FCC Fine For Janet Jackson Exposure Still Unresolved

Janet Jackson's n*pple, exposed for 9/16 of a second during the 2004 Superbowl halftime show, is still in the news. And the FCC is 2-for-2 in the Supreme Court this term.

Last week, the Supreme Court decided that the FCC did not act arbitrarily when it revised its "indecency" policy in 2004. The Court upheld the FCC's decision to sanction the fleeting and singular utterance of a naughty word, even one blurted unexpectedly during a live broadcast.

Today the Court vacated a Third Circuit decision that overturned the FCC's $550,000 fine against CBS for broadcasting a glimpse of Janet Jackson's nipple. The one sentence order does not decide whether the Third Circuit's decision was right or wrong, but invites the lower court to reconsider its decision in light of last week's ruling. [more ...]

While last week's Supreme Court decision seems to foreclose the argument that the FCC's tighter indecency rule is impermissibly arbitrary or that the FCC gave insufficient notice of its changed policy to CBS, the unique facts of the CBS/Janet Jackson case may convince the Third Circuit to reaffirm its decision. Only those with the sharpest eyes could have spotted the live broadcast of Jackson's fleetingly exposed n*pple during the allegedly innocent "wardrobe malfunction." Viewers with Tivo or other recording devices, after learning of the controversy, could rewind and zoom and take a longer and closer look, but those actions presumably would not have exposed children to anything that their parents didn't want them to see -- unless the parents allowed their kids to control the Tivo.

CBS maintains that "there are rare instances, particularly during live programming, when despite best efforts it may not be possible to block unfortunate fleeting material." That's probably true, although the FCC might argue that indecency was foreseeable to CBS as soon as it booked Justin "I'm bringing sexy back" Timberlake on the same stage as Janet "Nasty" Jackson. Still, does a fine of more than a half million dollars reasonably reflect the harm caused to public morality by the brief exposure of a n*pple?

Ultimately, these cases are about the FCC's attempt to impose Ronald Reagan values in the Age of Obama.* While the court decisions are interesting, they are likely to be rendered moot in the next few years by FCC rules that take a less puritanical view of indecency -- a view that reflects the reality of contemporary values, not just those of the vocal religious right.

*This is not to suggest that President Obama has any opinion about Janet Jackson's nipple or its fleeting broadcast, but only that times and values have changed a bit in the interval between Reagan's presidency and Obama's. It's nonetheless amusing to note Jesse Walker's fear that Obama's FCC will "creates intrusive new rules by fiat." That's exactly what the FCC did when it revised its indecency policy in 2004. As Walker recognizes, the current FCC "has been no friend to either free enterprise or free speech." Walker's concern that Obama might favor FCC policies that encourage diverse ownership of media or that grant more licenses to low powered radio stations raises policy questions that are more complex and considerably less troubling than the simplistic policies that guide the current FCC's idiotic obsession with indecency.

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  • OMG! (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by dws3665 on Mon May 04, 2009 at 06:19:20 PM EST
    Will no one think of the CHILDREN!!?!?!?! /snark

    So, let me get this straight: (none / 0) (#2)
    by scribe on Mon May 04, 2009 at 06:33:33 PM EST
    we are supposed to be so offended as a people by the 9/16 second exposure of Janet Jackson's breast that we impose a fine to the tune of $500k plus, but at the same time listen to and obey the bleatings of young Ms. Prejean and her surgically-enhanced (free to her, courtesy of the pageant committee) breasts because ... why?

    Prejean's younger?
    Prejeans' are artificial and we can't bear to deal with women whose body parts are real?
    Prejean's white?
    Prejean's another astroturf publicity stunt spouting the Repug line to the Repug base?
    Sheer idiocy?

    I'm running out of ... reasons....

    My vote... (none / 0) (#5)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Mon May 04, 2009 at 07:42:59 PM EST
    ...goes to all of the above with an emphasis on sheer idiocy.  And I'd add Puritan nonsense to the list.

    To denegrate a (none / 0) (#7)
    by AlkalineDave on Tue May 05, 2009 at 09:37:35 AM EST
    woman because of a plastic surgery with no real connection to the topic at hand seems a bit sexist to me.  Ms. Prejean spouts a line most of us don't agree with, and we reply by going after her for breast augmentation?  Shouldn't we be focused on her issue and not on her breasts?  You also make the jump to the issue of racism with no evidence to back it up.  Furthermore, no 40 year old breast look that perky or that good without augmentation herself.  It seem you take one sexist situation (Janet's the bad guy but no talk of Mr. Timberlake's responsibility, and turn it into another sexist situation.

    Women's breasts, (none / 0) (#8)
    by MyLeftMind on Wed May 06, 2009 at 03:57:16 PM EST
    like marriage between a man and woman, are great pillars of our society. Carrie Prejean's redefinition of conventional breasts will destroy our country's traditional values. /snark

    People aren't attacking Prejean's fake breasts, they're attacking her hypocrisy.  She just launched her new anti-gay career with her opinion about what is "natural" while she's cheating to win a beauty contest with unnatural augmentation.  Getting breast implants for a pageant are like using anabolic steroids in sports.  She jumped up on a national platform and expressed an opinion that singles out a group of people for continued oppression.  Worse, she's now the spokes-torso for the anti-gay group NOM.  There are big bucks being made by religious bigots spouting anti-gay rhetoric.  She's on the bandwagon now, and her plastic enhancements will bring NOM a lot more attention and donations, which amplifies (pun intended) the malicious damage they will do to LGBT citizens and to our progressive agenda.  

    Miss CA** epitomizes the right wing's use of faux martyrdom "No offense, this is simply something she believes."  But what she believes is bigoted and her opinion is hurtful to many Americans.  Hitler believed things too. That doesn't make them right.  When she spouts right wing rhetoric that denies American families equality under the law, she's promoting hatred and cruelty.  

    In addition to her misguided opinions and new anti-gay venue, her actions hurt girls and women.  She's supposed to be a role model, but for a woman to risk her health to increase the size of her breasts is indicative of the misogyny that still exists in society.  Prejean and her ilk promote discrimination (justified by so called "traditional values") while financially benefiting from ignoring or downplaying other standards of decency.  Personally, I don't think nakedness is something to be hidden, but conservatives purportedly do.  I think showing violent sex on TV (while hiding body parts) is much more damaging than letting kids see a woman's nipple.  But her decisions reflect the Salad-bar Christianity mentality of the do-as-we-tell-you-not-as-we-do Religious Right.


    How much time and money has been wasted on (none / 0) (#3)
    by nycstray on Mon May 04, 2009 at 07:15:09 PM EST
    this nipple?! We've all got them . . . .

    LOL...this reminded me that my (none / 0) (#4)
    by Anne on Mon May 04, 2009 at 07:31:47 PM EST
    husband always refers to his as his "swimming medals."  Don't know why, but it always cracks me up...

    "It's nonetheless amusing to note..." (none / 0) (#9)
    by JesseWalker on Mon May 11, 2009 at 02:12:08 AM EST
    I cannot imagine how anyone can read what I wrote about LPFM in that article, or in anything else I've written or said about the subject over the last 14 years, and conclude that I'm opposed to granting more licenses to low-power radio stations. I'm for it, and I said so explicitly.

    To see that the "by fiat" reference is about, scroll down to the part of the article called "Back-Door Regulation." It's where I wrote about what happens when "the FCC imposed new controls on a single business, and it did so without the rulemaking procedures that are ordinarily required before regulations can be adopted." Doesn't have anything to do with LPFM.