6. Some people are mental y unbalanced, and hearing "bad" words or seeing "bad" body parts might motivate them to commit s.e.x crimes.
This is the desperate plea of last resort. "If everyone were normal, the s.e.x stuff on TV and radio might be OK, but some people are disturbed, and we must limit everyone's rights so we don't encourage these disturbed people to do dangerous things."
Public policy generated by the fear of a handful of crazies is never never sensible, and isn't the norm in American life. We don't limit food distribution because of bulimics, we don't limit car distribution because of terrible drivers, and we don't limit lotteries or casinos because of compulsive gamblers. sensible, and isn't the norm in American life. We don't limit food distribution because of bulimics, we don't limit car distribution because of terrible drivers, and we don't limit lotteries or casinos because of compulsive gamblers.
I challenge the sincerity of would-be censors' fear of "the crazies." If they were seriously concerned, they would have eliminated all guns following the 1999 school shootings in Columbine-but they didn't. They would have eliminated college fraternities because of the periodic injuries or deaths during hazing-but they haven't. The "What about the crazies?" argument is just another strategy for lowering the acceptable standard of adult media experience (along with "What about the children?"). It's intellectually indefensible, and we shouldn't give it any weight.
As talk show host d.i.c.k Cavett said about TV causing violence and other social problems, "There's so much comedy on television. Does that cause comedy in the streets?"2 There's one more point about the al eged harm of s.e.xual imagery on radio and television. Western Europe has been running the experiment America refuses to, for decades. Western European radio and television feature words, themes, and pictures (including nudity) that are prohibited to American audiences and broadcasters. According to the predictions of America's moral crusaders, Europe should therefore be a cesspool of s.e.xual perversion. But it's just the opposite.
Table 6.1 shows some convincing facts.3 It's what parents are always telling their eight-year-olds: "I know you're afraid, but that doesn't mean there's something real to be afraid of."
THEY SEE s.e.x EVERYWHERE-AND THEY HATE IT Let's return to the list of s.e.x-related broadcasting that the crusaders are trying to eliminate. You'll recall it's a long, long list.
That's a big problem for them-they see s.e.x everywhere. everywhere. Where you might laugh (or not) at a simple joke on Comedy Central about p.e.n.i.s size, crusaders Where you might laugh (or not) at a simple joke on Comedy Central about p.e.n.i.s size, crusaders 56 56 Table 6.1 Teen Birth and Abortion Rates, by Country Teen Abortion Rates Teen Birth Rates (per (per 1,000 women ages Nation 1,000 women ages 1519) 1519) United States 48.7.
feel a.s.saulted. Where you might ignore a tampon or douche commercial, they feel a.s.saulted. Where you might be turned off (or intrigued) by an Oprah Oprah episode about teen hookers, they feel a.s.saulted. That's a lot of a.s.sault. If you're not obsessed with s.e.x, you might not even put these three experiences together in your mind. You might casual y observe "dumb joke health product social problem (exaggerated or not)." They perceive "s.e.x s.e.x s.e.x." episode about teen hookers, they feel a.s.saulted. That's a lot of a.s.sault. If you're not obsessed with s.e.x, you might not even put these three experiences together in your mind. You might casual y observe "dumb joke health product social problem (exaggerated or not)." They perceive "s.e.x s.e.x s.e.x."
And for them, it never stops; people obsessed with s.e.x they resent never have a nice day.
When people are obsessed by s.e.x-not about doing it, but by the subject- they see it everywhere. everywhere. Like a four-year-old in a candy store or an eight-year-old at a scary movie, they are simply not emotional y equipped to ignore what they see. We should feel sympathy for these people, but they make it difficult, because they deal with their upset in such an aggressive way. You know how some people have a frustrating day at work, come home, and kick their dog? People who are obsessed by s.e.x regularly feel a.s.saulted by yet another on-air example of it (remember, they don't know how to ignore it), and in response they kick Like a four-year-old in a candy store or an eight-year-old at a scary movie, they are simply not emotional y equipped to ignore what they see. We should feel sympathy for these people, but they make it difficult, because they deal with their upset in such an aggressive way. You know how some people have a frustrating day at work, come home, and kick their dog? People who are obsessed by s.e.x regularly feel a.s.saulted by yet another on-air example of it (remember, they don't know how to ignore it), and in response they kick you. you.
