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Committed to the First Amendment 2/03/2002 07:00:00 PM Eastern

No good deed...

The Bush administration has committed the cardinal sin of stepping on someone else's turf while trying to make a government process more efficient.

The heads of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission had gotten together and decided to divide up merger-review responsibilities, with Justice handling media, telecommunications, software and games and the FTC handling health care, energy and electricity. Historically, the two had to decide who would look at what on an ad hoc basis, so the move would have created a clearer division of labor and, one could only hope, a more streamlined process. That doesn't mean greasing the wheels for shady deals, either. The same antitrust provisions remain in place, and the Justice Department remains sworn to uphold them. Enter some congressfolk, led by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Fritz Hollings, with ruffled feathers over not having been consulted. They were followed closely by the consumer watchdogs, who tend to bark reflexively at friend and foe alike just to make sure they don't miss an opportunity to be heard. The result is that the move has been put on hold.

We encourage the administration to consult with anyone who now wishes to be consulted, then go ahead and divide up the merger-review responsibilities as initially planned. We've argued for some time that media mergers were better left to Justice than to some cobbled combination of DOJ, the FTC and the FCC, which always seemed two cooks too many. It still does.

You say you want 'your revolution'

Performance artist Sarah Jones is suing the FCC over its May ruling that her song was indecent. Good for her. It wasn't anything like indecent, but it was apparently too hip for the room in which the enforcement bureau huddled to render its verdict. But Jones had more than principle to fight for. While the FCC takes its sweet time reconsidering a fine that has been in effect since last May, she continues to suffer from a lack of airplay and the stigma of an indecency ruling, although, from this FCC, we would take it as a badge of honor.

Jones says that stations have avoided playing her song, "Your Revolution," for fear of suffering the same fate as noncommercial KBOO(FM) Portland, Ore., which was fined for having the temerity to air what is essentially a poetic condemnation of sexual exploitation during a public-affairs show. It could be the poster child for commentary in context.

We wish Jones had sued for millions. She didn't, asking only for her reputation back. She will even drop the suit if the FCC comes to its senses. Frankly, that would be letting the agency off too easy. It might be better if the FCC stuck to its guns, loaded with blanks as they are, and the court came down hard on it. Somebody has to stop the madness.

March