Missing Comma: Sirius XM drops the ball

Sirius XM celebrated Independence Day this year by giving Anthony Cumia, one half of shock jock team Opie and Anthony, the boot.

Anthony had tweeted one of his racist rants about a black woman who punched him in the face in Times Square when she thought he was taking a picture of her. Social media is pretty inextricably linked to public figures, especially radio personalities who promote their Twitter pages on the air, so the argument that it was his “personal” twitter doesn’t hold much water. Did Sirius XM have every right to fire him? Of course. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t make an awful move.

Now whether or not the woman was justified in assaulting Anthony, whether or not he was creeping on her, is irrelevant. Opie and Anthony have been on the air for twenty years, and before they were with SiriusXM, they raised hell on terrestrial airwaves with stunts like Whip ‘em Out Wednesdays, Homeless Charlie and several other deliberately crass radio bits with abject disregard for political correctness, especially on Cumia’s part.

Basically, I’m not sure what Sirius XM was expecting when they allowed O&A on their airwaves. Those two aren’t known to put their tails between their legs. The company’s official statement, as posted on Rolling Stone said:

“SiriusXM has terminated its relationship with Anthony Cumia of the Opie & Anthony channel. 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,” Sirius XM said in a statement. “Those remarks and postings are abhorrent to SiriusXM, and his behavior is wholly inconsistent with what SiriusXM represents.”

It’s pretty easy to condemn defenders of Anthony as awful, insensitive racists, and granted some of them are. It’s not like he claims to be some great humanitarian, but you would think that Americans would understand the first amendment at this point. Anyone who would circlejerk about how offended they are would also probably change the station if they heard O&A.

Furthermore, Sirius XM’s decision comes down to an institutional interest in protecting political correctness. Cancelling Opie and Anthony may be bad for business in the short-term, especially since the program is available live only to customers who pay for extra channels, but as Jeremy Weiland’s 2012 essay critiquing political correctness says:

“Yes, saying racist shit sucks — it is hurtful to social conviviality as well as certain individuals, and it has the potential to perpetuate narratives and prejudices that hold us all back. But given that the channels of media are controlled by an elite few corporations, the piling on and blacklisting that follows such an utterance is out of proportion with what the organic social sanction would entail. While we may not care about the feelings of the bigot, we may not immediately see how the media’s use of these incidents serves their interests — programming, articles, interviews, and other opportunities for increased attention and advertising revenue — over our interests, which involve genuine healing, understanding, and contrition.”

There we go. One of the underlying tenets of Opie and Anthony’s messages to the public is that political correctness is a charade, and while it sucks that Anthony needed to be kicked off the air to prove that point, it’s still solidly proven.

Like I said a few weeks ago, radio is one of the best venues for unpopular opinions, but Sirius XM really dropped the ball with this one. They won’t end racism, but they will set a precedent that their company is an enemy of free speech.

This 2011 Live from the Compound bit, is an interesting twist of foreshadowing.

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