CBS Exposes Itself to Trouble

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FCC Chairman Michael Powell has ordered an investigation into the exposure of Janet Jackson’s breast during her performance at the halftime show of the Super Bowl on CBS.

"I am outraged at what I saw during the halftime show of the Super Bowl," he said Monday. "Like millions of Americans, my family and I gathered around the television for a celebration. Instead, that celebration was tainted by a classless, crass and deplorable stunt. Our nation’s children, parents and citizens deserve better. I have instructed the Commission to open an immediate investigation into last night’s broadcast. Our investigation will be thorough and swift."

Even as CBS was apologizing for not taking Justin Timberlake at his word when he sang "I’ll get you naked by the end of this song," jaws were dropping all over Washington. The now-famous Super Bowl halftime peep show in a spectacle watched by families the world over came only a few days after the networks had been hammered on the indecency issue in a House Telecommunications Subcommittee hearing.

"CBS deeply regrets the incident that occurred during the Super Bowl halftime show," the network said. It may be even sorrier once Washington takes on the issue in force, though the Eye had already caught an earful by late yesterday.

Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said he was "appalled with [Sunday] night’s shameless stunt during the Super Bowl. The excuses that I have heard ring hollow, and I have called on the FCC to immediately investigate. Obviously, if this was deliberate, then the folks at CBS and MTV thought they could get away with it."

Upton has introduced a bill along with Congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) to rein in broadcast indecency by upping the fines. "With my bill multiplying FCC fines for indecency tenfold," he said, "networks will do more than just apologize for airing such brazen material, they will be paying big bucks for their offenses."

In the wake of Infinity’s indecency fine for the St. Patrick’s "Sex in the Cathedral" radio stunt, the FCC has said that future violations by the company-Viacom owns Infinity, CBS and MTV, which produced the halftime show-could prompt a license revocation proceeding.

The Parents Television Council’s Brent Bozell was calling for the FCC to levy "a hefty fine on every affiliate that aired the egregious half-time show."

In response to reports that Viacom officials colluded in the stunt, a company spokesman called the allegation "ludicrous." CBS, MTV and the NFL all apologized and maintained their innocence of knowledge of the stunt.

For its part, the NFL said it was "unlikely" that MTV would produce another Super Bowl half-time show. It must have been catching an earful too, since the communications office was forwarding calls on the subject directly into a loop of its apology. That apology described the league as "extremely disappointed" and said the half-time show was "totally inconsistent with assurances our office was given about the content of the show."

Commissioners Michael Copps, a frequent critic of broadcast content, and Kathleen Abernathy, who spearheaded creation of a kids viewing page on the FCC Web site to help parents monitor viewing, also weighed in on the halftime stunt. Copps urged the FCC "to address these complaints promptly" and that the commission has done nothing to slow down "Big Media’s race to the bottom."

It was something of a night of exposure on CBS, both planned and unplanned. A streaker interrupted the beginning of the second half of the game (CBS did not show the stunt per routine policy), and Survivor Richard Hatch going naked, though blurred, on the post Super Bowl launch of an all-star edition of Survivor.