And then they claim it's for your own good. Nice touch. Do they say that to their dog while kicking it, too?
What if such people saw s.e.x everywhere, but didn didn' t t fear it? It is, after all, possible to see the erotic fear it? It is, after all, possible to see the erotic potential potential around us-s.e.xual issues in healthcare, the needs of teens to be better prepared for relationships, the beauty of people talking honestly about difficult s.e.xual feelings, the complexity of adultery, the poetry of everyday eros-and rather than feel repulsed and desperate to escape from it, to feel intrigued, compa.s.sionate, bemused, and involved in the human parade, the Divine Comedy. around us-s.e.xual issues in healthcare, the needs of teens to be better prepared for relationships, the beauty of people talking honestly about difficult s.e.xual feelings, the complexity of adultery, the poetry of everyday eros-and rather than feel repulsed and desperate to escape from it, to feel intrigued, compa.s.sionate, bemused, and involved in the human parade, the Divine Comedy.
We could argue that moral crusaders can can' t t evaluate the "community standard" around s.e.xuality, because they don't see evaluate the "community standard" around s.e.xuality, because they don't see any any s.e.x-related issue s.e.x-related issue in context in context (and seeing things in context is part of the legal requirement for determining the community standard). Consider their outrage about the soldiers' language (and seeing things in context is part of the legal requirement for determining the community standard). Consider their outrage about the soldiers' language Battleground: Broadcast "Indecency" 57 Broadcast "Indecency" 57 in Saving Private Ryan, Saving Private Ryan, or the shriveled, bare b.r.e.a.s.t.s of Holocaust prisoners in or the shriveled, bare b.r.e.a.s.t.s of Holocaust prisoners in Schindler Schindler' s List s List-crusaders literally can't see these as non-erotic, because once a theme or word or picture in any way relates to s.e.xuality, it belongs to the single, simplistic category they have-"s.e.xy."
Moral crusaders have also invested magical, demonic powers in certain combinations of syl ables. They have spent mil ions of dol ars pursuing NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt's "s-word expletive," Bono's "F word expletive," and Comedy Central roasts that "bring unspeakable vulgarity" into U.S. households.4 The legislature and courts of our proud democracy have actual y spent thousands of working hours debating whether Bono used "f.u.c.king" as an adjective or a s.e.xual reference5-a legal point that would determine whether adults were al owed to hear it on TV.
Seeing s.e.x everywhere, and hating it, explains censors' desperate grab for power, and their desperate demand for action now. now. But asking these people about a "community standard" regarding s.e.xuality is like asking an anorexic to evaluate a movie for its possible connection to food or eating-which they'd see in every frame. But asking these people about a "community standard" regarding s.e.xuality is like asking an anorexic to evaluate a movie for its possible connection to food or eating-which they'd see in every frame.
When the government or crusaders refer to a "community standard," should it be the standard of people who see s.e.x everywhere, or of healthier people who have a less obsessive perspective? We must acknowledge that for people who see s.e.x everywhere, cleansing the environment so that they see none is virtual y impossible. They wil never be satisfied, as we'l see below in the section on children's programming.
"WHY MUST YOU INCLUDE s.e.x IN EVERYTHING?"
This is a common complaint of those who want less eroticism in the public sphere. But that's the wrong question, a phony question. And once moral crusaders get everyone looking at the wrong question, it doesn't matter what answers people come up with.
The right question is, "Why must you delete delete eroticism from everything?" eroticism from everything?"
s.e.xuality is an enormous part of human life. That's why, whether on cave walls, pottery, papyrus, or the Internet, it's been a central theme of art since the beginning of recorded history.6 The choices faced by the broadcast media (and of all performing, literary, and fine arts) are to portray s.e.xual themes well, portray them poorly, or omit them. Erotophobes want America to move from portraying s.e.xuality poorly to omitting it. We actually need to move in the opposite direction-from portraying it poorly to portraying it well.
