On Jim Cornette, Islamophobia, and Free Speech.
I owe most of my public speaking influences to two people as an attorney. Both are pro wrestling managers. One is the legendary manager of the Midnight Express and the Heavenly Bodies, James E. Cornette. The other is the darling of the WWE and pro wrestling fans everywhere, Brock Lesnar’s advocate, Paul Heyman.
I got to meet Corny this year when my son was languishing in the NICU unit at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. He was very kind, gracious, and signed a tennis racket for me and took pictures with me. Cornette even gave me the back story on his “Hulk Hogan, your name may be a household word, but so is garbage, and it stinks when it gets old too” rant on Monday Night Raw during the WWE’s Monday Night Wars with WCW.
In case you’re not familiar with Jim Cornette’s work these days, he hosts a weekly podcast on Major League Wrestling (MLW)’s podcast channel called “The Jim Cornette Experience.” I rather enjoy it; it’s been an entertaining trade off between Corny and a lady named Alice Radley who served as a rational counterpart to Cornette’s grumpy old man schtick. Every week Cornette and Radley would rant on some measure or another and make the listening audience laugh. They’d insult Insane Clown Posse fans, taunt people who wear Bullet Club shirts to wresting shows, and call those who believe in religion nuts.
That all changed around November 19, when Cornette ranted about the Paris shootings. He blamed Islam for being the cause of said shootings and launched into one of his diatribes about religion being for nutjobs, but he singled out Islam and Muslims for being crazy enough to blow themselves up and shoot people over their religion. This clearly made his co host, Alice Radley, uncomfortable. She tried to change the subject multiple times, but Cornette was on a roll and kept going.
He stereotyped Muslims as people "who bomb the fuck out of shit" and argued that if you were to outlaw any speech or thought it would be Islam because it "blatantly hinges on [the belief that] people should be killed, stoned to death, mutilated, castrated, beheaded or otherwise eliminated for a variety of shit that nobody should give a shit about to begin with.”
Three weeks later, Alice Radley read a letter from an Australian Muslim who pointed out that Islam is a religion that prohibits suicide and murdering innocents, Cornette went off yet again on Islam and Muslims worldwide. A few of the more entertaining bits from his rant can be found below. The entire transcript is here, if you choose to read it.
The Americans are psychopaths? We're fucking amateurs. Here's what you ought to do just before we even get into the meat of the matter, what you ought to do is you ought to put a fucking kibosh on those street celebrations you have where 20,000 of ya are out on the fucking street wearing some shitty clothes that look like they haven't been washed in fucking six weeks with goats firing off automatic weapons up in the air celebrating with the fucking burning fucking George Bush effigies and death to America banners. We know George Bush was a goddamn idiot, but you know what, we also don't really burn people in a fucking street around here for real even if he deserved it, which he did, and you people do, so don't try to tell me about this peaceful fucking Islamic religion when all you see from these goddamn backward ass cave-fucking people's countries are goddamn people burning other people in the streets and throwing them off goddamn roofs, first of all….
But with the Muslims you're not even safe in fucking Disneyland, so as far as I'm concerned the Muslims have lost the right to be indignant when people knock them or their religion or look at them sideways or like they're scared because when a large number of those people are fucking nuts and regardless of what this guy says what you hear on television or you read in the newspapers and magazines and the things that these religious leaders call [for], the fatwahs on people, and they fucking shoot people for cartoons, if your religion calls for a lot of fucked up things to happen to women or gay people and or anybody that tells you that your God is fictitious and you are easily egged on by all those other religions with their fictitious versions of God telling you your God is fictitious, which they all are by the way, so the only way to get even is to blow up a bunch of people you don't know. No, I'm not onboard with your shit there pal….
