In his culture column this week, Brent Bozell takes apart a Wall Street Journal op-ed by NBC chieftain Robert Wright, entitled "Federal Censorship Commission," warning that the threat of fines from the FCC has created a “climate of self-censorship,” an unmistakable “chill in the airwaves,” in which “the viewing public is the biggest loser.” In reality, the FCC moves extremely slowly (it's still puzzling over scenes on "NYPD Blue"), and the networks see them as a nuisance for their lawyers to bore to death with motions. Bozell writes of Wright:
He lauds his own talent at prediction, and how he warned in the same newspaper in 2004 that the titans of “creative integrity” in Hollywood would look less obscene than those who would urge the government to punish the broadcasting of obscenity. (How Orwellian: freedom is slavery, and opposing obscenity is obscene.)
Watch a week of Wright’s NBC and decide if you’ve just watched a schedule full of chilly self-censorship. It’s more likely you’ll set a lot of violence, a lot of sexual themes and scenes, and coarse dialogue, including language that would be edited out of this newspaper, as obscene, if I were to repeat it. You won’t be running for your rhetorical parkas from the chilling effect. The only recent chill discovered on NBC was that company’s Saturday-morning censors slicing any mention of God out of the “Veggie Tales” cartoons for little children.
Wright fancies himself as an enthusiast for Technology as our solution to every problem in television. He suggests that the V-chip blocking technology is a “21st-century solution,” unlike those fines of a “bygone era.” But Wright doesn’t say that his own NBC went for years refusing to provide the “content descriptors” that would enable V-chips in TV sets to work.
Instead, he makes a complete, head-over-heels fool of himself, boasting that broadcasters are “the most responsible, community-focused providers of programming in the business.” This is about as plausible as claiming Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl flash was a public service announcement on the perils of designer clothing.
Wright further argues that the rise of media technology, and the potential absorption of minors in the staggering media choices of 100 cable channels, TiVo recorders, video-on-demand services, and DVDs, why should broadcast networks be saddled with any expectations of community standards, like a “family hour”? Children watch more cable, he says, and “spend time on the Internet with unlimited access to material of every description.” This is really the sixty-something CEO arguing with all the sophistication of a spoiled ten-year-old child: “Why do I have to do the chores? No other kid on the block is doing chores!”