Posts from March 18, 2004

Stern bulletin: Fined: Just got

The Daily Stern bulletin: Stern fined

: MY TAKE: So Howard Stern was fined the maximum (for now) of $27,500 for one offense for describing — lock up grandma, kick the kids off the Internet, hide your eyes, get ready to burn in hell — a sex act on a toilet bowl. He was fined for one statement on one station in July 2001. Details below.

So here’s my take on this: The FCC had to back off. They had to fine him something after making such a fuss. But they didn’t want to fine him too much and be the ones to force him off the air … just yet. That’s because Stern has become a political hot potato. So they dug up an old offense from almost three years ago — it’s not to hard to find “offenses” when your definition of offensiveness is a moving target — and picked up on a complaint regarding only one station — when they could have fined him for every one of the many stations on which it aired. And they got it off their desk.

But everybody’s painted into a corner:

If the FCC had gone wacky on the fine and gone after millions, they now could be accused of trying to muzzle a Bush critic in the election year. If they hadn’t fined him after telling Viacom and the Wall Street Journal that they would, then they’d look like wimps who backed off only because Stern was now a very vocal Bush critic — thus proving the allegation that this is all, indeed, political. So they went for the minimum they could get away with. They wanted to pass the hot potato off to Congress.

Congress, meanwhile, has beaten its breasts about breasts and is about to complete legislation that is clearly and indecently unconstitutional, imposing $500,000 on not only the broadcasting company but on every performer per “offense.” And they threw in other antimedia slaps just to make them feel good, but which are so clearly over the line that they make even Michael Powell nervous. They got carried away. Look at just yesterday’s posts here: there is a building outcry about this unconstitutional outrage and perfomers’ unions are starting to scream. But our lawmakers, our national nannies, are stuck: They have to pass it. The more reasonable members of Congress may hope that the courts overturn the legislation and get them off this moral and historical hook — but by that time, it will be too late; damage will be done.

Bush has to sign the indecent indecency legislation because he said he would and because the religious right will demand it.

But Stern has already warned that the moment Bush signs it, he will leave the air. Oh, we can argue whether Infinity will let him but they can’t force him — and everyone on his show — to undertake millions of dollars of personal liability; the circumstances of his show will have changed in a way that surely breaks his contract; they’ve already announced a “zero tolerance” policy: get fined, get fired. So with Bush’s stroke of the pen, Bush gets rid of a Bush critic, even if that’s no longer what he intends. And now I don’t believe he intends it because he will only make Stern a very loud martyr.

Infinity is stuck losing a huge money maker. Clear Channel already killed its huge money maker. And together they will watch Stern make satellite an overnight success at their expense. (I’m not selling my Sirius stock but I am thinking of selling my Viacom stock.)

And Stern goes on to build a campaign against Bush — and, by then, quite a few members of Congress. And he builds a new industry and gets the credit for it. He’ll lose money and audience but he’ll also lose hassle.

All because of one chrome-plated boobie. Now doesn’t everybody feel like a complete jackass?

I’ll report what Stern says in the morning. Below is the bulletin I filed on my Treo from my church meeting and then details from the FCC filings.

: THE BULLETIN : Just got email with this. I am blogging from church again. More later. Appears the FCC is trying to backstep. AP report:

Federal regulators continued their crackdown on indecency Thursday, issuing a fine for a broadcast of the Howard Stern radio show and ruling that an expletive uttered by rock singer Bono on NBC violated broadcast standards.

The Federal Communications Commission proposed fining Infinity Broadcasting the maximum $27,500 for a Stern show broadcast on WKRK-FM in Detroit.

The FCC also overruled its staff and said that Bono’s expletive during the 2003 Golden Globe Awards program was indecent and profane, but issued no fine.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell had asked his fellow commissioners to overturn the FCC enforcement bureau’s finding.

The FCC also proposed fining a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications $55,000 for a broadcast on two Florida radio stations where the host conducted an interview with a couple allegedly having sex..

: THE RULING: Here is a PDF of the FCC filing. Amazing how much legal mumbo jumbo can go into one dumb little potty joke. The lawyers go out of their way to sew themselves a cloak of many constitutional colors:

The Commission

Vote early, vote often

Vote early, vote often
: Yehudit in my comments has an assignment for all of us — and spread the word quickly: Go to the home page of al-Jazeera and vote in their “poll”: Should Spain pull its troops out of Iraq?

Hmmmm.

The Daily Stern: PM edition

The Daily Stern: PM edition

: First, go read this post, below, about the bigger issues regarding Howard Stern and free speech. See Doc Searls’ insightful argument that the problem is, we’re treating speech as a channel rather than as very personal communication.

