More Throat Clearing


The Instapundit made some comments recently dismissing the notion that the latest Howard Stern/FCC action is politically motivated. I think he's correct on this, though I must note that the Instapundit is well past thirty and—I would hope—able to come up with better pejoratives than junior-high chestnuts like "lame" and "juvenile."

I would caution against taking at face value Howard Stern's claims about a vendetta by the Bush Administration, because it's unlikely even he takes these claims seriously. I don't get much time to hear the radio, but I listen to Howard whenever I can, and it's news to me that he's not supporting President Bush. The last time I heard him discuss politics was when he and Robin were arguing about some favorable comments he'd made about Howard Dean, but Stern said several times that he wouldn't vote for Dean over Bush. It's always a bit surreal when non-listeners start talking about the Stern show. In this case, you'd think that he's some diehard foe of the Bush Administration; as far as I know, he had high praise for Bush after 9/11, supported the Iraq war, and has only occasionally griped about the economy. In other words, he's like the vast majority of an electorate that appears likely to re-elect Bush in a couple months. Though I hope he succeeds in turning himself into a political cause, anybody who listens to the show knows that Howard isn't nearly dumb enough to have strong political convictions.

The Instapundit also chastises Stern supporters for failing to "quote [the controversial comments] verbatim," but does not quote them verbatim himself. I didn't hear the show, and can't find anything on the usually reliable This Hollywood Reporter article gives the following combination quote/paraphrase:

In the interview, Stern and Solomon discussed how Solomon "banged" Hilton and a 15-year-old Drew Barrymore; at one point, a caller asked Solomon if he had "ever bang(ed) a famous nigger chick? What do they smell like? Watermelons?"

Clearly offensive; reasonable grounds for dismissal by an employer or (in this case) syndicate. But this was a call to the show, not a quote from one of the cast members (though it's true that Howard walks a fine line between endorsing fan misbehavior and abetting it). I'm an interested party here because we run a web log with an open comments forum, and try to police it as little as possible. I'd hate to endure the righteous fury of the Instapundit over some reader comment that sneaked through our blood-and-iron decency software.

Finally, I believe giving a voice to freaks, maniacs, and misfits is an ancient, honorable, vital job—and Howard Stern does it better than anybody else in contemporary media. When I hear the Does the future of freedom really depend on letting somebody say nigger and watermelon on commercial radio? argument, my answer is a definite maybe. So I propose a reasonable compromise: Howard fires Artie Lang (a cancer on the face of comedy) and in return the FCC leaves Clear Channel and Infinity alone.

[Update: In the comments section, one reader notes that Stern has been making fun of Bush on many points for a long time. Another says that he said on the day in question that he was an "Anybody But Bush" guy. The former point I don't think changes anything—Howard is in the business of making fun of famous people. The second does color the situation somewhat—just shows what you miss if you miss a single action-packed epsiode of the Howard Stern Show!—but I maintain that Howard's political ideas go no deeper than a layer of dust.]