Unfortunately, the s.e.xual material on TV and radio is either stupid (e.g., sitcoms, shock jocks) or extreme (e.g., CSI, Nip/Tuck CSI, Nip/Tuck). Broadcast media typically portray s.e.xual themes, situations, and feelings as less interesting, less rich, and less sophisticated than they can be, not to mention less accurately and more stereotyped. That actually is is a problem, but antis.e.x crusaders don't see it. a problem, but antis.e.x crusaders don't see it.
58.We need more everyday, real stuff in between these poles-an idea which, oddly, many observers consider too radical. The intensity of CSI CSI-type s.e.xual references may be in bad taste, but it's inevitable. It's how both Hol ywood and audiences act out their frustration with the lack of realistic s.e.xuality in broadcasts. It's why the second a show announces that it's pushing the edge on language or nudity- NYPD Blue, The Sopranos, The Daily Show NYPD Blue, The Sopranos, The Daily Show-people rush to tune in. Imagine-characters talking or behaving like real people- incredible!
Methodically stripping s.e.xuality from the public arena not only distorts all portrayals of life, the process itself is socially devastating. We saw this in Europe's witch hunts, Victorian England, and again in Afghanistan under the Taliban.
We must stop being defensive about this and say unequivocal y, "Yes, eroticism belongs belongs in broadcast media presentations-because it's part of the lives the media portrays, and the lives of its audience. Coming to terms with s.e.xuality is part of growing up. This involves a process that may not always be comfortable, but it is essential for emotional, spiritual, family, and community health. in broadcast media presentations-because it's part of the lives the media portrays, and the lives of its audience. Coming to terms with s.e.xuality is part of growing up. This involves a process that may not always be comfortable, but it is essential for emotional, spiritual, family, and community health.
The opposite? Think Salem, Ma.s.sachusetts. Think about turn-of-the century American children who were literal y handcuffed to their bedposts each night to prevent them from destroying their health through masturbation.7 Think about the s.e.xual y tormented J. Edgar Hoover, and Joseph McCarthy tormenting the rest of us.
Stories about real life, commercials about real situations, jokes about real misunderstandings-the media doesn't insert insert s.e.x into these, s.e.x s.e.x into these, s.e.x lives lives in these. in these.
Americans need and deserve to see it and hear it, in recognizable, sophisticated, normal-seeming ways.
Morality groups and many elected Congress members want the airwaves sanitized to be "family friendly" or "safe for children." This a.s.sumes that families never observe or discuss s.e.xual themes, and it begs the question of what is is safe for children; morality crusaders apparently mean it to be reducing all programming and advertising to themes and words that won't challenge kids' safe for children; morality crusaders apparently mean it to be reducing all programming and advertising to themes and words that won't challenge kids'
This would give children way more rights than adults-which, by the way, is exactly what these same groups are trying to do regarding the Internet (see chapter 8). But as Mark Twain said, "Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it."
It is dangerous for a democracy to restrict adults to what's (supposedly) safe for kids. It keeps citizens from facing and exploring different ways of addressing adult chal enges. It encourages pa.s.sivity and narrow thinking. But to those in power, des.e.xualized adults are less threatening than ful adults. And for morality groups, convincing a mil ion people that F words in the living room are more dangerous than toxic waste across town, or overcrowded cla.s.srooms down the street, creates a const.i.tuency that is Battleground: Broadcast "Indecency" 59 Broadcast "Indecency" 59 frightened and therefore motivated to donate money and time to morality groups.
INDECENCY VS. OBSCENITY VS. "I HATE IT"
The legal and political issue of "indecency" is confusing for two reasons.
First, the very idea of a democratic government giving itself the right to determine what adults can see and hear is bizarre. Second, because this bizarre idea contradicts the guarantees of our Bill of Rights, Congress and the courts have had to erect odd ways of defining what is and isn't permissible.
Speech and broadcasts related to s.e.xuality fall into three legal categories: (1) obscenity, (2) indecency, and (3) non-obscene, non-indecent stuff that some people hate. The three are defined below. If the legal language sounds like subjective nonsense, that's because it is. But our government takes these criteria seriously. Prosecutors and morality groups depend on these definitions to help them limit what you can hear or see.
