Committed to the First Amendment

Let's Study War Some More

NBC often promotes drama Law & Order
as "stories ripped from the headlines," then puts a disclaimer at the top of the show emphasizing that all the characters are fictional and shouldn't be treated as, well, ripped from the headlines. The episode two weeks ago was one of those. It was about a macho embedded TV correspondent who gives away troop locations during the war in Iraq and is thrown out of the country and given a talking to by the Pentagon. (He does not have a big mustache, so he is clearly not
Geraldo Rivera.) While the story did make liberal use of its dramatic license, it was close enough to fact that it provided an opportunity for the Dick Wolf-produced show to express various views on the war. It reminded us of some of the Archie vs. Meathead discussions that made All in the Family
compelling as well as funny.

While some of the Law & Order
dialog sounded more like speechifying than conversation, it still struck us as a laudable effort to portray the serious division in the country. No punches were pulled, with the antiwar characters talking about a trumped-up conflict and a lying President and the other side, including actor-turned-Republican-Senator-turned actor Fred Thompson defending the war and a continued U.S. presence.

By our reckoning, the antiwar side got in the best licks. That is not the point, although it suggests NBC is not afraid to ruffle administration feathers with some tough talk that is simply expressing the thoughts of a bunch of people. Rather, the point is that strong opinions on both sides got aired in network prime time entertainment and thus to an audience far larger than a Sunday-morning public-affairs show.

Infinity Hits the Brakes

Infinity did the right thing last week by refusing to pay the FCC's fine for WNEW(FM)'s Opie & Anthony
"sex in St. Patrick's" broadcast. It did so in the face of an FCC warning that its licenses could be in jeopardy for future violations. It did so even though the amount could have been paid without putting much of a dent in the bottom line. It did so in the face of pressure on broadcasters to do what Washington tells them to do.

If our applause is intermittent, it is because we must alternately hold our nose with the other hand. We were shocked by the Opie & Anthony
broadcast, as were many others. We also winced at Infinity's suggestion last week that the "ruby red sack" euphemism could as easily be a reference to Santa's bag.

The quality of its defense notwithstanding, Infinity needed to take a stand. The FCC's extension of indecency into innuendo and euphemism turns the already muddy standard into an impenetrable one. The extension of the fine over a host of stations based on a broadcast from only one guts the community-standards test.

We encourage Infinity to hold the line. We'll continue to hold our nose and stand with them.