You can't go out and discriminate against or be violent to anybody just because a bunch of their fucking people but not all do bad things, but you can have a group of people who lose their right to be surprised or offended or indignant when they don't like them or look sideways at them or talk bad about them because their group is involved with so many bullshit fucking incidents in so many places over so long a period of fucking time. The fucking Scientologists may not be there yet, but the Muslims are. And once again, memo Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, [if they didn't] look like a goddamn bunch of fucking, you know, nutcases, Ayatollah Who The Fuck and all the goddamn maniacs with all the automatic rifles with the death to America banners, and have a bunch of people jumping up and down screaming like cave people on acid it would help your fucking public relations.
Following Cornette’s “doubling down” on Islam, Alice Radley decided to step back as producer of “The Jim Cornette Experience.” The following week, Jim was joined by Mr. Saint Laurent, or MSL for short, as the new producer. Jim bashfully explained he was deliberately trying to make Alice squirm a bit, but admitted he went a bit too far, and apologized to Alice. He then proceeded with MSL to continue his rants against religion, Islam in particular.
As anyone with a brain who reads the news knows, this made Corny’s rants “problematic.”
The problem with Cornette is that he's so arrogant that he believes his opinions to be infallible that he's unwilling to think that it's possible that he might be mistaken and his kneejerk reaction to any criticism is to resort to childish name calling and cut a promo on those poor souls brave enough to challenge his misguided viewpoints.
That's problematic even when he's targeting much-maligned figures in the wrestling business like Kevin Dunn, as his rants often descend into mean-spirited bullying, but here he's caricaturing a whole religion and preaching Islamophobia (specifically, in his case, the incorrect beliefs that Islam as a religion is inferior to the West, that it's archaic, barbaric, and irrational, and that it is a religion of violence).
MLW even thought it was problematic enough to distance themselves from Cornette, releasing the following statement on their Facebook page.
Following the comments made on the Jim Cornette Experience, we here at MLW felt it was important to clarify the position of MLW Radio:
Like every podcast, the views, opinions and positions expressed by Jim Cornette are his alone, and do not reflect the views, opinions or positions of MLW or anyone involved with the podcasts.
We strongly support freedom of speech but equally, freedom of religion, tolerance and acceptance of all faiths, ethnicity, race, sexual preference or otherwise.
There are many at MLW Radio who have friends that are Muslim and have seen the hardships they’ve had to endure as a result of Islamophobia.
It is our goal to find peace in this through understanding and acceptance of others and we will work to do so in this case.
Cornette added his own apology, possibly in an attempt to save himself from potentially losing his gig with Court Bauer and company.
"I would like to add to MLW's earlier statement concerning controversy over my recent podcast. The very nature of my show and it's appeal is that I issue opinions that people feel very strongly about, either positively or negatively. I have been especially pointed toward all religions, and although most of those rants are meant and taken with a comedy slant, this one may have crossed over from entertaining and into hateful or mean-spirited, and for that I apologize.
Even on this issue the listeners have been widely divided, but if I truly offended ANY of the listeners, I'm sorry.
My New Years' Resolution is to talk about more positive things, I just need some help in finding them."
People have a right to be offended by Cornette’s rants. People have a right to call for his head and his firing from MLW after issuing an “islamophobic” rant. And you know what? Cornette has every single right in the world to say whatever he wants that you personally disagree with.
Saying he’s got no place on the radio, in print, or otherwise because you disagree with his stance on a topic, Islam or otherwise, runs contrary to the principles of free speech we cherish so dearly in this country.
I’m sure someone at this point will link or point me to the XKCD comic on the First Amendment. Yeah. I get it. MLW is a private company, and they have the ability to make Jim Cornette suffer social consequences for his speech. That’s the way the marketplace of ideas works.
You want to punish Jim Cornette for his speech? Fine. You deem his actions “problematic?” Fine. That’s your right, just as it is for all others to do. But don’t call for him to be removed from MLW radio because you can’t stand his comments on Islam or some other topic. Make your own podcast. Write on Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, or otherwise. Email him. Exchange words with him. That’s how you handle the comments Corny made. Engage his speech with more speech.
As the ACLU has said in the past, and I’ll repeat it here: “The speech that needs the most protection is the speech we disagree with the most.”