Bozell: Who Feels First Amendment Goosebumps When Cher Swears On TV?

In his latest culture column, Brent Bozell decried the Second Circuit's ruling in favor of the networks that celebrity-dropped F-bombs on Fox awards shows (if you can still call Cher and Nicole Richie celebrities) should not be fined for indecency:

The federal judges who ruled against the FCC suggested the agency’s rulings were “arbitrary and capricious.” But is there anything more arbitrary and capricious than an egotistical celebrity dropping the F-bomb on national TV? Or the network refusing to administer a tiny delay? Pardon me if I can’t imagine Thomas Jefferson & Co. pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for the valiant cause of transmitting the potty mouths of washed-up pop singers and spoiled-rotten mall princesses into millions of American households. Why the hurrahs? It’s a bit like cheering dog owners who never clean up their pet’s droppings on other people’s lawns. Maybe now that Paris is out of prison, she’ll have learned new words she can teach little children.In the 2-1 ruling, dissenting judge Pierre Leval, a Clinton appointee, found that the majority failed to consider that the FCC made every effort not to be “arbitrary and capricious.” It openly admitted a change in policy – that a single use of the F-word can itself be an indecency violation, because the word always carries an offensive sexual connotation. It laid out its rationale in detail. It explained how there would be exceptions granted by the context of the speech – such as in news broadcasts. Courts are not supposed to overrule agencies just because it would make a different ideological decision.But the judges in the majority delighted the New York Times by going political, referring favorably to NBC’s legal argument that the F-bomb does not normally have a sexual meaning, and the S-bomb doesn’t have an excretory meaning, since President Bush and Vice President Cheney have “used variants of these expletives” in public. “If Bush Can Blurt Curse, So Can Network TV,” the Times wrote in its Page One headline. (That presidential attack line is mildly surprising since one of the pro-cursing judges, Peter W. Hall, is an appointee of one George W. Bush.) This is just silly political point-scoring, and not a reasonable comparison to broadcast indecency. Bush and Cheney were not using these words on live prime-time television, dropping obscenities in election-year debates or State of the Union speeches in front of millions of children. These outbursts were in private settings and publicized by political opponents who actually revere the dirty words as vaunted free speech, but wanted to embarrass the conservative leaders with their traditional-values base. The court’s ruling against the FCC also claimed that part of the “arbitrary and capricious” nature of that regulation is the emergence of new technologies, and that the rise of cable TV and the Internet make the old rules against broadcast indecency increasingly discriminatory against the broadcast networks, since it can be argued that broadcast TV is not “uniquely pervasive” and “uniquely accessible to children.” The answer, the judges suggested, came in gloriously empowering “blocking technologies” like the V-chip.In its statement after the court decision, as it laughably described celebrity curse words as “artistic expression,” Fox also hailed that viewers can serve themselves “through the many parental control technologies available, what is appropriate viewing for their home.”This is rubbish, a deliberate falsehood. Both the judges and the networks know that the V-chip would have in no way stopped an unexpected celebrity curse word from hitting a child’s ears. The Fox awards shows were not coded in a way that would have allowed V-chip technology to block the show for coarse language. How’s that for duplicity?

It's a little amazing how long the FCC's rulings take. Cher and Nicole Richie said their vulgar fractions of "luck with a capital F" on the Billboard Music Awards -- one in 2002, the other in 2003. Last week, Brent looked at the networks' routine failure to provide the content descriptors that trigger that V-chip in the latest Parents Television Council study. The season finale of "NCIS" on CBS provided a raw example of what the V-chip will never stop. A drug mule dies from an overdose when powdery drugs burst in his stomach, then:

His young addicted sister and an Irish pimp/drug dealer are there trying to retrieve the drugs. One of the naval detectives and his girlfriend, a doctor, are taken hostage at gunpoint in the morgue and ordered to cut the corpse open. The scene moves from the violent and explicit to the completely stomach-churning. The doctor makes an incision and pulls out the dead man’s intestines. She holds them up to the sister and says "Do you want this?" Then she cuts the intestines open to let the powdery drugs spill all over the floor. The pimp attacks, so the doctor stabs him with a scalpel, and he drops his gun. The detective grabs the gun, shoots past the pimp, says "next one’s in your ear," and forces the pimp to surrender. But the scene’s not done. "Oh God," the detective says, as he watches the dead man’s sister snorting the drugs out of her brother's sliced-open intestines, blood and gore all over her face.Incredibly, CBS didn’t tag this episode with a "V" label. So much for Hollywood’s devotion to self-discipline. But the most irresponsible part of all of this is the program’s slot on the schedule: 8 pm Eastern, 7 pm Central time – the first hour of prime time, the family hour.
Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis