Time TV Critic: Surrender on Televised Curse Words, 'President Pottymouth!'

Time TV critic James Poniewozik took great delight in two federal judges in Manhattan suggesting that the FCC can’t fine Fox for airing the F-word because some clever media person captured President Bush muttering the S-word to Tony Blair. As Brent Bozell argued, there’s a difference between profanities uttered by airhead celebrities on national TV and profanities overheard and put on the air by media people who want to embarrass Bush with his base. But Time magazine's F-bomb advocate thinks it’s time the man they call "President Pottymouth" surrendered on the decency issue:

Of course, the President and his party may try to exploit the inevitable outrage from this defeat. But actually there's another way for them to make chicken salad out of something you are now allowed to say in prime time. They could call off the decency crusade. They could say it's a good thing to protest idiotic crudity -- on the radio, on TV or on the Senate floor -- but to legislate against it is another matter. They could embrace the civil libertarians to whom they inadvertently handed a big win. What do you have to lose, Mr. President? In recent years, you have disappointed your anti-illegal-immigration base, your fiscal-conservative base and now your family-values base. But to free-speechers, after this court ruling, you are the f___ing man.

Of course, the dashes are Time’s – Poniewozik can shake his pom-poms for saying "f___ing" on TV, but someone still has some manners in the editor’s office. Their headline was "Curser In Chief. A court strikes down FCC fines, citing Administration vulgarities. Thank you, President Pottymouth!"Poniewozik further exploited this overheard S-word to suggest President Bush is merely reaping what he sowed for exploiting "the nebulous concept of morality" to swindle votes out of his conservative supporters:

The fact that Bush sometimes curses may seem irrelevant, but the "community standard" is one of the most important factors in legally determining indecency. What's good for Dubya, the court ruled, is good for the debutante. And while the ruling immediately applied to "fleeting" profanities, it could have broad implications for the FCC's ability to limit naughty talk on broadcast TV and radio in general.The ironies of this situation are richer and more fertile than the former contents of Richie's purse. Bush ran in 2000 partly on the promise that he would restore dignity to the White House, appealing to social conservatives appalled over the Monica Lewinsky scandal and, broadly, the sexualization of American culture.To a significant chunk of the Bush vote, the favors Bill Clinton received in the Oval Office were merely a symptom. The disease was the "coarsening of the culture"--the fact that, with the release of the Starr report, fellatio and the creative use of tobacco products were now the subject of the nightly news. And they were right--Lewinskygate did affect the media's content standards--even if, to observers like me, frank, unembarrassed sex talk in public was a good thing. Leaders' examples matter, sniffed candidate Bush. On June 4, the appeals court concurred.This reasoning may seem unfair to Bush and Cheney. They were grown men using grown men's language, as leaders have for generations. But the nebulous concept of morality is, after all, part of the social-issues glue Karl Rove has counted on to hold together the conservative base, in spite of policy foul-ups and exploding deficits. The Bush-era FCC dutifully indulged that base's outrage. Now--well, let it never be said the President has no family-values legacy.Maybe this situaton will finally point out what a swindle it is to argue that electing one man can somehow change the moral character of a nation. Pop culture is king in America, and it laughs at the feeble efforts of mere politicians to change it. This Administration can hold as many prayer breakfasts and cover as much bare-breasted statuary as it wants, it has still presided over the society that produced Joe Millionaire, the Saw movies and 50 Cent.

The magazine underlined that last point by underlining that point in a pull quote: "It's a swindle to argue that electing one man can somehow change the moral character of a nation."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis