Tuesday, December 4, 2007
By CAROLYN SALAZAR
Take two notorious shock jocks, two prominent television reporters and a zealous fan armed with an air horn - and what do you have?
Anthony Johnson, a Teaneck resident and news reporter for WABC-TV, says his ears are still ringing after a fan without provocation assaulted him with an air horn during a live shot two years ago. The fan, carrying out an "Assault on the Media" campaign trumpeted by satellite radio jocks Opie & Anthony, caused Johnson "severe and permanent" damage to an eardrum, the lawsuit says.
That incident drew publicity and even prompted then-acting Gov. Richard Codey - who has had his own issues with shock jocks - to inject himself into the matter by scolding Opie & Anthony and calling their campaign against the media "inappropriate and dangerous." The campaign was discontinued shortly afterward.
"The campaign against the media crossed the line from humor to irresponsible," said Johnson's attorney, Rosemarie Arnold, who filed the lawsuit at the Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack on Monday. "And it caused my client severe personal injury."
The suit, filed on behalf of Johnson and his wife, WNBC news reporter Pat Battle, targets Opie, whose real name is Greg Hughes; Anthony, whose full name is Anthony Cumia; John D. Walton, a resident of Ocean Township in Monmouth County who carried out the prank; and XM Satellite Radio. It asks for compensatory and punitive damages.
"One would think that because they are media personalities themselves, they should know better," Johnson said Monday.
An XM Satellite Radio spokesman would not comment on the lawsuit. Walton, 32, did not return a message left with his mother. Opie & Anthony could not be reached for comment.
The Opie & Anthony Show, a talk program that moved from traditional radio to XM Satellite Radio following a controversial stunt involving St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, has long been known for its raunchy skits and over-the-top pranks. The duo, whose morning show is simulcast over the air on WXRK radio in New York, have faced suspensions and fines for their pranks.
Two years ago, to drum up publicity for its new satellite show, Opie & Anthony launched an "Assault on the Media" campaign that encouraged its listeners to disrupt live, on-air news broadcasts to advertise its show. At the time, the show repeatedly asked its listeners not to pick fights with reporters or cause injuries.
On Dec. 6, 2005, Johnson was in South Jersey doing a live, early morning broadcast about snowfall in Ocean Township. According to the complaint, Walton pulled up behind Johnson while he was at a Hess gas station, waved an Opie & Anthony bumper sticker, blew a hand-held air horn and screamed "Opie & Anthony XM Radio!"
The cameraman immediately moved the video camera so viewers were not able to see the incident.
Arnold said her client, who missed work for two weeks because of his injuries, suffered permanent ear damage and loss of balance. She said she was happy the campaign was discontinued after the Johnson incident, but said that was not enough.
"Unfortunately, it was too little, too late," she said. "The damage had already been done."