Anthony Cumia: ‘I Have No Regrets’
His “racially charged” tweets got him fired, but shock jock Anthony Cumia says he wouldn’t have done anything differently, from photographing an African-American woman against her wishes to the social media firestorm that followed.
“You know what? Any time something happens that throws a huge change in your life, you always think back on whether it could have been done differently,” the 53-year-old Cumia told The Daily Beast. “But, as I do that, I have no regrets about what I did, on how I handled the situation. Because that’s how I’ve always handled it. Any other way would be phony. And I’m anything but phony.”
The situation, in this case, was Cumia’s hostile late-night encounter in Times Square last Wednesday with a young African-American woman who registered her objection when he took her picture by allegedly punching him repeatedly in the face—prompting Cumia to vent in a series of sociologically dubious, foul-mouthed tweets that his bosses called “racially-charged,” “hate-filled” and “abhorrent.”
In the seven days since, Cumia has been alternately vilified as a knuckle-dragging bigot who deserved to be thrown off the air and celebrated as an enemy of political correctness and a warrior for freedom of expression.
As of this morning, a petition demanding Cumia’s reinstatement had collected more than 21,000 supporters—which (assuming most of these folks are O&A fans who are cancelling their subscriptions to protest Cumia’s sacking) could mean the loss of million of dollars to SiriusXM’s bottom line.
“Sure,” Cumia said when asked if he takes pleasure in the potential pain being inflicted on the publicly traded satellite radio company. “You certainly want to feel like you had an impact and you did something. And if that’s the gauge to look at, then, yeah, it makes me feel good that people decided to stick up for me and make their voices heard.”Cumia said he’s hired a lawyer in hopes of forcing SiriusXM, his employer for the past decade, to pay out his contract, which lasts till October. He’s also planning in early August to launch “Live From The Compound,” which he describes as “very affordable” paid-subscription podcast featuring video, celebrity guests and a poolside audience at his suburban Long Island home. Conveniently enough, he had already installed, years ago, a state-of-the-art studio in his basement.
“Thank God, I had everything set up years in advance—I guess I had some inkling,” said Cumia, who is no stranger to being terminated, having been fired or suspended numerous times before, along with his partner of 20 years, Gregg “Opie” Hughes, for such infractions as claiming on a Boston station during April Fool’s Day that Mayor Thomas Menino had been killed in a car crash while transporting a prostitute, and on a New York station broadcasting a randy couple supposedly having sex in a vestibule during mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Then, of course, there was “Whip ‘em out Wednesdays,” a contest encouraging women to flash their breasts in public (including an incident on the Today show).
“You had to make a noise and do something special back then to get your name recognized, and hopefully they’d stick around for the stuff you wanted to talk about,” Cumia explained. “That’s how radio works.”
He said his podcast, which he promises will be “a lot of fun and very entertaining, with the freedom that that affords,” will allow him to escape the content restrictions regularly imposed by the suits at SiriusXM.
“There were plenty of lawyers that were always at the guard, waiting to strike down something we wanted to do on the Opie & Anthony Show,” Cumia said. “It just got worse and worse over there. Look how I got fired. It had nothing to do with the FCC”—the Federal Communications Commission, which in any case has no authority over subscription-based satellite radio. “It had nothing to do with government regulations. It had to do with the people who run the company. The FCC is nothing compared to the PC police.”
Concerning the fateful night in question, Cumia said he was simply pursuing his passion for photography, equipped with a top-of-the-line Canon Mark III camera. “For people who say I was creeping for girls, taking pictures of girls, it’s hilarious,” he said. “I’m out here with a $5,000 camera with an eight-inch lens taking beautiful pictures of New York City. It’s not like I had my cell phone under girls’ skirts.”
Cumia added: “Times Square at night is an amazing place…It’s huge, city lights everywhere, and it’s empty for the most part... It’s food carts; a lot of construction goes on at night; Con Ed guys with backhoes. Just a lot of nighttime New York stuff that doesn’t happen during the day. I also took a picture of a beautiful girl who was walking down the street with all the lights of Manhattan kind of reflected on her. The girl was fine, completely fine, with it.”
That particular portrait subject was Caucasian—unlike the young woman who had no appreciation for Cumia’s hobby. “She heard the shutter clicking, late at night, under one of those scaffoldings. Her back was to me. She was walking down the scaffolding, with all the lights in front of her. So she heard the shutter click and said ‘Oh no’ and came jogging over at me. I snapped a couple of pictures; I saw this was gonna be a problem.”
He continued: “She called me a ‘white motherfucker’ and clocked me upside the head. I put my forearm up to keep her away, and I put my camera between my legs with my arm covering it so she wouldn’t kick me in the balls…If she had just said, ‘Don’t take my picture,’ I would have said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, ok.’ I’m not unreasonable.”
Cumia, who as usual was packing heat (having obtained a concealed-carry permit after suffering unwelcome visitors and death threats), readily admits he was “pissed off,” and called his alleged assailant a series of ugly names that he colorfully elaborated on Twitter. After Gawker splashed Cumia’s intemperate behavior, he said he let it stay online for awhile, and only deleted his questionable tweets, along with most of the rest of his Twitter feed (with the exception of two self-serving references to civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.), because liberal media types had started distorting his words to serve their nefarious agenda.
“I left them up for awhile because I wanted people to see them. I thought I could do this without getting into this much trouble,” Cumia said. “But then I noticed they were taking choice words or a sentence and putting out just that as what I said, which was absolutely untrue. The only reason I deleted the tweets is they were being picked apart to screw me over by people who have an agenda.”
Similarly, Cumia said that his subsequent tweet in the midst of the public uproar of a photo of himself with his arm around Carlton Logan, a fan-turned-friend who happens to be black, was “a goof,” not a desperate attempt to prove that he’s not a racist.
“It’s so ridiculous,” he said. “The picture itself was a goof. Anyone who sees that as anything but joke--look at me! I’m with a black person!--is an idiot. Carlton’s my friend, but I would never use that as an authentic way to say, ‘Hey, look at me!’ That’s ridiculous.”
Cumia, who has a long history of making politically incorrect and provocative statements about race, said he agrees with observers who have noted that SiriusXM’s management could not have been surprised by last week’s incident.
“I think I’m pretty outspoken and I think a lot of people know my position on a lot of things and there weren’t any surprises,” he said. “This wasn’t like they were blindsided. It wasn’t like a shocking tweet that Walter Cronkite would have put out.”
Indeed. Say what you will about Anthony Cumia, he's no Walter Cronkite.