1. "Obscene" material must meet a three-p.r.o.ng test: * An average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest (i.e., characterized by an inordinate and unhealthy s.e.xual interest or desire); * The material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, s.e.xual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and * The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
Obscene speech is not not protected by the First Amendment and cannot be broadcast at any time. protected by the First Amendment and cannot be broadcast at any time.
2. "Indecent" material, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community broadcast standards, s.e.xual or excretory organs or activities.
It is illegal to broadcast anything indecent between 6:00 a.m. and midnight.
3. It is not not illegal to broadcast non-obscene, non-indecent things that some people hate. illegal to broadcast non-obscene, non-indecent things that some people hate.
You can see that when a civic group or elected officials want to restrict your access to certain words or pictures, getting the government or the courts to decide that it's indecent or obscene is a phenomenally powerful tool. Once something is ruled indecent or obscene, the government then has the right (actually, the obligation) to restrict or ban it.
60.The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could decide, for example, that the word "breast" is indecent, in which case, adults wouldn't be al owed to hear it on the air between 6:00 a.m. and midnight, seven days per week. It could even decide that the word "breast" is obscene, in which case it wouldn't be al owed on any show at any time. Farfetched? Wel , groups like Citizens for Community Values are pushing legislation that redefines certain words and images. And already, we take it for granted that Jay Leno can't say the words c.l.i.toris or fel atio, much less show examples of either.8 As these definitions show, a bureaucrat, judge, or Congress have wide lat.i.tude in determining which words and pictures you do not have the freedom to hear, see, or broadcast. "The problem is, the indecency 'standard' is not a standard,"
argues Cato adjunct scholar Robert Corn-Revere. "It's basically a test for what people find distasteful, which is entirely in the eyes and ears of the beholder."9 Too much of the War on s.e.x is described as allowing or restricting broadcasters from doing this or that. While this is accurate, your your rights to hear and see are equally under attack. This crucial point seems to get lost over and over. rights to hear and see are equally under attack. This crucial point seems to get lost over and over.
THE FCC: PROTECTING YOU FROM . . . YOURSELF?.
The FCC's original mandate was to (1) encourage diversity of programming, (2) make sure there was programming specifically designed for children, and (3) a.s.sign unique frequencies to radio and television broadcasters from the usable spectrum that was limited by the technology of the day.
The FCC has pretty much given up on its first two mandates. And now that satellites, coaxial cable, and broadband have expanded our viewing choices almost infinitely, the "public airwaves" are an entirely different kind of resource, which virtually eliminates the third rationale for the FCC as currently const.i.tuted.
When the FCC started insisting it could and should police broadcast content, content, it justified its interference because "TV and radio come into the privacy of people's homes."10 It was a ridiculous argument, but the courts agreed. The rise of satellite radio, cable TV and pay-per-view TV has demolished that audience-as-pa.s.sive-victim argument. it justified its interference because "TV and radio come into the privacy of people's homes."10 It was a ridiculous argument, but the courts agreed. The rise of satellite radio, cable TV and pay-per-view TV has demolished that audience-as-pa.s.sive-victim argument.
But under a series of activist commissioners, the FCC has recently a.s.sumed the highly dynamic role of government watchdog of what Americans can see and hear. There are only two precedents for this, both disastrous: the 1873 Comstock Act severely punished anyone mailing anything "lewd" (including contraceptive information) and lasted for 100 years. The Motion Picture Production Code stifled American film production from 19301968, promising that "No picture shal be produced that wil lower the moral standards of those who see it. . . . Correct standards of life . . . shal be presented. Law, natural or human, shal not be ridiculed."11 The FCC has blown its original mandate-they've overseen the unprecedented concentration of media ownership into just a few corporate hands, leading to the near-destruction of local commercial radio, as well as the news Battleground: Broadcast "Indecency" 61 Broadcast "Indecency" 61 THE FCC HALL OF SHAME.
Here are a few recent incidents involving alleged broadcast indecency that clearly ill.u.s.trate the seriousness of those pursuing the War on s.e.x. Speculate, for a moment, on what the next such incident could be. More importantly, speculate on what the impact of that incident would be on America's writers, producers, directors, and programmers. . .and citizens.
Censored: New Orleans Mayor Nagin On September 1, 2005, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was interviewed on WWL-AM radio about the devastation of his city. His anger at the slow federal response and his grief at the resulting destruction were clear.