Now go see Ernie Miller’s very insightful response, in which he argues that this is precisely how we should hope that content is treated:

On the contrary, the more that we treat speech as undifferentiated cargo, the better off freedom of expression is. When everything is cargo you worry more about how it is distributed than the content of the cargo….

They’re both right.

From a Constitutional perspective — from the perspective of what makes America America — Doc is right: We must remember that speech is personal; it is our dearest right, our greatest value, our unique expression. If you don’t protect our speech, you don’t protect our lives and how we live them. Speech is the most fundamental of our rights.

From a government, a regulatory perspective — what should we do about this? — Ernie is right: Government should not differentiate one particle of speech — whether a bit of data, a dot on a screen, a soundwave, a letter on a page, a brushstroke, or a word shouted from a soapbox — from another. Government’s only job is to assure efficient and open transport of our speech. (Now here Ernie and I might split a bit. I will argue for deregulation of speech in all ways, including business. Ernie will argue, as he does at the end of his post, that government must not abet the creation of monopolies that restrict access to distribution. I would argue, in return, that we aren’t at the point of monopolies and that consolidation is necessary to protect some modes of speech.)

: I am delighted to see this discussion raise to this level. When all this started — when I began covering these issues every day — many tried to drag the discussion down to personal dislikes of the star involved — Howard — or of what each person thinks is offensive or of politics. But the issue is much, much bigger than that. It’s about protecting our Constitution and our most cherished values and our very way of life. If you don’t protect free speech, you will lose it, for there are many who would be delighted to take it away. But that would be unconstitutional. That would be wrong. And that is what the discussion is really about.

Axis of appeasement

Axis of appeasement
: Tom Friedman says today:

The new Spanish government’s decision to respond to the attack by Al Qaeda by going ahead with plans to pull its troops from Iraq constitutes the most dangerous moment we’ve faced since 9/11. It’s what happens when the Axis of Evil intersects with the Axis of Appeasement and the Axis of Incompetence.

It’s a good and tough column — tough not just on the Spanish for running away from democracy in Iraq but also tough on us for not sending more troops to Iraq to assure and protect the growth of democracy.

We can only hope

We can only hope
: Command Post emails an alert that Pakistani troops have surrounded a “high-value target.” FoxNews and the AP say it’s the No. 2 man.

Investigate

Investigate
: Micah Sifry wants to spread the word on a grant for foreign investigative journalism, the Robert I. Friedman Awards. Details here. Doc says bloggers should apply. Zeyad?

Celebrity blogging

Celebrity blogging
: Mark Cuban starts blogging and Dan Gillmor shoots him five questions, which Cuban promptly answers. It’s two-way, man, it’s two-way.

Profane

Profane
: I just saw the TV commercial for Mel Gibson’s Passion and I have to say it felt oddly, uncomfortably profane: Come see Christ die! Now!

Can’t wait until it’s out on DVD and they offer the uncut version.

: But seriously… In Germany, churches are fretting about the impact The Passion will have on antisemitism there, as well they should.

Germany’s Roman Catholic and Protestant churches joined the Jewish community Thursday in a rare joint declaration to warn that Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ” could fan anti-Semitism in Europe.

In their first joint statement in four years, the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the German Bishops Conference and the Protestant Church criticized the film that opened on Thursday in Germany for its “overly negative portrayal” of Jews.

“There is a danger the film will revive anti-Semitic prejudices,” they said.

“This is especially explosive in view of the situation in Europe with a noticeable increase in anti-Semitism. Whether its intention was anti-Semitic or not, there is a danger it could be used as anti-Semitic propaganda.”

Amen.

: UPDATE: The test of The Passion‘s anti-Semitism is not how many lynchings, bombings, murders, graffiti-scrawlings it causes. That meme is spreading in the comments here and in plenty of places and so I’ll repeat my reply here.

The test, instead, is the critical — that is, subjective — judgment of the work itself: Is it anti-Semitic? I believe it is for reasons I made clear the day after it opened, when I saw it.

Now I do not believe that TV violence begets real-life violence. People who are going to go on mass-murder sprees are going to do that anyway and TV certainly cannot make them do it. So I discredit all those stupid stories of people copying TV or movies whenever they come out.

So if there are more anti-Semitic acts in Europe after the film opens, I would be the first to say that the film is not the cause, only the latest excuse.

Germany is, of course, a quite special case. There are restrictions on speech there that are understandable on one level. But at some point, they need to grapple with the fact that stopping someone from saying something anti-Semitic does not make them tolerant. These religious leaders are grappling with exactly that because of The Passion. They feel compelled to call anti-Semitism where they see it. And they see it in this film. And they should know it when they see it…