Editorial: Let's Not Go There

It’s been nine years since the infamous “Tempest in
a D Cup,” when CBS’ Super Bowl halftime reveal got
the net into hot water with the FCC, Congress and the Parents Television Council—though not necessarily in that order. Justin
Timberlake was performing at a Super Bowl-related entertainment event the
night before this year’s game, but he was smart enough to be clutching a guitar
rather than Janet Jackson’s…well, not a guitar.

Perhaps that evocation of CBS Super Bowls past was an ill omen because, sure
enough, the network found itself the object of the PTC’s ire once more, and much
social media buzz, when it captured some fleeting profanities from Baltimore
Ravens players celebrating their razor-thin margin of victory in the big game.

Even the PTC said it could understand why the players used colorful adjectives,
but it still said CBS should have edited them out.

We aren’t looking for Congress to repeat its crusade against broadcast programming,
or for the FCC to start cracking down. That is so last decade, and thankfully so.

Congress is too busy playing kick the can along the fiscal cliff—sometimes
we wish they would play blind man’s bluff instead. And while broadcasters have
complained about the FCC’s broadband-centric worldview, in this case it works
to their advantage, since playing national nanny is way down the list of the FCC
under chairman Julius Genachowski.

Still, the PTC was in Groundhog Day mode, telling B&C it was preparing an
online push to get its members to file formal FCC indecency complaints against
CBS, just as the group did back in 2004. Remember, it was the volume of those
PTC complaints—hundreds of thousands—that helped prompt the FCC to fine
CBS over the Jackson reveal.

But times have changed. While a court has said the FCC’s fleeting indecency
policy is not unconstitutional, Genachowski said last fall that the FCC was only pursuing
egregious indecency violations. What that translates to is an effort to return
the FCC to its more restrained, pre-Jackson indecency enforcement status. It wasn’t
exactly hands-off then—just ask Howard Stern—but definitely less aggressive.

The PTC is free to complain. That is their right. The FCC is free to apply its
“egregious” standard and conclude that the fabric of the nation will not be rent
by a couple of swear words from football players excited to have won the Super
Bowl. Neither Jane Fonda nor NBC was pilloried a few years back for using the
c-word on morning TV. And any regular NFL-watcher will have heard more than
one colorful comment from the sidelines on a referee’s call.

CBS doesn’t delay live sports. It does delay the halftime show—where there was
plenty of bumping and grinding and touching by Beyoncé, by the way—and the
pre- and postgame shows. But not the game or the immediate moments afterwards,
as it captured the handshake of the two coaches—who are brothers—or the reaction
of the retiring Ray Lewis, and in this case the unfortunate, but understandable, word
choice of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, doing his best Bono impression.

We applaud the FCC for ratcheting back from the brink of censorship, whatever
the reason. That is why we are confident there will be no similar overreaction
this time around.