In an interview with Today co-host Meredith Vieira, Fonda used the slang word for female genitalia in referring to the title of the monologue she was asked to perform. The utterance was unbleeped.
Vieira apologized for the slip-up after the commercial break ended, saying that Fonda “inadvertently said a word from the play that you don’t say on television. It was a slip and, obviously, she apologizes and so do we. We would do nothing to offend the audience.”
A Today spokesperson says Vieira's on-air apology spoke for the show and offered no further comment.
The incident comes only weeks after Diane Keaton used the F-word on Good Morning America.
Because the reference came during an interview about The Vagina Monologues, the network could run the risk of Federal Communications Commission censure. It remains unlikely for now, though, given the unsettled nature of the FCC's profanity-enforcement regime after a circuit-court smackdown of its profanity finding against Fox.
The FCC essentially conceded that its hands are tied during the legal process, but that might not be the case once the issue is resolved and depending on how it is resolved.
While the FCC treats news programming differently, such programming is not immune from content regulation, particularly when the FCC concludes that the violation was foreseeable. For instance, it fined KRON-TV San Francisco $27,500 in 2004, then the maximum penalty, for a morning-news segment on the Puppetry of the Penis troupe when one of the puppets was inadvertently exposed.
"The station failed to take adequate precautions to ensure that no actionably indecent material was broadcast despite its awareness that the interview involved performers who appear nude in order to manipulate and stretch their genitalia," the commission said in the KRON case. "Under these circumstances, the airing of indecent material during the interview was clearly foreseeable.”
The Parents Television Council, whose complaints over language and nudity helped drive the FCC's crackdown, was not amused.
“If an NBC employee used the ‘C-word’ to another employee, that employee would be suspended or even fired," said PTC president and former NBC employee Tim Winter. "While NBC’s apology is helpful, it is not enough -- millions of families were indeed offended."