Rolling Stone Excoriates BMI Over ‘Casual Racism’ — BMI’s CEO Responds

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A recent Rolling Stone piece excoriated BMI for allegedly fostering a workplace environment of “casual racism.” Now, the 81-year-old performing rights organization’s CEO has publicly addressed the shocking allegations.

In summary, Rolling Stone’s expansive BMI piece, which runs approximately 2,500 words, alleges that two of the company’s higher-ups (one who’s departed the PRO following an investigation and another who remains employed in an executive capacity) made a series of racially insensitive and potentially discriminatory remarks on social media and/or in the workplace.

These outlined words and actions are part of a larger culture of “casual racism,” the article indicates, before highlighting other examples that attest to BMI’s purported internal discrimination. Company spokespersons refuted the overarching allegations of casual racism, and the text also describes the steps that BMI took to address the happenings as they came to light. (Claiming to know one of the BMI execs whose alleged racially insensitive words were criticized in the article, some have vouched for her character via comments.)

More broadly, BMI President and CEO Mike O’Neill pushed back against the article’s tone and claims in an internally circulated memo, which was subsequently published on the PRO’s website. “This is not at the core of who we are,” O’Neill wrote of the “negative and disturbing” document from Rolling Stone.

From there, the more than 25-year BMI veteran stated that as a matter of policy, his company doesn’t make internal disciplinary actions public. “We treat all personnel matters with complete confidentiality out of respect for our employees’ privacy. Just because there is no public announcement does not mean there was no disciplinary action taken.”

And in terms of a discrimination lawsuit filed by two former employees (featured prominently in the Rolling Stone piece), O’Neill relayed that an inquiry found the complaint to be “completely without merit.” To be sure, the memo specifies: “We also shared with Rolling Stone, which they failed to include, that the lawsuit actually cut-and-pasted complaints made against other companies and non-BMI employees and then left those other names in the complaint against BMI.”

After making clear that his company put the case to rest with an out-of-court agreement because “sometimes it is more pragmatic to settle,” the longtime Broadcast Music, Inc. exec touched upon an especially interesting point, appearing to suggest that Rolling Stone bias affected the direction and content of the extensive expose.

“Please also know that we provided Rolling Stone with a number of important facts and statistics that were counter to the narrative of this story.  They were not included, for reasons that I can’t say. … You know I am always open and available to talk, and I expect and hope that many of you will want to.  Please pick up the phone and give me a call.  I will welcome that conversation.”

At the time of this writing, Rolling Stone hadn’t updated the original piece to acknowledge O’Neill’s lengthy response and explanation. Through 2020’s first six months, BMI distributed all-time-high royalties to its members despite suffering a $60 million “negative impact” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.