more information here is an AP story about to the incident and a list of stories ran by various websites.

Opie & Anthony, along with co-host Jim Norton and a myriad number of popular friends of the show, have long been proponents of free speech. Before you get your panties in a twist, we’re not talking about the First Amendment governmental protections. We’re talking about the American & civilized sensibility that people should be able to speak their minds openly and honestly. Time and time again the O&A show have denounced organizations and groups who have tried to censor individual comments and supported those who made them, regardless of whether they actually agree with said comments.

True to his word and character, Anthony continued to speak out on Twitter and defend himself against critics. Eventually SiriusXM, like most other organizations who’re too lazy/irresponsible to stand up for the people they pay to speak, would part ways with the radio host. Before that the always lamentable organization Gawker would pick up the Twitter tirade. In their traditional anti-speech way focus more on the words than the content said, not caring about the context, right to say it, or physical assault that lead up to it. In addition to questionable content in the original article the author, clearly ignorant of whom Anthony is and the O&A show, partook in actions unprofessional for someone who’d like to be identified as a journalist.

From there other media sources ran, only looking at the Twitter comments, often misconstruing, or all together leaving out, the precursor events.

Through the fires of this heated debate I reached to some or our contributors to get their personal thoughts on this incident. The intent was to get these varied opinions, without inadvertently turning members against each other, for a balanced discussion as possible. As always Otaku Revolution has been a forum for free expression, divisive as that may be.

This piece currently contains pieces from three commentators, NeonTaster, Falldog, and a seperate Guest Commentator. I'll be sure to update when additional thoughts come in. Additional commentators may end up in a "Part 2" simply to break up this great wall of text a bit.

 


 

A lot has been said about the firing of Anthony Cumia with regards to free speech, but I don't want to talk about the free speech angle, because what bothers me about this and similar recent incidents is how little they have to do with actual ideals. Instead, they are merely an expression of how many of the negative trends that have grown out of social media and internet culture are exploited to generate revenue.

The case of Anthony Cumia, much like other such internet outrages, started with a writer who has bills to pay and (perhaps) quotas to meet, and a media company that relies on click revenue for profits. Said writer is tipped off to some story of mild interest (probably by other interested parties, but that's a topic for a different time) that has the potential to drive lots of web traffic because of its racial angle and somewhat visible public figure, which would benefit both the writer and his media company employer. All that's left is to frame the story in the most controversial terms possible in order to elicit the angriest response, which helps fan the flames of outrage and increase traffic to the media company's website. In other words – clickbaiting.

This outrage creates a domino effect that attracts other writers who work for other media companies, and the bigger the snowball gets, the more the fire starts to feed itself (pardon my mixed metaphors of ice and fire) and then the outrage itself becomes the story. Additionally, the outrage itself is also driven by non-idealist motives; I mean, it's true that people who care about racism might see a story like this and decide to do something about it, but the internet age affords them the luxury of becoming "social activists" with the click of a mouse. It requires literally no effort at all and has a cumulative gestalt effect that is much greater than the sum of its parts. If expressions of internet outrage actually required people to get off the couch and do something active, chances are the vast majority of them wouldn't do it. Stories like this make them angry enough to tweet or sign an online petition, but not to picket or boycott or write pen and paper letters or actually do anything.

On the other side of this outrage is usually some major corporation that employs the target of the outrage. They are a business and operate on a completely non-idealistic basis. They see a massive (or seemingly-massive) wave of internet outrage and have no way of parsing actual rage that could represent financial losses from bandwagon rage by people who were just angry enough to type in a few characters on their iPhones. For a major corporation in a scenario such as this, it usually comes down to a math equation: If they think that getting rid of an employee is easier than weathering what could potentially be a serious amount of bad publicity, they will just do it. They don't care about racial equality or gender bias or homophobia. They care about profits and things that might get in the way of those profits, period.

