During the episode of “Cannon’s Class,” the actor and Griff — born Richard Griffin — praised Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls the controversial minister “an antisemite who routinely accuses Jews of manipulating the U.S. government and controlling the levers of world power.”
The men also discussed conspiracy theories involving the Rothschilds, a prominent banking family, and asserted that black people are Semitic people by, as Cannon put it, “birthright,” and therefore can’t be anti-Semitic.
The episode was removed from YouTube on Wednesday, and Cannon apologized “to my Jewish sisters and brothers” in a social media post Wednesday night. He said, in part, that his words “reinforced the worst stereotypes of a proud and magnificent people and I feel ashamed of the uninformed and naïve place that these words came from,” and noted that he is “committed to deeper connections, more profound learning and strengthening the bond between our two cultures today and every day going forward.”
Cannon, 39, had a long-standing relationship with ViacomCBS, the parent company of VH1 and MTV — where he produced his hip-hop improv show “Wild 'N Out” — and TeenNick, where Cannon was executive producer and chairman, regularly hosting the network’s annual HALO Awards.
“ViacomCBS condemns bigotry of any kind and we categorically denounce all forms of anti-Semitism,” the company said in a statement Tuesday denouncing the podcast episode’s “hateful speech” and “anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.”
At first, Cannon took a defensive stance on his firing. “I am deeply saddened in a moment so close to reconciliation that the powers that be, misused an important moment for us to all grow closer together and learn more about one another,” the actor said in a lengthy post on his verified Facebook account Wednesday morning.
“Instead the moment was stolen and highjacked to make an example of an outspoken black man. I will not be bullied, silenced, or continuously oppressed by any organization, group, or corporation. I am disappointed that Viacom does not understand or respect the power of the black community.”
Cannon, who began his career as a child actor, noted his more than 20-year relationship with the company, which he wrote “is now on the wrong side of history.” Cannon also said he was receiving death threats, including racial slurs, amid the controversy. In a tweet Monday, Cannon insisted he does “not condone hate speech nor the spread of hateful rhetoric.” But the actor did not directly apologize for the interview then, instead telling Fast Company “there’s no malice or negative intent, but in a time like 2020 we got to have these conversations. And if there’s an assumption that is perceived as ignorant, let’s debunk it right away.”
Viacom alluded to Cannon’s initial lack of apology in its statement. “While we support ongoing education and dialogue in the fight against bigotry, we are deeply troubled that Nick has failed to acknowledge or apologize for perpetuating anti-Semitism, and we are terminating our relationship with him.”
In his Facebook post Wednesday, Cannon said he had “received an outpouring of love and support from the Jewish community.” He added: “I must apologize to my Jewish Brothers and Sisters for putting them in such a painful position, which was never my intention, but I know this whole situation has hurt many people and together we will make it right.
But he had harsher words for Viacom, demanding the company give him “full ownership of my billion dollar ‘Wild ‘N Out’ brand that I created."
“I created a billion-dollar brand that expanded across a multitiered empire that is still Viacom’s biggest digital brand, touring business, talent discovery and incubation system and successful restaurant franchise,” Cannon wrote. “Based on trust and empty promises, my ownership was swindled away from me. For Viacom to be so deceptive is no surprise; they have been mistreating and robbing our community for years, underpaying talent on their biggest brands like Love & Hip Hop, all of BET programming and of course, Wild ‘N Out.”
Cannon has held prominent roles outside of the Viacom umbrella. He was previously the host of “America’s Got Talent,” but parted ways with the NBC competition series following a rift over jokes that invoked the network in his 2017 Showtime special. “After days of deliberating over some extremely disappointing news that I was being threatened with termination by Executives because of a comedy special that was only intended to bring communities closer together, I was to be punished for a joke,” the actor wrote on social media, according to Deadline.
Since last year, Cannon has been the host and executive producer of Fox’s “The Masked Singer,” a popular reality singing competition. Fox said in a statement Wednesday night that Cannon would continue to host the singing competition. “When we were made aware of Nick Cannon’s interview with Richard Griffin on YouTube, we immediately began a dialogue with Nick. He is clear and remorseful that his words were wrong and lacked both understanding and context, and inadvertently promoted hate.”
“Nick has sincerely apologized, and quickly taken steps to educate himself and make amends,” the statement continued. “On that basis and given a belief that this moment calls for dialogue, we will move forward with Nick and help him advance this important conversation, broadly.”