And they were censored.
Radio and TV stations around the country carried parts of his interview, with his language bleeped: "I keep hearing that this [help] is coming and that is coming. And my answer to that is BS.
"These G.o.dd.a.m.ned ships that are coming, I don't see them. . . .
"They [President Bush and others] flew down here one time two days after the doggone event was over with TV cameras, AP reporters, all kind of G.o.dd.a.m.n-pardon my French, everybody in America, but I am p.i.s.sed. . ."
The destruction of New Orleans last year was a turning point in our nation's economic, cultural, and political history. The Mayor's experience of Washington's betrayal, honestly expressed with a few "G.o.dd.a.m.ns" and "BSs,"
were a newsworthy part of that history-and considered inappropriate by the nation's media.
The interview ends with the Mayor and his interviewers in silent tears.
Censored: Garrison Keillor Yes, that Garrison Keillor, the tapioca-voiced sage of the Midwest, who ends his Prairie Home Companion shows with the wish to "be well, do good work, and keep in touch."
A Kentucky public radio station refused to air an episode in August 2005 because of two poems containing the word "breast." As in heart, as in soul, as in conscience.
"I don't question the artistic merit, but I have to question the language,"
WUKY general manager Tom G.o.dell said. "The FCC has been so inconsistent, we don't know where we stand. We could no longer risk a fine."a Was G.o.dell paranoid? Crazy? Illiterate? Station managers like him felt forced to imagine the most prurient kind of mind-and program around it.
We're living in very dangerous times.
Chased off Radio: Howard Stern In early 2004, the FCC fined giant Clear Channel Communications $495,000 for s.e.xual material on Howard Stern's daily radio show. The (continued) (continued) 62.(continued) allegedly offensive material was aired, of course, on a show that everyone- listeners and non-listeners-knows is s.e.xually oriented. Soon after, the nation's largest radio chain dropped the show. "Mr. Stern's show has created a great liability for us and other broadcasters who air it," said John Hogan, president of Clear Channel.b Two months later, Clear Channel agreed to pay a record $1.75 million to settle a series of indecency complaints, including s.e.xual discussions on Stern's show. By year's end, the FCC had proposed more than $15 million in fines against Clear Channel, the nation's largest owner of radio stations.
In October 2004, Howard Stern signed a five-year deal to appear on Sirius Satellite Radio. As a pay-for-listening outlet, it is not currently subject to the same indecency standards as free broadcast radio. If Senators Brownback and Stevens, Congressman Blunt, FCC chairperson Martin, and others have their way, however, that will soon change.
The cost of listening to Howard Stern on satellite radio is now some $200 per year. Until the FCC came after him, it was free. They call this protecting the public.
Preemptively Cancelled: Saving Private Ryan Saving Private Ryan By November 2004, the FCC had filled the broadcast environment with fear. It was increasing its scrutiny of content, a.s.sessing higher and higher fines, practically soliciting complaints to justify these fines, and still would not specify exactly what they would pursue and punish. Forced to guess at what would be punished as "indecent" and fearful of the resulting fines, broadcasters became terribly cautious. Dozens of TV stations cancelled the Veterans Day showing of the World War II drama, Saving Private Ryan Saving Private Ryan- which had been scheduled, ironically, to honor the soldiers who died to preserve the American way of life.
Threatened: All Broadcasters In 2005, members of Congress introduced the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act. The BDEA is the anti-Janet Jackson-nipple bill that makes broadcasters liable for fines of up to $500,000 for any obscene, indecent, or profane material they disseminate.
The size of these proposed fines suggests a nipple-phobia that is simply impossible to comprehend. Can our Congress actually believe the Republic is in such grave danger?
aKen Tucker, "Station Pul s Keil or for 'Offensive Content'," Bil board Radio Monitor, August 12, 2005, http://bil boardradiomonitor.com/radiomonitor/news/business/net_syn/ article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001014255.
bJohn Hogan, in Clear Channel press release, April 8, 2004, http://www.clearchannel.
