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See You in Court

Committed to the First Amendment 9/26/2004 08:00:00 PM Eastern

The FCC issued its record fine against CBS over Janet Jackson last Wednesday. Good timing. A poll released the next morning showed that only 17% of the parents in America are "very concerned" about the incident.

Just imagine how that percentage would drop if they included the kids in that poll, kids who are now scratching their heads at the grownups when they aren't laughing at them.

With a little special-effects magic, the FCC commissioners fulminating about the dangers of nudity and railing against the wicked dancing in that Super Bowl show could be superimposed, Zelig-like, into old newsreels of local Southern politicians railing against Elvis Presley and those undulating hips.

Michael Powell is the most disappointing of all. He has gone from First Amendment standard-bearer to poster-chairman for indecency regulation gone nuts. "As countless families gathered around the television to watch one of our nation's most celebrated events, he said, "they were rudely greeted with a halftime-show stunt more fitting of a burlesque show." Perhaps, but the real burlesque (defined as a ridiculous version of something meant to be serious) is the FCC's own ruling.

It took the FCC so long to issue its notice of apparent liability that it apparently didn't notice that the vast majority of the parents and children in the real world with school and work and war to worry about weren't impatiently waiting for the commission to make itself look foolish.

Had the FCC made this much of the Deminski & Doyle indecency violations in Detroit (you'll recall the WKRK-FM jocks who aired listeners' vivid descriptions of violent sex acts committed against women), we would have had a lot more trouble defending the broadcasters, although we would still hold our nose and fight for speech we find repugnant because, well, somebody has to. But the Jackson tempest in a D-cup isn't even close to the line.

At press time, we were still waiting for Viacom Co-President Les Moonves to reprise his ringing oratory of several months back, when he called the decision patently ridiculous and pledged to fight it in court. Instead, here is what Viacom said last week on what happens next: "We are reviewing all of our options to respond to the ruling."

We have been told that Viacom has not changed its position since Moonves' July pledge to TV critics to fight any penalty in court. We hope not. Maybe CBS's careful response last week was just an attempt to keep from angering any more Washington types than they already have with the 60 Minutes
document debacle.

Whatever the reason, here's what they should have said, while trying to suppress laughter: "We're not paying. See you in court."

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