Fuck The FCC, Again


It seems like only yesterday that Al "Grandpa Munster" Lewis was shouting "Fuck the FCC!" at a free speech rally put on by Howard Stern (it was actually 1987).

It's time for a reprise, as the FCC has just levied new fines against Stern for broadcasting "indecent" material on a Detroit (Rock City) station. The watchdogs also reversed their earlier ruling that Bono's use of fucking as a non-sexual adjective during a Golden Globes Awards show was acceptable.

According to a new study, Stern is responsible for half of all the fines the FCC has issued since 1990. I hope its commissioners remember to send him Christmas cards.

NEXT: Urinalysis Analysis

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  1. “I hope its commissioners remember to send him Christmas cards.”

    Stern should be sending the commissioners Christmas cards, Birthday Cards, Groundhog day cards and 10% of the action. Without any FCC broadcast restrictions, Stern could never get his “you can’t say that on radio!” shock that makes him the jock to beat.

  2. The first amendment is not a guarentee of your right to expose other people to your indecent speech. There is a big difference between what arrives in a brown paper wrapper, and what is printed on the front page of a newspaper displayed in a newspaper box on a city sidewalk.

    Should someone be allowed to stand in his living room, open his window, and read the transcript of Ass Sluts 4 at the top of his lungs every afternoon, when kids are let off a schoolbus across the street? How about hanging up some pictures from Hustler on the monkey bars at the playground?

    The nature of television and radio is that their content is likely to be seen by people who don’t seek them out – someone flipping through the channels, someone walking down the street, someone who’s kids know how to turn a knob. The “public” issue that matters is not the owership of the airwaves, but the fact that the content is regularly put in the faces of people who don’t want to see it, and can be accessed by minors regardless of the desires of those who have the legal right to determine what they should be exposed to.

    Or is the argument here that people don’t have the right to choose to see, or have their kids see, certain images?

    “Change the channel” is what I’m now going to hear from people who’ve never seen how quickly a auditory or visual image imprints on a young child.

  3. Here’s a clip of an Oprah interview. I borrowed it from Atrios’ site.

    “WINFREY: OK–so–OK, so what is a salad toss?

    Ms. BURFORD: OK, a tossed salad is–get ready; hold on to your underwear for this one–oral anal sex. So oral sex to the anus is what tossed salad is. Hi, Mom. OK. A rainbow party is an oral sex party. It’s a gathering where oral sex is performed. And a–rainbow comes from–all of the girls put on lipstick and each one puts her mouth around the penis of the gentleman or gentlemen who are there to receive favors and makes a mark in a different place on the penis, hence, the term rainbow. So…”

    Stern wanted to replay it on his show but the producer wouldn’t let him.

  4. Critic,
    I got into the “I own the airwaves too” argument with my father the other night. Then I asked him if he owned the sidewalks too. He said he did. My response was that I can say “fuck” on the sidewalk when there’s a group of 9 year-olds next to me, but I can’t say it on TV at 11 PM when there probably aren’t many 9 year olds watching. He still didn’t get it.

    The worst part is that kids with internet access can see far worse things than anything that will ever make the airwaves (even with those content filters) and people give their kids free run of the ‘net. People are idiots.

  5. I concur with Russ D, that there is not a First Amendment right where licensing occurs.

    However, the Internet is a different beast entirely. I think the FCC hasn?t even tried to regulate it because they know they CAN?T regulate it. (Offshore gambling is a prime example of why they can?t.)

    It?s relatively easy to go to a German web hosting organization, and get yourself some cyber real estate there. Any content you post there would fall under German, not US, law. And there?s not a damn thing the US gubment can do about the web page.

    This is why the COPA is useless. It won?t have any real effect on the content they?re trying to suppress, and it will just make the US more draconian than it already is.

  6. I cannot wait until some politician (preferably a Senator, Congressman, President, or especially Powell at the FCC) is caught on camera, or in some live broadcast, saying “Fuck” about something or someone. You just know it’s going to happen at some point – it’s practically inevitable.

    The hypocrisy that will emanate from said politician’s excuses will be disgusting.

  7. We already caught George Bush and Dick Cheney using the word ‘asshole’ in reference to Adam Clymer. Bigtime.

    If I were a rich celebrity with money to burn (or better yet, hidden in a secret offshore bank account) I’d go on the radio and deliberately push the limits by saying things like “The FCC can go FLUCK (sic) themselves. PUCK (sic) you and the horse you rode in on, you FACKING (sic) JACKISS (sic).”

    Just change one little letter and you’re perfectly okay, see? You can also avoid obscenity charges by replacing vowels with asterisks, like so: “The FCC can go f*ck themselves. F*ck you and the horse you rode in on, you f*cking jack*ss.”

  8. Joe, changing the channel does work far better than anything else–it’s much easier than a huge government apparatus to decide what we can and can’t hear.

    Of course, kids grow up regularly hearing profanity in the schoolyard, so I guess we need government rangers roaming about everywhere to stop that, according to your logic.

    If there were freedom on the airwaves, it would merely be like movies, cable, magazines, theatre and so on (even the internet). The ideas that kids couldn’t take it is bizarre. In general, people would have a good idea what they’re getting already before they tune in, just as they already do in every other media. Parents could control what their kids watch (you know, like they already do), plus teach them how to handle what they do watch (which is the key in any case, since sooner or later they’ll be exposed to something somewhere). And today, we have parental lockout technology and VCRs and DVDs, which give parents far control than ever before–so much so that they should not be allowed to use kids as an excuse to take away our freedom.

  9. The “public airwaves” fallacy exists (somewhat ironically) because of the big broadcasters themselves. During the ’20s, in an effort to squelch upstart competitors, these established broadcasters lobbied the government to establish “public interest” mandates. Figuring they could more ably cater to this vague “public interest,” getting such legislation passed would help them keep out these presumably less resourceful upstarts.

    The feds went along with the notion, creating the “public interest” concept, agreeing to regulate the bandwidth, and making it more difficult for newcomers to obtain a license. And hence was born this notion of “the public airwaves” … along with the FCC (originally the FRC).

  10. The real issue seems to be getting bypassed here. Everyone has the ability to protect themselves from the evils they perceive in culture as long as they’re willing to pay the cost.

    If hippies can go live on communes to prevent from defiling themselves with capitalist pigdog germs, why can’t parents obsessed with their children’s purity do the same?

    It has nothing to do with health, well-being or any quantifiable measure of social good. It’s a personal preference, your psychological pseudoscientific studies not withstanding.

  11. I’m appalled at peoples lack of concern for other peoples children.

    I KNOW your mother taught you better than that…

    Now a kid can’t even read Hit&Run without being verbally assaulted…

  12. their is nothing you can do about it ! the door is open too wide ! so go f*ck yourself !:)

  13. Thats freedom of speech. And if i could i’d tell you to your face. Its your job as a parent to teach your children right from wrong. And even that won’t hold them back from expressing themselves.

  14. I am for whatever it takes NOT to see hemmoroids
    live, raw and bleeding in my face on my TV screen.

    “You think your wife and kids are a pain in the ass!”
    the man tells his neighbor at the pool side,
    “Then look at this and think again” he adds,
    as he pulls down his trunks, moons the camera,
    and spreads his cheeks to show his ‘roids.’

    Argue over where the line is, not whether there is one.
    When the primary point of advertising is getting attention,
    good taste has proven to take second fiddle to shock.

  15. “Joe, changing the channel does work far better than anything else–it’s much easier than a huge government apparatus to decide what we can and can’t hear.”

    Actually, by the time we get to corporations large enough to provide broadcast television, government regulation is very effective (much more effective than regulation of individuals or small groups).

    “If there were freedom on the airwaves, it would merely be like movies, cable, magazines, theatre and so on (even the internet).” You do know the difference between broadcasting and narrowcasting, right?

    “The ideas that kids couldn’t take it is bizarre.” Oh, I’m sure they could take it. They’d probably have a ball.

    “Of course, kids grow up regularly hearing profanity in the schoolyard, so I guess we need government rangers roaming about everywhere to stop that, according to your logic.” You mean like, say, TEACHERS???

    Why don’t you answer my question about whether I should be able to hang cutouts from Huslter from the monkey bars?

  16. Joe needs a hug.

  17. “Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?”

    “I’m goin’ downtown to shoot my old lady. Caught her messin’ ’round with a libertarian.”

  18. Joe,

    If you want to hang Hustler from the monkey bars, you shouldn’t even be allowed in the playground. Being a pervert (exposing yourself or adult material to children) is a far cry from publishing adult material by radio waves. Unless you’re part of the tinfoil hat brigade, you need to have a receiver to get radio or TV, so it’s hard to make the case that it’s ever analogous to being forced to watch or hear offensive material.

