December 19th, 2014
Opie Returns To the Air To Talk About Life After Anthony (as SiriusXM Makes a Very Questionable New Hire)
I’ve spent the past eight years voicing strong opinions about politics and the media online. Breathing occasional partisan fire on these topics is generally the kind of thing that draws the wrath of those who strongly disagree, and yet for eight years I managed to avoid ever getting a death threat in my e-mail inbox. My friends Bob Cesca and Mary Beth Williams at Salon claim to be able to print theirs out and wallpaper their homes, but, thankfully, while I’ve been shouted down plenty, I never had to deal with somebody actually saying they wanted to kill me over something I said that they didn’t like. That impressive streak ended, however, as soon as I wrote about Anthony Cumia being fired by SiriusXM. That’s the thing that finally pissed a group of people off enough to where they’d tell me I need to die.
It should be surprising that what I hoped was a pretty measured take on Anthony’s racially charged Twitter rant and his employer’s reaction to it would draw such venom. But honestly, it’s not a shock at all considering that these are Ant’s fans and defenders we’re talking about — and they’re not just loyal to him and the show he’s co-hosted for 20 years, they’re fucking rabid in their devotion. Being a huge fan of the Opie and Anthony Show myself, having listened to it for more than a decade, I can understand the desire of some to protect it and the people behind it, who feel more like personal friends than guys sitting in a studio in New York City on the other end of a satellite transmission. I love O&A and I love Jim Norton. I’m not sure I’d tear into somebody who dared to simply point out the obvious when it comes to Anthony — namely that he’s racist as hell and his recent Twitter diatribe was unequivocally wrong — but to an extent I get the defensiveness.
This morning, Opie and Jimmy returned to the air, hosting a show that now feels like scorched earth and uncomfortably addressing the elephant not in the room. Right off the bat they made it clear that they weren’t sure how to approach “the shitty position” they’re in given that it’s really no longer The Opie and Anthony Show. They also highlighted something Jim had made clear on Twitter last week, which is that a lot of the fans are calling them traitors for returning to the air without Ant. The problem, of course, is that Opie and Jimmy are under contract and can’t afford to be sued for breach; Jim also leveled with the audience, saying that he personally can’t lose the regular paycheck provided by SiriusXM. This calls back something I wrote last week about Anthony’s tirade, namely that it was startlingly selfish considering that Ant had to understand it could put the entire show at risk. That’s a lot of jobs and a lot of money that people depend on — and it doesn’t even include the wants and needs of the fans.
While Opie is used to Antony’s controversial comments about race, he said this morning that even he was stunned by how vicious and sustained Ant’s Twitter rampage was following an alleged assault by a black woman in Times Square two weeks ago. He said his first reaction upon reading the tweets was, “Oh my God, we’re fired.” He remarked that while SiriusXM had granted the duo a lot of freedom and creative control on-air — and surely within the realm of their personal media — he knew when he saw the tweets that it didn’t “feel right” and that there was likely going to be trouble. Once the diatribe began hitting the online media, both Opie and Jimmy figured it was all going to spiral from there. And it did.
Opie said he doesn’t believe Ant should’ve been fired for what he did and that if the show hadn’t been on vacation they all would’ve been able to immediately address the tweets and possibly mitigate the damage. He’s right that a show the following morning might have allowed Opie, Anthony, and Jim to bring some perspective and maybe even an attempt at comedy to the incident, but nothing would’ve changed how relentlessly awful Anthony’s screed had been. It really doesn’t matter how many linguistic hoops you have to jump through to try to prove Ant’s rant wasn’t racist, you’ll still lose — because it was shockingly racist. It was so obviously racist, in fact, that there didn’t need to be a furious online outcry for Ant’s head in the wake of it. SiriusXM took one look at it and at the publicity it was generating and knew it had to distance itself from him as quickly as possible.
Like Opie, I’m not sure the network should have fired Ant outright, only because to do so was somewhat disingenuous given that it’s known for years what Anthony’s thoughts on race are. But again, what Ant said over and over again on Twitter was so indefensible only someone purposely trying to overlook and forgive the obvious in the name of loyalty would argue that there was nothing particularly wrong with it. It was a fucking despicable volley of racist invective, even if you claim that the worst of it was said in anger.
Anthony now plans to concentrate on his “Live from the Compound” podcast, and Opie and Jimmy both seem to recognize that Ant is going it alone in that endeavor. But Opie says the SiriusXM suits told him that “the door is not completely shut” on Anthony and that there may be a slight chance he could be brought back. If one of the conditions for doing so is an apology for his Twitter tirade, you can put that possibility to rest, though, given that Ant said on Fox News’s Red Eye on Friday that he’ll never say he’s sorry since what he said wasn’t racist. (To his immense credit, Red Eye‘s Andy Levy was pretty harsh on Anthony, demanding to know how he could make a claim like that given what we all saw for ourselves.) But if there’s a chance Ant can be brought back, I won’t lie, there’s a small part of me willing to put what I know to be right aside for the sake of making a show I love whole again. Crappy but true.
If there’s one argument supporters of Anthony can make when it comes to defending him in the wake of SiriusXM’s decision, maybe it lies in this double-standard: what Ant said was fucking horrific, but at least he isn’t responsible for peddling irresponsible pseudoscience that’s helped lead to a resurgence of dangerous diseases in children.
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