Sen. Ted Stevens from the Mild-Mannered State of Alaska Is Mad as Heck…

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…and he's not going to take it anymore.

Speaking in front of one of the most annoying of all trade groups, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the Republican Stevens suggested that freedom of speech for pay TV and radio was too much to bear:

"Cable is a much greater violator in the indecency area," the Alaska Republican told [NAB], which represents most local television and radio affiliates. "I think we have the same power to deal with cable as over-the-air" broadcasters.

"There has to be some standard of decency," he said….

Stevens told reporters afterward that he would push legislation to apply the standards to cable TV and satellite radio and television. It could become part of a pending bill to boost fines on broadcasters who violate indecency restrictions or of an effort to overhaul U.S. communications laws….

Last year the Senate Commerce Committee narrowly defeated an amendment to a bill boosting fines for indecency that would have extended such limits to cable and satellite services….

Stevens said he disagreed "violently" with assertions by the cable industry that Congress does not have the authority to impose limits on its content.

"If that's the issue they want to take on, we'll take it on and let the Supreme Court decide," he said.

Whole thing here. For the record, Stevens did mutter that, of course, "No one wants censorship."

Nope, broadcasters–and politicians–just want to neuter competitor cable and satellite services by restricting permissible language and images and reducing free expression to the narrow limits allowed on broadcast outlets. That's got nothing to do with censorship (or rigging markets in the favor of politically connected pals). The House of Representatives recently boosted the maximum fines for indecency from $32,500 per incident to $500,000. The Senate is expected to do the same.

In an interview with Reason in our December issue, former FCC honcho Michael Powell implied that attempts to extend content regulation to cable, satellite, and other pay services were misguided, saying:

Do you think a 12-year-old knows what a broadcast channel is? Do you think that they have any idea what the differences between Channel 4 and Channel 204 are? Do you think that the First Amendment ought to change as the dial changes?

I don't. To suggest that we bend the First Amendment for one industry singularly is to do hazard to our most cherished principle.

Unfortunately, it seems like Republicans are more than willing to limit free speech to keep broadcasters happy–and to keep "indecency" away from the very people who are willing to pay for it.

Powell, who became a real indecency zealot himself after the Janet Jackson Super Bowl brouhaha, implied pretty strongly that over time, broadcast would enjoy the more expansive expression rights that cable and satellite media enjoy. If Stevens–and other pols–are serious, the reverse may well be the case. Here's wondering when they'll start reading newspapers and the Web and start pushing to limit all that…

Powell Q&A here.

NEXT: In God's Name

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  1. He’s a Republican. What else do you expect?

  2. Stevens said he disagreed “violently” with assertions by the cable industry that Congress does not have the authority to impose limits on its content.

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

    I am not confident that the Supreme Court will overturn censorship. Who could have foreseen the destruction caused by one exposed breast?

  3. Twba,

    This is a Republican administration; they go spastic over tits and ass.

  4. I can’t believe a guy would get re-elected by neutering cable TV to the same dull-and-trite-as-shite standards as broadcast TV, which is worth watching only for Law & Order IMHO. I mean, what the f*ck else is there to do in Nome during the nine-month winter except watch TV? Without the stuff on HBO occasionally I’d get as piss drunk as an Alaskan crabber to keep from getting terminally depressed.

  5. Does Stevens support a National ID card?

  6. “Here’s wondering when they’ll start reading newspapers and the Web and start pushing to limit all that…”

    bushies dont read, they skim. so your safe unless you put that tit on the front page.

  7. I mean, what the f*ck else is there to do in Nome during the nine-month winter except watch TV?

    You can work on scrimshaw and slowly go insane. I worked in Alaska for three years and spent winters on vacation in Arizona. When I returned in the spring, I always heard tales of people going nuts over the previous winter.

    Gary, I think quite a few Democrats also go spastic over tits and ass. It will take bipartisan compromise to really shitcan the Constitution.

  8. Twba,

    True. But they always seem to be hypocrites about the issue.

    ______________________________________________

    cdunlea,

    I mean, what the f*ck else is there to do in Nome during the nine-month winter except watch TV?

    Fuck and eat seal blubber? 🙂

  9. There are already content rules on children’s programming on cable. I’d sure like to see those knocked down on First Amendment grounds.

    Kevin

  10. pretty soon they’ll be issuing citations for swearing out loud.

  11. Gary, they don’t eat the seal blubber too often. They usually just shoot the seals and let them float away. The seals are killed to prevent them eating salmon caught in nets. The bites cause the salmon to lose all value on the market. The shithead seals are prone to taking a single bite out of each fish trapped in a gill net.

  12. About time this jackass did a Hale Boggs & disappeared in the tundra.

  13. Remember: the sole purpose of human civilization and the media are to set a good example for children.

  14. About time this jackass did a Hale Boggs & disappeared in the tundra.

    Or maybe he needs skiing lessons from Sonny Bono…

  15. Twba,

    Ahh, maybe I was thinking of Inuits. 🙂

  16. “For the children!”

    Why do so many people forget that children grow up into adults? This is just another form of nanny-statism.

  17. Yes, we must seek out and destroy any and every last bastion of true liberty that still exists in this country. “Uhh, say what!? You mean them folks on the cabuhl teevee still have their first amendment rights somewhat intact!? Damnit, just when you think you’ve got that whole ‘bill of rights’ phase completely out of our system, this kinda shit rears its ugly head. Well, we’ll just see about that…”

    How sad, that these fucks are fuming over the fact that people haven’t had their first amendment rights stolen. And then, they have the nerve to talk about bringing “freedom” to Iraq. Fuck me, why don’t we first try bringing some “freedom” to the good ol’ U S of A?

  18. Hmmmmm… I wonder if the existance of “Penn & Teller: Bullshit” could be behind this. After all, P&T have bashed creationists, end-of-the-world fundies, drug warriors (all of them, good GOP constituencies), and have had plenty of off-color language and socially redeeming nudity on the show. (I love the redhead they had on the “Sex Sex Sex” episode.)

    If that’s one of th targets, it shouldn’t be too hard to get the Dems on board. Penn and Teller have taken on environmentalits, the animal rights movement, and just about every goof-ball new age crystal gazer next to Shirely MacLaine. (OK, not all new agers are Dems. Look at the Reagans.)

  19. “Why do so many people forget that children grow up into adults? This is just another form of nanny-statism.”

    What do you expect when one party acts like a nagging, overprotective, mother (i.e. Democrats), and the other acts like an authoritarian, abusive, Father (i.e. Republicans)?

  20. “Fuck me, why don’t we first try bringing some “freedom” to the good ol’ U S of A?”

    What? Don’t you know that he armed forces are for protecting the interests of well-connected foreign dignitaries and large corporations?

    What did you think the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines were for anyway? Defending OUR country?

    How quaint.

  21. It’s almost as if things aren’t bad enough. Why doesn’t every freedom fighter just back down. It doesn’t seem like any overall progress has been made in the last 50 yrs with regards to the advancement of freedom. Let this country become a true fascist state, and then the masses will HOPEFULLY realize the importance of defending everyone’s freedom, not just their own.

    Most people are too comfortable in their own lives to recognize freedoms are regularly being taken away. Here we are today, about to fine broadcasters of “indecent” material $500,000 per incident. I’m glad! Keep the extreme legislation coming. I’m tired of reading about the small stuff daily that slowly chips away at my hopes of making a difference.

  22. Hmmmmm… I wonder if the existance of “Penn & Teller: Bullshit” could be behind this.

    The most likely impetus for this new wave of censorship is the imminent arrival of Howard Stern on Sirius.

  23. 20-some replies and no “but Kerry would have been worse!”?????

  24. One of the things that particularly annoys me about Stevens is his comment about passing restrictions and letting the Supreme Court work it out. Just like the idiot Istook and his law against having marijuana legalization ads in the metro.

    The Constitution doesn’t say, “Pass a bunch of bad laws and see what the Supreme Court says.” The Constitution reads: “Congress shall pass no law…”

    When you can turn to pretty much any reputable legal scholar and they’ll say “Yep, that’s a violation of the First Amendment,” and you go ahead and pass it anyway, then these senators are violating their oath to protect the Constitution and should be censured.

    … or at least pay for the appeals to the Supreme Court out of their pockets.

  25. “The most likely impetus for this new wave of censorship is the imminent arrival of Howard Stern on Sirius.”

    Indeed, but a fan can dream that his favorite comedy/magic duo are targets of government arm-twisting. It sounds kind of romantic.

  26. You mean the long-forgotten junior Senator from Massachusetts?

  27. “The Constitution doesn’t say, “Pass a bunch of bad laws and see what the Supreme Court says.” The Constitution reads: “Congress shall pass no law…””

    Well, what do you expect from the same party whose president signed McCain-Feingold in hopes that the SCOTUS would repeal the icky stuff? We’ve seen how well that worked.

  28. “When you can turn to pretty much any reputable legal scholar and they’ll say “Yep, that’s a violation of the First Amendment,” and you go ahead and pass it anyway, then these senators are violating their oath to protect the Constitution and should be censured.”

    Again, what do you expect since politicians don’t actually have to face any consequences for violating the law of the land? In theory, they have to face the wrath of the people who put them in office. However, since their constituents voted them in for those exact reasons, it’s more likely they’ll get re-elected for using the Bill Of Rights as a toilet seat cover.

    If there is any justice in America, then any official, elected or appointed to any branch of government (that includes you too Dubbya), who either who sponsors or votes for a piece of legislation found to be unconstitutional by the SCOTUS should face being stripped of office, a prison term of no less than 20 years, and a $1 million fine.

    Yes, I’m serious.

  29. Pete, I have an idea to run by Stevens: let’s execute him and let God decide if he goes up or down. I mean, if he’s so sure of his position…

  30. All of this is actually about Howard Stern’s move to Sirius. And Ted Stevens has to be the crookedest Republican up there based on post-election-riches, right?? The senate has been lucrative for him, so of course he’s against any of us speaking about his riches…
    Not-Daniel

  31. The most likely impetus for this new wave of censorship is the imminent arrival of Howard Stern on Sirius.

    You do know why censors hate Howard Stern so much, right? It’s because he spouts Libertarian beliefs every which way on his show!

    This is the worst thing possible for liberals and conservatives alike (a.k.a., the Status Quos)

    !Viva Revolucion!! (or however you spell it)

  32. Actually, in a way I could support this, if it were used as a club to force cable/satellite providers to change their subscription models into a pure “ala carte” system (i.e. only subscribe to — and pay for — those channels I’m interested in).

    As far as I can see, if the industry won’t let me choose what I get, it’s time to regulate ’em all.

    A position, it seems, that organizations such as the Parents Television Council are also gravitating to:

    We support cable consumer choice as the best way to protect families from content they find offensive or that may be indecent and to protect free speech concerns. But if the cable operators refuse to allow consumer choice, then we believe that any cable network which is included in the basic or expanded basic tiers should be forced to comply with the same decency standards as the broadcast networks. Such a policy would force those networks that don?t adhere to such standards onto a separate subscription tier.

  33. Don’t trust SCOTUS to come to our rescue!

  34. What bugs me about the story is not so much the ranting of Stevens (a major asshole) but the applause – APPLAUSE! – from the mental midgets of the NAB.

  35. It didn’t take long for Stevens to find an ally in the U.S. House:

    Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, supported the idea of indecency guidelines for cable and satellite and said he would consult with Stevens on possible legislation.

    “It’s not fair to subject over-the-air broadcasters to one set of rules and subject cable and satellite to no rules,” Barton told reporters after a separate appearance before the broadcasters group.

    Read more.

  36. But none of this should dissuade us from continuing to believe that the Red States are the true bastions of liberty 😉

  37. But none of this should dissuade us from continuing to believe that the Red States are the true bastions of liberty.

    I don’t think it matters what color your state is once you get to the Senate…

  38. Bring in on, fuckwads.

    You’ll drive the only good video feeds to the internet. (An international medium where it’s already impossible to regulate.)

  39. Miles: “…if it were used as a club to force cable/satellite providers to change their subscription models into a pure “ala carte” system… As far as I can see, if the industry won’t let me choose what I get, it’s time to regulate ’em all.”

    There’s a great idea – someone won’t offer to sell you exactly what you want so let’s get the government to force them to do it. Maybe this was facetious but to think the Parents Television Council really cares one wit for “consumer choice” and free speech is to stretch credulity beyond any reason. That’s just a convenient argument for getting their idea of “decency” forced on everyone else.

    Message to the Parents Television Council: You already have consumer choice – if there is a channel that you would not buy because you find its material offensive you can BLOCK it! Problem solved. Amazing what technology can do these days isn’t it.

  40. Oh great, so first their senator helps to stick it to the rest of us taxpayers by keeping Alaska the biggest sucker on the Federal tit and now he’s going to save us from the societally debasing sight of a bare one on cable… If the “environmentalists” are not going to let us suck any more of their oil in partial return for our largess can we at least sell then back to Russia? I’m sure Comrade Stevens would find Putin a receptive audience for his urges to limit speech.

    As an aside to Akira (and speaking of bare ones on cable), yeah that redhead on “Bullshit!” was something else… who is she? I think I’m in love!

  41. Fortunately for all of us, Stevens and his allies will not be able to regulate satellite broadcasters even if they get a bill passed. The reason? The satellites operate in international space, outside US jurisdiction, and the owners can simply register them in a more permissive country.

    If nasty police states like Iran can’t prevent their citizens from getting and using illegal satellite dishes now, how is the US — where the dishes are legal, even if subscribing to some foreign broadcast services may no longer be allowed — going to beat them?

    My money is on the broadcasters to win this one, no matter what laws Congress enacts on the subject.

  42. Akira: If there is any justice in America, then any official, elected or appointed to any branch of government (that includes you too Dubbya), who either who sponsors or votes for a piece of legislation found to be unconstitutional by the SCOTUS should face being stripped of office, a prison term of no less than 20 years, and a $1 million fine. … Yes, I’m serious.

    You have partial precedent in ancient Athens:

    The job was not risk-free; no one could be made to answer for how they had voted in the Assembly, but politicians could be prosecuted for making an unconstitutional proposal, or for deceiving the people with false promises. (Imagine what our own political system would look like if politicians could be prosecuted for false promises!)

    Also:

    The Jury Courts were also staffed by sortition, picked daily from a pool of 6000 volunteers (a favorite number with the Athenians, apparently). Juries were large, ranging from several hundred to several thousand depending on the seriousness of the charge …

    Many ancient observers considered that the Jury Courts, rather than the Council or Assembly, were the true governing powers in Athens. For one thing, the Jury Courts had the power of judicial review. The opportunity to exercise this power came when a politician was prosecuted for having proposed an unconstitutional law or decree in the Assembly. A politician could be prosecuted whether his proposal had passed or not; but if it had indeed been enacted into law, and the proposer was found guilty, the law was automatically repealed. The juries made frequent use of this power… Thus, a few hundred ordinary citizens could strike down, as unconstitutional, legislation enacted by an Assembly of 6000 people.

    There was no set penalty for person found guilty of proposing an unconstitutional law, but this is how penalties were determined in general (and this is a great idea for tort reform, too):

    The procedure worked as follows: The prosecutor would propose a penalty, and the defendant would then respond with a counter-proposal, obviously of a lighter penalty. The jury would then choose between the two penalties. (Having the jury come up with a penalty of its own would have required discussion and debate impracticable under the circumstances, given the size of the jury.) Prosecutors were prevented from proposing excessively harsh penalties by the fear that this would make the jury more likely to choose the defendant’s milder proposal; defendants were likewise prevented from proposing excessively mild penalties by the fear that this would make the jury more likely to choose the prosecutor’s harsher proposal. This was an ingenious way of ensuring moderation in punishments.

    There was also a procedure for putting an existing law “on trial” and it would be repealed if found guilty of being unconstitutional.

    From a very interesting article (albeit rather long — the above is actually a very short excerpt) by Roderick Long of the Libertarian Nation Foundation. Much fun can be found in reading through their archives.

    Article “The Athenian Constitution” found here:

    http://libertariannation.org/a/f41l1.html#4.0

  43. Fuck me, why don’t we first try bringing some “freedom” to the good ol’ U S of A?

    Considering the Bush administration’s usual technique for bringing freedom to nations, are you sure that’s a good idea?

    Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

  44. One of the most disturbing things about the push for cable/satellite censorship is the assertion, oft-quoted in news reports I’ve seen or read, that “people don’t distinguish between broadcast, cable, and satellite.” The implication is that things which the public cannot or does not distinguish should be treated the same way. Of course, the “treatment” isn’t to leave them alone, as one might assume from reading the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, but to extend censorship in one medium into the “indistinguishable” sibling media.

    The people who are proposing that satellite and especially cable be censored ala broadcast TV should first explain how and who broadcasters are subject to censorship in the first place, despite the 1st Amendment. Then, they should have to prove that cable and satellite are the same as broadcasting in all aspects that legally admit censorship. I don’t think censorship proponents could make EITHER case. Indeed, a broad and honest discussion of the topic might reveal that the justifications for broadcast censorship are too flimsy to hold in the modern day, as well.

    The downside? Suppose that the censorship proponents DO advance arguments that carry the day. Then what happens when people begin to “fail to distinguish” between internet feeds and newspapers or (censored) television/cable/satellite? There will come a time when most people get their “newspapers” online (from traditional newspaper publishers’ websites, no less), and certainly their television-style entertainment and news, too. If it is only the public’s powers of discrimination, which confer 1st Amendment protections against censorship, then we might as well accept that Amendment as cooked.

  45. In graf 2 of my posting above, a crucial typo: I meant to type, “The people who are proposing that satellite and especially cable be censored ala broadcast TV should first explain how and WHY broadcasters are subject to censorship in the first place…” Not “how and who.”

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