  19. “Being a pervert (exposing yourself or adult material to children) is a far cry from publishing adult material by radio waves. Unless you’re part of the tinfoil hat brigade, you need to have a receiver to get radio or TV, so it’s hard to make the case that it’s ever analogous to being forced to watch or hear offensive material.”

    I think you far underestimate the availability and ubiquity of broadcast media. Network TV and most radio have a presence more like the items visible in a heavily travelled public space.

  20. I would like to direct this to the distinguished members of the panel:

    You lousy corksuckers. You have violated my farging rights. Dis somanumbatching country was founded so that the liberties of common patriotic citizens like me could not be taken away by a bunch of farging iceholes… like yourselves.

  21. Joe,

    Since I work in TV, I’m glad for that ubiquity, but it doesn’t get you around the fact that there has to be a receiver to get the signals. In your example, you’d have to ban Hustler, because so many shmucks (receivers) went around leaving them in plain sight (or hanging them from monkey bars) that it was damaging “the children.” TV and Radio are the same. While I wouldn’t mind laws against ponytailed perverts showing video porn to toddlers at public parks (and I’m pretty sure we have them), I would object to the bans on the press implied in regulating transmissions to people who have purchased a device to receive them.

  22. I have to say I’m with Joe on this one. Yes, the govt has no business owning the airwaves, and in an ideal world it would be private, but that’s not the case – we have to deal with reality here. And the reality is, the govt effectively owns the airwaves, and can establish rules about how they are used. I DO think we should do everything we can to change that.

    But in the meantime, no one is entitled to hosting a radio show, and Stern knew the FCC rules when he started his show. I’ve got zero sympathy for him.

  23. One of the main reasons offered for the compelling public need to license the broadcast spectrum was its scarcity. The broadcast band — and the RF spectrum in general — was said to be a “scarce commons,” that required government oversight to prevent harmful interference between stations, and the pursuit of the public interest by stations (since not all comers could be accommodated). Unlike, say, the situation with printed newspapers and magazines where, theoretically, anyone who owned or had access to a press could publish, and new presses could be manufactured as desired.

    What we find today, however, is that there are more outlets in the allegedly “limited” broadcast spectrum than daily and weekly newspapers in the “unlimited” print realm. So, even if the spectrum has a theoretical capacity limit, it is still large enough to promote more opportunities for choice and diverse coverage than the traditional print medium. Since the latter gets along fine without licensing, and there seems to be plenty of room for the former, why have licensing, and the attendant control of broadcasting exercised by the FCC?

  24. “…And here we are on the big-boss-sound of RadioReason, sending out a dedication to Uncle Charlie at the FCC from all the Pirates out on the West Side (and you know who you are!)! An oldie but definitely a goldie, a first-class classic from our stax of wax: the late, great Harry Nilsson, ‘You’re Breakin’ My Heart.’

    “And now, on with the countdown.”

  25. From now on could f**k please be spelled fcck?

    Noah Webster is channelling us.

  26. Jimbo,

    Magazines are not broadcast, and there is a safety built into the process that screens out kids – the process of getting the porn through the store clerk, and the fact that the clerk won’t sell kids the magazine (to crank the rack another turn on this poor wailing metaphor).

    Since TV and radio are broadcast, there is no way to build in such a safety. It’s the same thing as banning cigarette vending machines in lobbies.

    I think banning Howard Stern is ridiculous on the merits, and that FCC is just playing politics because he disses the administration. But the libertarian take on this is just not credible.

  27. I happened upon some statistics about television stations vs. newspapers. Did you know that there were almost as many television stations as daily newspapers in the US? That there are hundreds MORE licensed broadcast stations (TV and radio) than daily and weekly newspapers in the US? That it is possible to drop in even more stations if the FCC’s extremely rigorous standards are relaxed just a bit?

    Even the small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum devoted to commercial and educational broadcasting appears to accommodate more outlets than the “free press” that has First Amendment protection. As a practical matter, real newspapers appear to be the “scarce commodity,” not broadcast stations. Yet broadcasting has no real First Amendment protection. This is as wrong as wrong gets, in my opinion, and must change as quickly as we can manage it.

    Remember, the phrase is, “Congress shall make no law…” If our federal officeholders cannot read and understand that plain English phrase, then we need to remind them, at least via the ballot box.

  28. Broadcasting has no First Amendment protection because we all fell for the “government licensing” scam. They’d do it to the press and the Internet too if they can figure out how to hoodwink enough idio-, I mean citizens, into thinking it’s a good idea for protecting their rights.