So to recap: Writers have bills to pay, media companies have websites that make money by the click, internet users will join in the outrage if it requires a minimal amount of effort, and large corporations will fire someone on a dime if they sense even the slightest possibility of bad press. To take this progression and frame it as some kind of social justice being meted out is the height of obliviousness. In fact, the so-called powerful masses here are not so much idealists as they are consumers – they generate revenue for websites reporting on the outrage, they generate revenue for the social networks they use to spread their outrage, and they ultimately help generate revenue for the corporations by helping them appear socially conscious and turning their bad publicity into good publicity. Ironically, the revenue made by the websites is then used to pay their writers, which means it is in their best interest to continue creating such stories by any means necessary. Thus a new cycle of consumption is born: The product they sell is outrage, and you are buying tons and tons of it.

So regardless of whether or not Anthony Cumia’s firing was an issue of free speech or not, it certainly wasn't an issue of race or ideals. It was simply money and the various ways that businesses manipulate internet users into consuming their products. So congratulations, America – you just helped a bunch of rich people make lots of money by fooling you into thinking that you were doing something idealistic. Guess the joke's on you.

 

- NeonTaster 7/7/14
 


Folks who partook in the 2014 miniseries Fargo will remember the fish poster featuring the motivational text, “What if you're right and they're wrong?” Truth is, in the vast universe nothing is inherently right or wrong. The differentiation between the two is largely based on prospective or personal truth. There are very few universal laws when it comes to humanity. Even if segments of the population believe their personal truth applies equally to everyone else. From my prospective, everyone involved in this incident falls in that 'wrong' category to one extent or another.

To start with the woman who attacked Anthony while he was out taking photographs we must first consider the circumstances. So far there’s been no reason to discount Anthony’s version of events considering both his history and his actions after. He’s the kind of guy who, when a new hobby or thing roles around, goes all in. It’s not surprising that he was out in Times Square messing around with over $4000 worth of camera equipment and taking photos of anything of interest. The very definition of “shutterbug.” Did he maybe take a candid shot of this woman instead of his claim that she was just in his shot? No way to really know for sure but I can’t see any reason to doubt this claim. From my viewpoint I’ve never seen any indication that he was the kind of guy to go out and take creepshots. Regardless of whether the first shot of the woman involved was intentional or not, her subsequent actions were wrong.

According to Anthony she approached him, called him a “white mother fucker” and assault him. Is it a dubious claim? Yes. Though when you look at the photographic evidence where she’s clearly getting up close and personal it’s not hard to believe his statement. There’s also no reason for him to make all this stuff up, it clearly has not been to his benefit. Part of what makes it so dubious is that we all want to believe that a random woman's first response to being photographed isn't racial language and a subsequent physical attack. Unfortunately this thing happens quite a bit, both from random individuals and public figures.

So here we have a woman who’s been photographed walking around Times Square. If she doesn’t want her photograph taken does she have the right to be upset? Yes. Does she have the right to not have her photograph taken? No. Does she have the right to verbally and physically assault someone? Hell no. Apparently a lot of keyboard warriors don’t realize is that people don’t have the expectation of privacy while walking around in public spaces. They’ve also seemingly forgotten and glossed over her actions. Some people have also, dismayingly, approved of her actions. If you think it’s okay to attack someone over something as petty as a photograph then you have larger issues to consider before throwing stones at Anthony.

Anthony seems to believe a large population of the black community is suffering from these issues. It’s not difficult to look around at today’s society and see the stereotype of black communities being prone to quick and violent outbursts over seemingly innocuous nonsense. There are websites dedicated to videos of these incidents, the widely reported Knockout Game, and a number of incidents where some sort of perceived disrespect or insult have lead to beatings or shootings in retaliation. While a stereotype that’s hard to discount using facts and figures it is nonetheless a stereotype that Anthony applies on much larger scale than is likely valid.

