Super Bowl

FCC to Probe Super Bowl Halftime Breast Incident

NFL Announces MTV Unlikely to Produce Shows Again

By Published on .

WASHINGTON ( -- In the wake of the controversy following the baring of Janet Jackson's breast during last night's Super Bowl halftime show, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission this morning called for an official investigation of the stunt and the NFL announced MTV was unlikely to produce a Super Bowl musical show again.

Image: CBS
Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake onstage during the controversial breast incident.

The incident happened at the end of the halftime show, which Viacom's MTV produced for the National Football League. (The game and the show was broadcast by CBS, another Viacom holding.) During the show Justin Timberlake was singing a duet with Ms. Jackson, who was dressed in a leather gladiator-like outfit.

'Gonna have you naked'
Mr. Timberlake's song, "Rock Your Body," contains the lyrics "I'm gonna have you naked by the end of this song," and as the song ended Mr. Timberlake yanked at Ms. Jackson's right breast, exposing the breast and the nipple, covered by a metal decoration.

Mr. Timberlake, in an interview on MTV before the game, hinted there might be a surprise.

In a statement after the show, Mr. Timberlake called the incident "a wardrobe malfunction."

'Classless, crass and deplorable'
FCC Chairman Michael Powell characterized the show as "a classless, crass and deplorable stunt" and ordered an investigation that "will be thorough and swift."

The FCC, which licenses the operations of local TV and radio stations, is charged with ensuring that public airwaves are used in the public interest. Among other things, it investigates complaints from listeners and viewers who believe some aspect of a broadcast's content to be obscene.

"I am outraged at what I saw during the halftime show of the Super Bowl," Mr. Powell said in a statement. "Like millions of Americans, my family and I gathered around the television for a celebration. Instead, that celebration was tainted by a classless, crass and deplorable stunt. Our nation's children, parents and citizens deserve better."

Meanwhile FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who has been critical of the FCC for not taking additional action on obscenity, said he was not surprised. "I'll bet there are millions like me who wonder why parents wanting to watch an all-American sports show with their children have to worry about what's coming on their screen next."

Lax policing
The FCC, which has been accused of lax policing of edgy TV and radio programming, has lately stepped up its investigations and enforcement efforts in that regard. Because CBS, as a network, isn't licensed, any fines or other action the FCC takes would be against stations on the network.

Mr. Timberlake, who is also a high-profile endorser for McDonald's Corp., issued a statement that said "I am sorry if anyone was offended." The statement claimed the breast exposure "was not intentional and is regrettable."

A McDonald's spokesman said, "It was obviously an inappropriate incident. Everyone involved has said it was an unfortunate mistake, and their apologies are certainly in order."

MTV issued an apology statement. "The tearing of Janet Jackson's costume was unrehearsed, unplanned, completely unintentional and was inconsistent with assurances we had about the content of the performance.

"MTV regrets this incident occurred and we apologize to anyone who was offended by it."

CBS also issued an apology, saying it "deeply regrets the incident."

Network standards
"We attended all rehearsals throughout the week and there was no indication that any such thing would happen," the network said. "The moment did not conform to CBS broadcast standards and we would like to apologize to anyone who was offended."

The NFL, meanwhile, said it was unlikely to use MTV again.

"We were extremely disappointed by elements of the MTV-produced halftime show," Joe Browne, an NFL executive vice president, said in a statement. "They were totally inconsistent with assurances our office was given about the show. It's unlikely that MTV will produce another Super Bowl halftime."

AOL sponsorship
Internet giant America Online, which in addition to buying plenty of commercial time on the Super Bowl to hype its "top speed" dial-up service sponsored the halftime show, said in a statement it was "surprised and disappointed with certain elements of the show."

AOL was to replay the show on but said it was instead abandoning those plans, in "deference to our membership and the fans."

Grammy impact
Entertainment industry observers are speculating on any potential impact the incident might have CBS's Feb. 8 live coverage of the Grammy Awards. Mr. Timberlake and Ms. Jackson are scheduled to appear, albeit separately. Mr. Timberlake will perform and Ms. Jackson will present an award.

Ron Roecker, senior director of communications for the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, said today that there are no plans to change the award show because of the Super Bowl imbroglio.

"We have been a live event for a decade and along with the excitement of it being live, comes the fact that we can't have complete control when dealing with artists."

A CBS spokesman declined to comment whether Mr. Timberlake would be part of the Grammy show.

A network spokesman today said that because the Grammy Award show is live, "we always pay special attention to what happens," but he didn't indicate any plans to change the show at this time.

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