Freedom Under Siege Again

« July 2014 »

Memo to Anthony Cumia and his defenders: YOU ARE DUMB.

So, here we go again. Another entertainment professional fired for stuff they've said on social media. Another crowd of "free speech" advocates bemoaning "censorship" even though that's not what's actually happening. So we get to do this again.

The perpetrator this time is Anthony Cumia, the Anthony in satellite radio's former Opie and Anthony show. What did Cumia do? Well, he went on an extended Twitter rant after allegedly being assaulted in Times Square.

You know what? Let's drop the allegedly. Let's take Cumia's recounting of events at face value and assume they happened exactly as he recounted, because it doesn't help. Cumia was taking pictures in Times Square when an African-American female objected to his picture taking and assaulted him, punching him nearly a dozen times. And despite carrying a gun with him, Cumia understood that the self defense laws did not allow him to pull it, and so he didn't. And then he didn't get the police involved because he's magnanimous.

Cumia, recounting the tale on Twitter, called the woman a bunch of names. He called her a cunt, but she did punch him quite a few times. He wished for her to get shot and killed. Harsh, but again, he was angry at the person who'd assaulted him. He called her a savage animal, which, OK, is some loaded, problematic language, but in the absence of anything else, still not direct evicence of a problem.

But the problem is, Cumia didn't confine his tirade to the woman who assaulted him. He expanded his scope, and even if you haven't been following the story, I bet you can figure out exactly how he expanded it. To, as he put it, "that community", saying they "prey on white people", that they're all savage animals, that violence is "instinctual" to black people.

And now we have a problem. Because before, we had an angry white man lashing out at his attacker verbally, and now, we have an angry racist white man using this attack as a confirmation of his beliefs about another race. When you get fired for the former, I might be on your side a little bit. But not the latter.

As always, I have a pretty high standard for this stuff. I don't think most businesses should be able to fire most people for the private things they say. Even awful things. But there are some cases where even "private" public speech becomes a job performance issue, and media jobs are one of them. When you're paid to say stuff publicly, the line between what's "on the clock" and off it is very blurry indeed.

And let's keep two things in mind here before you weep at Anthony Cumia having to face consequences for being an awful person. First, yes, he lost his radio job. But he's already announced plans to start a podcast out of his home studio. I'm sure his fans and supporters will follow him there and he'll be fine. He might have to sign up for Obamacare now that he's self-employed, but that's OK.

And second, and more importantly, do you really think the people at Sirius didn't know Cumia was a racist? I bet Sirius has a break room. They knew. You don't get into business with a Cumia type without establishing some ground rules for public conduct, some lines that shouldn't be crossed. Or you do if you're smart. I would be shocked if there wasn't something in writing making what Cumia did a firing offense.

But don't let me interrupt the martyrdom. After all, if public figures can't come out as racist without fear of suffering small career setbacks, how can we possibly maintain the illusion of a free society?