Speaking at a town hall with employees Monday, Chris McCarthy, president of entertainment and youth brands at ViacomCBS, praised work that Canon claims to have done to make amends for his comments and gain a better understanding of why they were offensive. McCarthy described himself as “hopeful” that the company and Cannon would find a way to rebuild their partnership.
A ViacomCBS source told Variety that McCarthy and Cannon have spoken in recent weeks, but added that there is no plan right now for Cannon to work with the company again. A spokesperson for the company declined to comment.
“I struggle with the fact that Nick, a longtime partner and friend of ours, is on this journey and we’re not part of that journey,” McCarthy said in response to a question about Cannon. He added later, talking about the media company’s ability to connect storytelling and important social issues, “I am hopeful we find a way to bring these two things together and hopefully we will have the opportunity to do that with Nick again.”
On the June 30 episode of his podcast “Cannon’s Class,” Cannon asserted that Black people are “the true Hebrews” and made reference to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories regarding “Zionists” and the Rothschild family. “It’s never hate speech, you can’t be anti-Semitic when we are the Semitic people,” Cannon said. “When we are the same people who they want to be. That’s our birthright. We are the true Hebrews.” The comments triggered public outrage and a decision by ViacomCBS to publicly sever ties with Cannon, host and creator of the long-running MTV comedy show “Wild ‘n Out” and a longtime creative partner of the company’s Nickelodeon kids’ programming unit.
Cannon’s initial remarks after being fired by ViacomCBS were combative, demanding an apology from the company and full ownership of “Wild ‘N Out,” and insisting, “I will not be bullied, silenced, or continuously oppressed by any organization, group, or corporation.”
He later issued a statement offering “my deepest and most sincere apologies to my Jewish sisters and brothers for the hurtful and divisive words that came out of my mouth,” concurrent to an announcement by Fox that Cannon would remain as host of “The Masked Singer.”
Cannon has since been publicly engaging the Jewish community, hosting Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center on his podcast, and appearing in an hour-long video interview hosted by the American Jewish Committee and conducted by Rabbi Noam E. Marans, who wrote in a column for the Jerusalem Post that Cannon “understands why his words were blatantly antisemitic and has begun the process of undoing the damage he has caused.”
McCarthy on Monday said that he wished that he had, at the time of Cannon’s comments, already developed the entertainment and youth group’s recently unveiled “cultural code,” a set of guidelines related to inclusion and diversity. “It’s a shame that it took an incident like this for us to take a step back and have a clear process in place to address issues like this,” McCarthy said.
Read McCarthy’s full comments from the town hall regarding Cannon below:
“Let me start with stating the important and hopefully obvious fact — what Nick said was wrong, hurtful, and it was offensive. We have to stand up for our values — clear and simple. Hate against one of us is hate against any of us and Nick’s comments were anti-Semitic. So, we needed to stand up to that and we did that which was the right thing to do.
“I don’t know if anyone has been following Nick’s journey since the incident — I have, and the thing that’s unique about Nick — different from many others, is that Nick owned it. He apologized, he said it was wrong. He has since been on a journey of learning and understanding, and more importantly, he is using his voice to help educate other people and is becoming an advocate on this issue. This is consistent with the Nick I’ve known for ten years.
“As I look back on all of this, I regret that we didn’t have our new ‘cultural code’ built sooner. It’s a shame that it took an incident like this for us to take a step back and have a clear process in place to address issues like this. Part of that came from when I asked myself, ‘What could we have done that would have made it better or what can we do to prevent this from happening in the future?’
“I struggle with the fact that Nick, a longtime partner and friend of ours, is on this journey and we’re not part of that journey. And that’s honestly where the our new ‘cultural code’ came from and bringing in social justice partners so we all have the base-level education. And, if I could change anything, I would have asked us to build that two years ago.”
McCarthy later continued:
“We’re in the content business and we all understand the power of telling stories. The gift that we have as storytellers is to transport audiences into new worlds and experiences — enabling them to walk in someone else’s shoes. And when we do this well, we can give the gift empathy and understanding. And we do this all the time, as we will see from the upcoming video. And we have been doing it for years, from the early days of ‘Real World,’ to 1’6 and Pregnant,’ to what Trevor (Noah) does every day. We help other people understand the world we live in. And we need to step up even more.
“So, when I take a step back, I am hopeful. I am hopeful we find a way to bring these two things together and hopefully we will have the opportunity to do that with Nick again.”