Rick Sanchez: Twitter Doesn’t Talk Back, Know That!

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Last week, Anthony Cumia, one half of the “Opie and Anthony” radio show on SiriusXM, was fired for posting racially-charged tweets following an incident that occurred in Times Square.

Cumia says he inadvertently photographed a woman who got angry and struck him. Cumia fought back by assailing her on social media. He turned to Twitter and began a verbal assault that would make a sailor blush.

If his side of the story regarding their sidewalk altercation is true, then he has every right to be angry. He also has the right to attack her on Twitter or on his show or wherever he deems fit.

Now we can add Anthony Cumia’s name to the list of people who fail to realize something important about this social media experiment we’re living through and often choose to be a part of.

— Rick Sanchez

Granted, calling her a “wh___,” and a “bit__” and a “cu__” seven times may be over the top, not to mention a “pig” that he wishes “gets killed.” But, believe it or not, those are not the comments that got Cumia in trouble. What gets him in trouble is pointing out that she’s black and all blacks are like her.

The company had originally hired him with the presumed expectation that he would be just as outlandish as the above-described tweets and they did so even though he’d been fired twice before for questionable conduct fired.

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In one incident, in April 1998, Cumia, who at the time was a host at rock station WAAF, reported that Boston Mayor Tom Menino had died in a car crash in Florida. He was almost immediately let go. After getting picked up in New York by WNEW, Cumia was at it again. This time he took part in a bit that instructed couples to have sex in public places. One couple called in saying they were having sex in a vestibule at St. Patrick's Cathedral during mass. Catholics around the country, led by the Catholic League, demanded he be fired. WNEW obliged.

So now, yes, it’s happened again. SiriusXM has chosen to fire Anthony Cumia for outlandish comments, which at first blush seems like hearing that the Army has disciplined a soldier for demonstrating aggressive behavior toward the enemy in battle. As we would say about the scorpion that bit the frog, “Wait, that's what he does.”

But it’s not that simple. Is Cumia’s firing based on outlandishness, or even his verbal attack on a woman? No, his offense is twofold. One, he attacked the woman’s race. And two, he chose to deliver his diatribe on Twitter, which is not the same as airing his complaint on his broadcast — far from it.

Since becoming one of the first broadcasters to incorporate the use of social media, here’s what I’ve learned. Broadcasting and micro-blogging, especially Twitter, are not one in the same — not even close. One is an orally delivered contextual message whose tone and meaning can be controlled. The other is a published, yes published, linear message which, once written, is sealed, seared and owned by the masses who will read it. Good luck with that!

Could Cumia have made his case on his radio show even saying roughly the same thing as he tweeted and not have been fired? It’s quite possible, yes. His mistake then was thinking that both mediums were the same. As Marshal McLuhan would write if he had lived to experience Twitter, hell no — they are not. One is “hot, one is cold,” one is “linear and one is non-linear.”

Yes, I know. It’s not easy to excuse the racist grouping of African Americans, which Cumia seems to be guilty of in his tweets. Three times he uses the word “savage or savages.”  He calls the woman and the men who came to her aid “animals who prey on white people.”

In fact, after tweeting about the “five blacks that were giving him sh__,” he writes that “violent savages own the streets and they all came to defend this pig and that he had to yell at them like dogs.” He writes that “they aren’t people,” and that they’re “uncivilized.”

Let me be clear, none of it is defensible — especially when it’s tweeted for the entire world to see in black and white. More to the point, that’s what makes it especially difficult to excuse. It’s uncontestable. There’s no nuance.

Ah yes, nuance, that subtle distinction in meaning available to us in the spoken word with tone, inflection and some word choices that aren’t available on Twitter. Cumia made the mistake of not knowing the difference in how to use each medium, and also of thinking his followers and his listeners are one and the same. Guess what? They are not.

I’ve made the mistake. Perhaps you have too. So have many celebs. And now we can add Anthony Cumia’s name to the list of people who fail to realize something important about this social media experiment we’re living through and often choose to be a part of. It’s not a different team, or league, it’s a completely different game.