Super Bowl

Janet Jackson Super Bowl Debacle Dissected in Congress

NFL Chief Apologizes; CBS 'Shocked and Appalled'

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WASHINGTON ( -- The National Football League may not pay MTV the rest of what it owes for the production of a wildly controversial Super Bowl halftime show, the NFL commissioner told an congressional committee investigating the show this morning.

Photo: AP
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was apologetic before Congress today.
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Appearing before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that is looking into the halftime debacle, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said he was personally "embarrassed" by what was broadcast as entertainment during the league's most important football event. He characterized the tone and content of the entire halftime show as "totally inappropriate."

Mr. Tagliabue told the committee that his organization's lawyers were currently "looking at the question" of final NFL payment due MTV.

The committee conducted today's hearing as a prelude to a session tomorrow at which time it will work out the final details of a bill raising the fines for broadcast obscenity. Under existing laws, broadcasters can be fined $27,500 per violation; the new bill raises that to $275,000 per violation, and up to a maximum $3 million for each incident.

Committee members' questions focused on the show itself as well as some of the game's commercials. Some ads that appeared during the Super Bowl -- particularly two from Anheuser-Busch that included a flatulating horse and a crotch-biting dog -- have been widely debated. Several of the hearing's Congressmen specifically mentioned them.

'Rush to the bottom'
Several congressmen suggested that Super Bowl XXXVIII was a milestone in the "rush to the bottom in public standards" and a failure to take broadcast licenses and the public trust seriously. Some suggested that not only should there be increased fines for on-air obscenity but that a new procedure should be established to peg the amount of the fines to the amount of revenue taken in during such a broadcast.

Mr. Tagliabue said the NFL had become so concerned by MTV's plans for the halftime entertainment spectacular by mid-December that senior NFL officials considered canceling the show altogether and complained to CBS' chairman-CEO, Les Moonves. CBS, which broadcast the Super Bowl, and MTV, which produced the halftime show, are owned by Viacom.

Entire halftime show
Mr. Tagliabue emphasized that his organization was unhappy about the entire halftime event, not just the Janet Jackson breast-baring incident that has been the focus of so much press attention.

Mr. Tagliabue said that "as I started looking at the halftime show, I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. ... The show that MTV actually produced fell far short of the NFL's expectations for tasteful, first-class entertainment" that would appeal to the broad cross-section of America.

He also said the NFL hasn't yet made a decision about whether halftime show sponsor AOL will be compensated because it was not able to rebroadcast the halftime show to its own online audience as originally planned.

Viacom's Mel Karmazin
At odds with Mr. Tagliabue's view that the entire show was inappropriate, were the sentiments of Viacom's president and chief operating officer, Mel Karmazin, who also appeared as a witness at the hearing.

Mr. Karmazin was careful to refer only to the "incident of Janet Jackson" as the problem all were gathered in Washington to discuss.

Mr. Karmazin called the Jackson incident "regrettable," and said CBS has interviewed more than 50 witnesses and reviewed tapes of the rehearsals and found no evidence that anyone in the company was aware of what was going to happen.

Jackson-Timberlake meeting
He said CBS' investigation determined that Ms. Jackson and her choreographer met privately with fellow performer Justin Timberlake a hour before the performance to discuss what she wanted to do.

Mr. Tagliabue indicated that the NFL was still studying its "options," including potential lawsuits. However, Mr. Karmazin noted that one problem with filing a lawsuit is that there may not be actual contracts between Viacom's entities and the various acts that performed during halftime.

He said it was the "industry standard" to send contracts to each of the performers but that it was also an "industry standard" that performers often didn't actually sign or return the contracts. He did not specifically say if Ms. Jackson and Mr. Timberlake had signed their contracts.

After his testimony, Mr. Karmazin told reporters that CBS was not considering a lawsuit against Ms. Jackson.