It’s this stereotype that came out in full force when he vented on Twitter after the attack. These beliefs, whether valid or not, came out in a stream that shocked many not affiliated with him or the show. As a fan of the show for over seven years it’s not hard to see where the comments came from even if the circumstances that brought them up intensified the tirade. Here’s a man who just had his viewpoint directly verified. Anthony never struck me as a hard racist. He always seemed like someone who hated the "black culture" stereotype rather than directly hating people simply because the colour of their skin. There's a blurred line there sometimes and it's hard to differentiate since I imagine quite a bit is played up for the show.

During the Opie & Anthony's run on XM Radio and through the merger with Sirius social media sites like Twitter have impacted a tangible shift in our society. It’s brought a lot of benefit but at the same time been a considerable disadvantage to many. Everyone has felt the need to vent after something bad has happened to them. Most find a constructive way to release that anger such as venting to a friend. Sites like Twitter have replaced that friend, allowing people to say what would normally be heated statements privately in public.

I might as well use one of the most overused references, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Ant, as much as anyone, should’ve known that going to Twitter would not work out in his favor. Over the past few years the Opie & Anthony show have taken a stance toward the twisted perversion that has become of political correctness and the consequences resulting from speaking one’s mind truthfully. It's something deeply important to them having watched others, and even themselves, attacked by the pitchfork wielding mob.

Anthony was wrong for going on that tirade. He, like many others, vented in an inappropriate manner. Whether that’s the format of his tirade or the content depends on your standpoint. Generally speaking, attempting to distribute one’s point (whether right or wrong) while angry and using the harshest possible language resulting from that anger is not the right path. His continued defense of himself on Twitter, while commendable in his commit, only served to dig a deeper hole for himself. As much as I have, and would like to, vent my frustrations online I do my best to recognize the unsuitable and unsupportive nature of such an action.

 

Humanity is never far removed from some truly heinous actions. Our history is so filled that the vast majority of horrible events are forever lost to the annals of the past. The United State of America is no different. We’re still haunted by years of oppression upon nearly every group imaginable. Racism is one such terrible legacy. For quite some time we have, as a nation, been slowly moving past these past prejudices as education and understanding prevail. It’s a slow process, deeply held beliefs don’t disappear in a single generation. Unfortunately people don’t seem to realize this. They see the older of our population, their often outdated beliefs still held tightly, and think that they must be shamed and changed immediately. There are a lot of issues with this tactic that I’ll be happy to discuss another time. For now we must look at what happened after Anthony’s tirade, the influence and actions of these vultures.

Not too long after Ant’s tweets they were picked up the website Gawker. I would be surprised if anyone reading this wasn’t already familiar with Gawker, their network of blogs, and the many distasteful and controversial actions they’ve taken over the years. At the very best they’re blog spam; taking other people’s content, reposting it, and reaping the monetary rewards. At their worst they’re deliberately divisive, distributing personal information and outright lies.

Gawker picked up the story, eventually producing two separate pieces on Anthony, by writer Aleksander Chan. (The title journalist or reporter feature a far too positive connotation to be used in this situation) This is clearly a person who has never listened to the radio show nor knows anything about Anthony. In addition to posting misleading information and attempting to reach out to SiriusXM for comment but not Anthony himself he intentionally singled out additional racial commentary from Anthony for another piece. Taking clips and statements out of context from the show while singling out negative ones to support a defined narrative is outright wrong and distasteful.

Time and time again I see people taking others out of context. As an Opie & Anthony listener it’s something that they’ve discussed on countless occasions as both radio broadcasters and friends of many hilarious comedians. Within the breadth of my writing here it’s impossible to convey how fucked up things have become. The nature and context of comedy has been lost on so many people that many comedians now have to be careful of what they say less the media take them out of context, misconstrue the meaning, and attempt to disrupt their lives. Sites like Gawker are proponents of this “I don’t give a shit what you really meant” mentality. It’s an anchor that is slowly drowning free speech. Free speech and discussion is one of the few things that will naturally lead a more educated and understanding populace.