Battleground: Broadcast "Indecency" 63 Broadcast "Indecency" 63 departments of most local TV stations. In 2003 they attempted to pa.s.s new regulations allowing an even smaller number of companies to own an even larger percentage of communities' radio, TV, and newspaper outlets. This was such a greedy giveaway that even the Republican-controlled Congress resisted, and the proposal was challenged and ultimately rolled back in 2004.12 As public interest attorney Marjorie Heins notes, the public desperately needs the FCC to take its original responsibility seriously-regulating media structure, structure, not not content. content. It seems "there are a million channels, but there's hardly a true diversity of ideas out there in the ma.s.s media."13 It seems "there are a million channels, but there's hardly a true diversity of ideas out there in the ma.s.s media."13 So what is the FCC doing instead? Protecting America's children from the F word. Reacting to public "concern" with all the finesse of a 400-pound Romanian weightlifter.
In 2005, Kevin Martin, a lawyer for the 2000 Bush/Cheney campaign and later a White House aide to President Bush, was appointed FCC chair. He says that if obviously "inappropriate" material isn't kept off the air, the very definition of indecency may have to be changed. And he's keeping up with the times, looking at new media as well; he's committed to ending the relatively unregulated state of cable and satellite TV.
Audience rights? Broadcaster rights?
"Certainly broadcasters and cable operators have significant First Amendment rights, but these rights are not without boundaries," Martin said. "They are limited by law. They also should be limited by good taste."14 Whose Whose taste, of course, is the critical question. Our Const.i.tution is cleverly designed to make that question irrelevant by excluding subjectivities like "good taste" or "blasphemy" or "indecency" as criteria for government action. taste, of course, is the critical question. Our Const.i.tution is cleverly designed to make that question irrelevant by excluding subjectivities like "good taste" or "blasphemy" or "indecency" as criteria for government action.
The FCC has it exactly backwards: it favors deregulation of industry, industry, but regulation of but regulation of content content and and consumers consumers. They cite the wisdom of the marketplace when justifying corporate giveaways-and ignore it when censoring content that the same market would allow.
Remember that the FCC is required to refer to "community standards"
when making judgments of any kind. If taken seriously, this would help prevent the FCC from becoming a bureaucratic kingdom running amok, or from being used as an agent of government tyranny. By ignoring this reasonable and far-sighted limit, however, the FCC has used its punitive powers to reward the censorship groups that support members of the Congressional Commerce Committee that oversees the FCC, as well as the President himself. By baldly favoring the interests of one group of Americans over another, the FCC has horrifically damaged American democracy and artistic freedom.
THE UNHOLY ALLIANCE OF THE FCC AND.
People who want to restrict everyone's choices are often active in organizations like Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America . .
64.Others are in positions of government power, like Senators Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Kevin Martin at the FCC. Crusaders and government are going after your viewing choices as a team.
That makes sense from their point of view. Crusaders see that their beloved economic marketplace refutes their values-shows and commercials involving s.e.xuality don't go away for lack of viewership, they thrive. And crusaders have learned, to their dismay, that their beliefs don't win in the marketplace of ideas either-they haven't convinced nearly enough people that their families are in danger from broadcast material, that they should change their media habits, and that they must enforce these beliefs on others.
And so, crusaders want the government to enforce restrictions that neither the commercial marketplace nor the intellectual marketplace can. It's like school yard politics-if you can't bully someone yourself, get your bigger brother or older cousin to do it.
Many in government, unfortunately, agree. They see their role as providing the big stick the anti-indecency lobby needs when its ideas aren't persuasive enough to their fellow citizens. These government officials are happy to lend their power to morality crusaders. The White House backs this "big government" agenda because it can point to the FCC's work and show its core const.i.tuency that it's responding to them. Morality crusaders like PTC president, L. Brent Bozell, then take credit for "cleaning up" the airwaves. It's a win-win for the War on s.e.x.
