Ah, good questions. But the problem with trying to parse the behavior of the FCC is that, like much of what's happened at the federal level the past few years, logic is beside the point.
Instead, politics is the point. As are a faith-based agenda, a pro-Big Media slant and shameless cronyism.
That last reality was underscored (or, rather, ignored by most media organizations) a week ago when the news trickled out of Washington that the 2-2 Republican-Democratic stalemate on the commission had finally been broken by the Senate confirmation of Robert M. McDowell to the fifth FCC seat that had been vacant for 14 months.
McDowell's appointment is a belated reward for his having helped out the Bush-Cheney legal team during the 2000 Florida presidential election recount. Not so coincidentally, the current FCC chairman, Kevin J. Martin, was also part of the Florida recount team -- he was deputy general counsel for the Bush-Cheney campaign.
Commissioner McDowell, at least, has some telecommunications experience: He used to work for the America's Carriers Telecommunications Association (ACTA) and CompTel (Competitive Telecommunications Association). Which means the newest FCC commissioner is not only a Bush-campaign crony, he's a telecom crony. In other words, a telecom lobbyist is now regulating telecoms!
Even more perversely, though, Kevin Martin had a previous gig working for Monica Lewinsky fetishist Ken "Can I watch?" Starr. Like Starr before him, not only is no one really standing in the way of Martin's morals crusade (more on that in a bit), he's getting plenty of help in Washington. This spring the Senate voted to increase radio and TV broadcast indecency fines from $32,500 to $325,000 per station -- which means a single, one-second occurrence of "indecency" broadcast on a network's affiliates could result in millions of dollars of penalties.
Who helps the FCC decide what's unacceptably naughty? Do the math: Last week Broadcasting & Cable reported that complaints to the FCC numbered 1,798 in January, but jumped to 138,527 in February. Why? B&C discovered "at least 134,000 complaints" in January and February were "driven by a campaign against NBC drama 'Las Vegas"' proudly spearheaded by the American Family Association, the powerful religious group. Hello! Duh! The show is called "Las Vegas"! Don't watch it if you don't want to; don't let your kids watch it! It's that simple! It's not like somebody slipped a stripper scene onto "The 700 Club. "
As I noted in this column last December, Kevin Martin has publicly flirted with wanting to get decency laws applied to cable and satellite programming, not just broadcast -- which means that, yes, someday soon our government might force Tony Soprano to say "darn" and "fudge."
But really, the recent seismic political changes at the FCC are no laughing matter. Alarmingly, my friend Kurt Andersen -- the celebrated journalist, novelist and broadcaster -- just revealed in his New York Magazine column that thanks to a recent "staff legal tutorial after the latest FCC rulings," his thoughtful, impeccably decent public-radio show, "Studio 360," has been self-censoring.
But back to the Madrid student. I don't really know what to say to him. Except that, per boring, entirely predictable human nature, scolds who are obsessed with bad words and naughty bits tend to be ... personally obsessed with bad words and naughty bits.
Those who would condescend to the American public -- deciding that more and more things are "dirty" and that everyone, including grown men and women, must simply not be allowed to watch or hear them under any circumstances -- are often the ones with the most pitiable psychosexual issues.
We're paying federal taxes, at least in theory, to protect us against real threats like terrorism and the new hurricane season. Not to have a bunch of Church-Lady commissioners think up new ways to infantalize us.
In other words, beware of freaks in Washington who fantasize about putting adults back in diapers.
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