For as much a proponent as I am regarding free speech it sure has its downsides. Mob mentality rules online. When people see leading and inaccurate commentary online they quickly run with it, often not taking the time to independently research or form their own opinions. Just take a look at the comments on any news site who picked up this story. Many are spouting out incorrect information. Some out of ignorance, some out of malice in an attempt support pre-existing ideas. It's disturbing how so many people, who clearly haven't heard the show or Anthony until now, have no problem discounting or producing their own baseless theories on what went down. You question them and ask for some sort of factual evidence to support their statements and get responses back ranging topic deflection to being called a racist.

This wave of internet vocalization has changed the path of many companies and lives over the past few years. Organizations are fearful of the vocal minority and special interest groups to the point that lives are devastated by brash decisions. It’s not surprising that SiriusXM caved early and fired Anthony for his statements. Even without the riled minority at their doors SiriusXM has a long history of making terrible decisions that fly in the face of common sense. They were wrong to fire preemptively Anthony. Why? For starters, he’s not the voice of the company. No one with a lick of intelligence looks to him for the company’s viewpoint. He’s a radio host who has been hired because his comedic genius and divisive nature have brought a large number of subscribers to the platform. Many of which are now leaving in protest. Remember, Anthony is not someone whom you have to deal with and listen to. He's someone you have to go out of your way, and spend money, to listen to. To be fair to SiriusXM, the Opie & Anthony have had a long and egregious relationship with management since XM Radio merged with Sirius. They may have just been looking for a way to disrupt the show and decided to spring on this opportunity as a cover. But that would be bias speculation on my behalf.

 

It would be easy to say that society has fallen to the point where we go out of our way to silence others when we disagree with them. In fact, it’s been that way for a long, long time. The ideal which we should be striving for is best summed up in a quote often (incorrectly) attributed to Voltaire, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

This is the path SiriusXM, any many other organizations, should have taken had they an inkling of self respect, common sense, and cojones. If they had simply released a statement that, while the company disagrees with Ant’s statements, he is simply an entertainer and they support his right to expression. It would’ve been huge for everyone involved. The organization would have gotten a lot of credit for taking a stand, new subscribers whom both support and hate Anthony, and perfect vehicle to promote other channels and broadcasters on their platform with opposing views. Free publicity all around.

When you look at the actions taken by the participants involved in this chain of events it’s hard not to find faults that transcend the common good of a greater society. Sure, their motivations and feelings involved may have merit worth discussing but the means to which they acted on them were at the very least irresponsible if not outright wrong. By placing ourselves in one particular group or another it’s easy to find justification or standing to play the Devil’s Advocate. What so few people fail to realize is that the ability to find that justification doesn’t mean that the justification can be applied to everyone else.

 

- Falldog 7/5/14
 


 

Late Thursday, July 3rd Sirius XM terminated the contract of Anthony Cumia due to “his racially-charged and hate-filled remarks on social media.”

Given the current environment, no one should be surprised at this outcome but it is important that people do not simply allow the media to use this one incident to define Anthony Cumia. While Anthony has said and written words that taken out of context can easily be deemed “racist” or “bigoted” however his statements are not dissimilar to those uttered by Bill Cosby, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Dr Cornel West or talk show host Tavis Smiley; among others. While Anthony’s statements included words that many deem to be more inflammatory than those uttered by the other gentleman, all of their comments were focused on a very specific, small portion of the black community and the issues of : black on black violence, high school dropout rates, the need for parental responsibility and the need for personal responsibility.

In their book Come on, People: On the Path from Victims to Victors Dr Cosby and Alvin F. Poussaint, MD write:

 

For the last generation or two, as our communities dissolved and our parenting skills broke down, no one has suffered more than our young black men…

There is one statistic that captures our bleakness. In 1950, five out of every six black children were born into a two-parent home. Today, that number is less than two out of six. In poor communities, that number is lower still. There are whole blocks with scarcely a married couple, whole blocks without a responsible male to watch out for our wayward boys, whole neighborhoods which little girls and boys come of age without seeing a committed partnership and perhaps never having attended a wedding.