  29. Most Americans think they collectively own the airwaves, and they have come to accept the official government line that “some” censorship is necessary to protect them from themselves. They simply cannot make the intellectual leap from the First Amendment (as it applies to freedom of the press) to freedom of speech via the airwaves. They never will. Best to continue a guerilla approach until The American Philosophical Renaissance finally arrives. It’s right around the corner.
    Isn’t it?

  30. It’s right around the corner.
    Isn’t it?

    No, its definitely in the crapper being flushed to hell.

  31. Joe, I’m not gonna repeat myself, so please read my post against since you didn’t directly respond to my points, but talked around them. (For instance, you state teachers can stop kids from hearing swearing, which is absurd, and safety can’t be built in to TVs, even though lockout technology is already available.)

    But I will talk about a few new points brought up. Magazines and newspapers (and the internet) are regularly brought into the house. They’re just as available as TV and radio, so using your logic, Reason should be regulated by the government because it allows profanity. The stuff that comes into most TV sets comes in on a cable, and kids can just as easily watch unregulated cable (not to mention videos) as regulated TV. The horror.

    Eric, you say Stern knew the rules when he started. No, he didn’t. No one does, because there are no official rules. The FCC investigates after the fact. Stern is very careful to avoid the Seven Dirty Words, but he can’t know what will be declared indecent. And the FCC can’t even clearly say beforehand what it is, since context matters and declaring too much out of bounds could put them afoul of the First Amendment, which, believe it or not, they still must follow.

  32. Mr. Maroni,

    we are deporting you to sweden…

    (even though you claim not to be from there)

    D.A. Kelly

  33. Joe says that the libertarian take on this issue is not credible because there is “safety built-in to the process” of publishing and vending printed material.

    Joe, please debate on the basis of the real world and not some hypothetical ideal world where the process you’re talking about actually exists and works. The fact of the matter is that smut and porn, not to mention gutter talk, are routinely available to kids these days. I remember how easy it was for me to sneak peaks at Playboy and Hustler in the suburban kwik-e-marts of the 1960s and 70s; that was during the era when people like Bruce were getting busted and Carlin was going on about the 7 dirty words.

    If you think kids are going to grow up free of this kind of stuff just because the government says so, you are not only in the grip of a utopian fantasy, you are playing right into the hands of those who will pervert the censorship powers you grant government for the purpose of protecting kids, in order to serve other, less desirable political purposes.

    What kids need is considerate, wise mentoring from adults, who can help them put porn and smut into context. The intellectual and emotional tools that caring adults can give kids, can help the kids deal successfully with a wide variety of life’s problems. Conversely, the powers given to government to enable mass-censorship can be abused to cause or exacerbate a number of important societal problems, without solving the problem they were originally delegated to government to address in the first place. Clearly, not all kids will ever get the parenting or mentoring they need. But many kids will also be “left behind” by a government censorship program. I’ll choose the route that leads to at least a few more empowered kids and a lot of kids who won’t be helped, rather than to a lot of kids who won’t be helped and a lot of censorship of adults, too. That’s reality.

  34. James, “The fact of the matter is that smut and porn, not to mention gutter talk, are routinely available to kids these days.”

    It’s important to provide clear delineation of what is, and is not, acceptable behavior for children to follow, even though they will have opportunities to break the rules. Sneaking peaks at the house down the block is different from having the magazines laid out on the coffee table. And the material broadcast, especially TV programming, is much more like reading materials laid out on a table, in its easy accessibility, and the implied approval.

    Sorry you didn’t like my respone, Frank, but actual human beings, as opposed to the people in your head that you always beat when you argue with them, bring more to the conversation than the points you’d like them to make.

    I did not state that teacthers can stop kids from hearing swearing, but that they can provide a presence to reduce, and clearly demonstrate the inappropriateness, of such behavior.

    The “safety” I was talking about for TVs is not a technological fix, but a regulatory one, sort of like the laws against selling porn to minors.

    “Magazines and newspapers (and the internet) are regularly brought into the house.” Yes, but the system by which the content of printed materials is delivered is much more selective than getting cable or regular TV. If you bring home a copy of Reason, you know what’s going to be in there. What’s more, buying a copy of Reason doesn’t also mean that a dozen porn mags are going to show up in your mailbox. Compare this to having a TV or radio, in which doing what you need to do to hear the best of the 80s station (or watch Big Bird) also enables every other broadcaster to put their content in your house.

    DVDs and VHS is much more like a magazine – you only get the content you choose. The issue here is broadcast media.

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