But it's wrong, simply wrong. The FCC has aggressively a.s.serted itself where it doesn't belong, and it now represents a small group of Americans-leaving the rest of us unrepresented. The FCC has stated its agenda of being more powerful ("active," they call it), regardless of the damage it inflicts or how far it strays from its mandate.15 And so, FCC fines for indecency have gone from a total of $48,000 in 2000 to $99,000 in 2002 to $7.9 million in 2004-without any substantive change in broadcast content to motivate this. The only visible motivation for the increased fines is the Bush administration's desire for votes and campaign contributions. And in June, 2006, Congress pa.s.sed, and the president signed, the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, which astronomical y astronomical y increases the penalties against broadcasters for "transmissions of obscene, indecent, and profane material."16 Because there is no objective definition of indecency, "the increased fines will create a chilling effect on otherwise protected speech," says attorney Larry Walters. "The censorship will be real, but it will be inconsistent, leaving broadcasters in the dark. This is not good for the First Amendment."17 increases the penalties against broadcasters for "transmissions of obscene, indecent, and profane material."16 Because there is no objective definition of indecency, "the increased fines will create a chilling effect on otherwise protected speech," says attorney Larry Walters. "The censorship will be real, but it will be inconsistent, leaving broadcasters in the dark. This is not good for the First Amendment."17 While "decency" and "morality" groups have littered the American landscape on and off for three centuries, there are few times in America's history they have had more influence over ordinary citizens' lives than they do today.18 Since 1980, we've seen the emergence of Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, Moral Majority, and other groups. Since 2003, two particularly frightening new players have emerged, Morality in Media (MiM) and other groups. Since 2003, two particularly frightening new players have emerged, Morality in Media (MiM) Battleground: Broadcast "Indecency" 65 Broadcast "Indecency" 65 and Parents Television Council (PTC). The FCC has adopted these groups with terrifying speed and absolutely no counter-balance whatsoever. According to Time Time magazine, "Almost single-handedly, the PTC has become a national clearinghouse for, and arbiter of, decency."19 magazine, "Almost single-handedly, the PTC has become a national clearinghouse for, and arbiter of, decency."19 In the past two years, the FCC has been in bed with the morality crusaders more times than either would allow the word "s.e.x" on TV-with no comparable room at the inn for people who tolerate or want s.e.xy material. This cozy arrangement, which has produced the largest broadcaster fines in American history, was recently exposed by journalist Jeff Jarvis as government-facilitated tyranny of the minority. Here's the story: In late 2004, the FCC leveled an incredible $1.2 million dollar fine against the Fox TV network for an episode of Married by America Married by America that suggested-not depicted, just that suggested-not depicted, just suggested suggested-s.e.x. The justification for this enormous fine, said the FCC, was the huge number of complaints it supposedly received.
How many complaints? According to the FCC, 159. Is that staggering enough, that 159 complaints can trigger the largest broadcaster fine in American history, against a show watched by millions?
Wait, it gets better.
When the FCC's actual data was released in response to Jarvis's Freedom of Information Act request, it showed that the complaints came from only 23 individuals. Twenty-three.
It gets even better.
Reports Jarvis, All but two were virtually identical. In other words, one person took the time to write a letter and 20 other people photocopied or emailed it to the FCC. They all came from an automated complaint factory. . . . Only two letters were not the form letter. So in the end, that means that a grand total of three citizens bothered to take the time to sit down and actually write a letter of complaint to the FCC. Millions of people watched the show. Three wrote letters of complaint.20 This shocking story is all over the Web-and yet there's been virtually no broadcast media coverage. Could the media possibly be feeling intimidated about reporting this, about exposing the shocking bias at the agency that could subsequently fine them and even revoke their licenses? Is this what our free American media have come to?
In the summer of 2005, the FCC announced the formation of yet another battalion in its war on "indecency." It hired Penny Nance to work in its Office of Strategic Planning and Policy a.n.a.lysis to "advise on indecency issues."21 Nance founded the Kids First Coalition, a group that fights abortion, cloning, and indecency in the name of "pro-child, pro-family public policy."22 Long a vocal antipor-nography crusader, she has frequently testified before Congress. During the 2004 presidential campaign, she appeared on Fox News as a "suburban stay-at-home mom" to say that women believe President Bush wil "protect our children."23 66.In public talks, Nance describes herself as a "victim of p.o.r.nography"24 because she says a man who once tried to rape her watched p.o.r.n. In January 2005, Nance signed, along with other activists, an open letter to President Bush, complaining of a "huge indecency problem" on basic cable and a growing indecency threat on satellite radio.