 

 Compare that truth from Dr. Cosby with Anthony’s comments during a recent interview with hip-hop artist T.I. on the Opie & Anthony Show when  discussing T.I.’s comments that crack cocaine broke down the black family unit:

 

T.I.: It was strategically done to tear down the black families and the black neighborhoods and so on and so forth….

Cumia: What is the upside for breaking down the black family unit?

T.I.: The upside?

Cumia: Like for the country?

T.I.: One government, one nation, no opposition, no protests, no reparations, no; you know what I’m saying?

Cumia: It just seems like it would have contributed better to society to have everybody, a family unit, working together…

T.I.: You are a decent human being… What I’m saying is for you to think like that, that is the thought of a decent human being. Obviously the people who put this plan together do not have decency on their list of attributes...

 

If one closely examines all of Anthony Cumia’s commentary that focus on race they will find that Cumia has never used a broad-brush approach directed at or characterizing all African Americans, rather Cumia has solely focused on the specific portion of the African American community that, according to the NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet, are responsible for the following statistics:

  • African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population
  • African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites
  • One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime
  • Nationwide, African-Americans represent 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice).

Additionally, much like the NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet, Cumia’s racial comments have consistently included the contributing factors to this epidemic impacting a specific segment of the African American community:

  • Inner city crime prompted by social and economic isolation
  • Crime/drug arrest rates: African Americans represent 12% of monthly drug users, but comprise 32% of persons arrested for drug possession
  • "Get tough on crime" and "war on drugs" policies
  • "Three Strikes"/habitual offender policies
  • Zero Tolerance policies as a result of perceived problems of school violence; adverse affect on black children.
  • 35% of black children grades 7-12 have been suspended or expelled at some point in their school careers compared to 20% of Hispanics and 15% of whites

While almost all local and national mainstream media remain silent about the epidemic of shootings that continues to plague the City of Chicago, Anthony Cumia has consistently raised awareness of this tragedy and questioned why the media provides endless days of coverage to a school shooting but ignores a typical weekend in Chicago where tens of people are shot and the death toll may be in double digits.

According to a 2014 nationwide study by the Violence Policy Center:

  • Of the 6,309 black homicide victims in the United States, 5,452 were male, 854 were female, and 3 were of unknown gender.
  • The homicide rate for black male victims was 31.67 per 100,000. In comparison, the overall homicide rate for male victims was 7.13 per 100,000. For white male victims, the homicide rate was 3.85 per 100,000.
  • The homicide rate for black female victims was 4.54 per 100,000. In comparison, the overall homicide rate for female victims was 1.81 per 100,000. For white female victims, the homicide rate was 1.45 per 100,000.
  • Four hundred eighty-seven black homicide victims (8 percent) were less than 18 years old and 100 victims (2 percent) were 65 years of age or older. The average age was 30 years old.
  • For homicides in which the victim to offender relationship could be identified, 73 percent of black victims (2,138 out of 2,928) were murdered by someone they knew. Seven hundred ninety victims were killed by strangers.
  • For homicides in which the circumstances could be identified, 70 percent (2,540 out of 3,652) were not related to the commission of any other felony. Of these, 58 percent (1,475 homicides) involved arguments between the victim and the

This important report was largely ignored by mainstream news media and, because of that, failed to serve as a wake-up call for our elected officials to address the disproportionately high homicide victimization rate among black men and women. The Violence Policy Center report and Anthony Cumia have consistently attempted to raise awareness of an epidemic facing a specific portion of the African American community, an epidemic which is ignored by the news media who only deem black on white crime or white on black crime as being worthy of meriting coverage either locally or nationally.

