"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Thursday, March 16, 2006
The Federal Communications Commission said a network program, "Without a Trace," that aired in December 2004 was indecent. It cited the graphic depiction of "teenage boys and girls participating in a sexual orgy."
Now, as it happens, I've seen "Without a Trace." In my opinion, $3.6 million would be an appropriate fine if the FCC was empowered to sanction programs on the basis that they are boring and stupid - but if that were the rule, Donald Trump would have been fined into poverty after the first season of "The Apprentice." Instead, CBS is being slapped with a record fine for airing content that sounds pretty much like every other MTV video, except without the soundtrack.
Of course, CBS (which is not known for its loyalty to the Junta) is not the only network to air programming which the FCC finds indecent. For example Fox (which is not known for its disloyalty to the Junta) had its own problems:
Responding to other complaints, the commission found that Fox Television Network violated decency standards during the 2003 Billboard Music Awards. During the broadcast, actress Nicole Richie uttered the "F" word and a common vulgarity for excrement.
"Each of these words is among the most offensive words in the English language," the FCC said. But it declined to issue a fine against Fox because at the time of the broadcast existing precedent indicated the commission would not take action against isolated use of expletives, the FCC said.
So that's okay, then. Fox can air allegedly indecent programming without fear of sanction, because there is no applicable precedent. And why is there no applicable precedent? Well, because a year earlier, the FCC never bothered to establish an applicable precedent:
The commission also declined to fine Fox or its stations for the 2002 Billboard Music Awards, in which Cher uttered the "F" word.
Two interesting postscripts to this story: First, while it is all well and good to stand in free-speech solidarity with the people responsible for "Without a Trace," the fact remains that the show is pretty much worthless. The same cannot be said, however, for Martin Scorsese's PBS documentary "The Blues: Godfathers and Sons." Because blues musicians sometimes use naughty words (who knew?) the FCC has proposed a $15,000 fine against a San Mateo (CA) PBS affiliate which broadcast the documentary. You can read the sordid, "shocking" (the FCC's description) details at pages 23-27 of the FCC order, here (PDF). I guess that George Bush's FCC doesn't care about black people with guitars.
But the greatest indecency of all is this one, from the Rude Pundit, who happened to notice a most interesting coincidence of timing:
As noted above, the episode [of "Without a Trace"] was originally broadcast on November 6, 2003.
On the evening of November 7, 2003, over in Iraq, Corporal Charles Graner was beating new prisoners at Abu Ghraib and forcing them to strip off their clothes. In the course of the night, Graner, Lynndie England, Ivan Frederick II, Sabrina Harman, Jeremy Sivits, and Megan Ambuhl would slap, punch, and jump on the seven prisoners. They'd force them to make human pyramids, make them pretend to give each other oral sex, and more. There's photos of it. And video. The soldiers were giddy with power, smiling and giving the thumbs up sign. They believed what they were doing was fine, that no one would care, for, indeed, most of the time, one who believes he or she is committing a crime does not take photos or video of the crime.
One wonders how many of those who complained to the FCC about the televised pseudo-orgy on CBS gave more than a passing thought to what went on at Abu Ghraib, one wonders if they bothered to write letters or make phone calls about that indecency. Perhaps they did; more likely they did not. But, then again, the torture of the prisoners in Iraq that night took place after 10 p.m., after the family hour. And then it can't affect the children, can it?
Hey, look over there - it's Janet Jackson's nipple!