Many have called Cumia a racist because he referred to his attacker, who happened to be African American, an “animal” because she assaulted him without any provocation. On June 30, 2014 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated “They were abducted and murdered in cold blood by human animals” in reference to the men who murdered three Israeli teenagers. Netanyahu’s comments were not criticized or deemed racist in any of the mainstream media coverage. While Netanyahu and Cumia both used the term “animal” to describe the violent, unprovoked actions of individuals however because Cumia’s attacker was African American, Cumia is called a racist and Netanyahu is a statesman.

Someone with hate in his heart doesn’t try to raise awareness about issues plaguing a specific portion of a larger group; awareness that is rooted in fact and pushes for a solution which might end this epidemic.

Someone with hate in his heart who is truly racist in his actions and words would not make comments similar to Cumia’s, he or she would say or write things like this:

  • "Commander Hickman, was a dickhead. He should be shot. He did that for one thing. He wants to be chief, so he wants the city council, and the police commissioner, and all these niggers in L.A. City government and all of 'em should be lined up against a wall and fuckin' shot."
  • "We stopped the choke because a bunch of Niggers have a bunch of these organizations in the south end, and because all Niggers are choked out and  killed -- twelve in ten years. Really is extraordinary, isn't it?"
  • "We basically get impatient with him being so fucking stupid. Which I thought he was. So I just handcuffed him and went the scenic route to the station. We searched him again and found the gun. Went over to the baseball diamond and talked to him. When I left, Dana goes, `No blood Mark.' `No problem, not even any marks, Dana.' Just body shots. Did you ever try to find a bruise on a Nigger. It is pretty tough, huh?”
  • "Leave that old station. Man, it has the smell of Niggers that have been beaten and killed in there for years."

All of the above statements were made by known racist, anti-semitic and convicted perjurer Mark Fuhrman who currently serves as a contributor for FOX News Channel. Fuhrman is an unspeakable disgrace who was unmasked for the whole world for what he is during the trial of O.J. Simpson. Mark Fuhrman’s own words demonstrate that he wants to take all black people now and burn them or bomb them; frankly Mark Fuhrman has been proven to be a genocidal racist in both his words and actions yet ABC, CBS, Court TV and now FOX News Channel had no problem hiring him as part of their news team and present him as credible. Mark Fuhrman is such a racist that he refused to be questioned or even work with prosecutor Christopher Darden during the Simpson trial. Compare a true racist like Fuhrman to Anthony Cumia who regularly interacts with African Americans in a positive, joyful way both on and off the air. While Anthony Cumia may have a bias against a specific group of African Americans, that bias is solely based on the factors noted above and not hatred in his heart. While Cumia may use harsh words when he demeans the actions of a small subset of a larger group, his actions of welcoming his African American friends into his home, serving as lead interviewer for most African American guests on his radio show and creating a welcoming, warm atmosphere for each one of those guests are not the actions of a racist.

Frankly, the life of Anthony Cumia can be characterized as one which has truly experienced the great diversity which forms the American melting pot; whether it be living in poor, socioeconomically depressed communities as a child, living and working closely with Mexican Americans as a teenager, demonstrating acceptance when a close friend came out to him as a teenager or as an adult working together with people from across the spectrum of ethnicities, races, genders and creeds as a blue collar contractor prior to his radio career. I may not agree with the behavior on social media by both the victim of an unprovoked assault and the countless individuals who chose to bully and demonize the victim; imagine if you were tweeting about just being assaulted by a stranger-- you’d be angry, feel violated and dismayed.

In response to your public admission of being a victim of an assault instead of sympathy or compassion strangers respond with derogatory comments placing the blame on the victim and even justifying unprovoked violence. I’m sure that for many of us those feelings of anger, violation and dismay would only intensify because of such comments and, in many cases, result in an equally harsh response to those blaming you, the victim, and justifying the assault which you endured.

 

- Guest Commentator 7/6/2014


 

 All viewpoints expressed are singularly representative of their associated author.