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

  • ajf

    Here is the link to the full AP story. (via Drudge)

    Federal law bars radio stations and over-the-air television channels from airing references to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children may be tuning in. The rules do not apply to cable and satellite channels or satellite radio.

    Seems reasonable to me…

  • http://www.photodude.com/ Reid

    Well, based on his own words, I guess that means Howard will be quitting in the morning. And based on this, the new fine is akin to adding a grain of sand to the beach:
    “The Federal Communications Commission has proposed $3.95 million in fines for broadcast indecency since 1990, with half the total assessed to shock-radio pioneer Howard Stern and his employer Infinity Broadcasting.”
    “The FCC sought $1.96 million in fines from the stations that carried the controversial New York-based disc jockey’s show since 1990, according to the analysis.”
    Let’s see, $1.96 million dollars plus $27,500 is $1.9600275 million dollars. Yep, I’d quit over that scalding of my free speech.

  • michael

    $1.96 million plus $27,500 equals $1.9875 million

  • http://stribs.blogspot.com/ Robert S.

    The funny thing in this is you blogging from church! Isn’t this sort of thing what the religious right should be worried about? You know people pretty much treating church like a baseball game or something. Come stay a while. Watch the game. Or just talk to your friends, watch a DVD, play with your GameBoy. Blog. Just so long as you come!
    (Just kidding – I’m guessing it’s just the sort of church I had the misfortune to attend growing up!)

  • Dan Herzlich

    Remember, it’s not about Stern. That’s why we have Stern bulletins.
    DH

  • http://hubris.typepad.com Hubris

    The FCC had to back off.
    So they went for the minimum they could get away with. They wanted to pass the hot potato off to Congress.
    Is it possible to consider the alternative? That Stern has been…exaggerating and the FCC is…reasonable??

  • http://twistedspinster.com/ Andrea Harris

    Not only that, he’s blogging from church about a guy on the radio describing a sex act on a toilet bowl. That must be some church.

  • KMK

    I found these two quotes here http://www.rapidcityjournal.com/articles/2004/03/18/ap/Entertainment/d81d460o0.txt
    “Given that today’s decision clearly departs from past precedent in important ways, I could not support a fine retroactively against the parties,” said FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who had asked his fellow commissioners to overturn the agency’s enforcement bureau’s finding. “Prospectively, parties are on notice that they could now face significant penalties for similar violations,” Powell said.
    Commissioner Michael Copps dissented from the decision, saying the commission should have moved to revoke the stations’ licenses. “The time has come for the commission to send a strong message that it is serious about enforcing the indecency laws of our country,” he said.

  • Charlie (Colorado)

    Jeff, you seen any sharks in the neighborhood?

    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.

    In the words of my ancestors, “you got funny idea of ‘proof,’ white man.”

    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.

    This would be the Michael Powell who was getting hassled about not acting? The one who wants to deregulate? The one who was talking about the potential for unconstitutionality days ago? The one who was having to defend himself to John Dingell for un-bleeped Bono?

    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.

    I’ll bet a dollar that his contract says he’ll follow Infiniti’s standards and practices rules. The real liability in millions of dollars will come if he tries to quit and join a competitor. Here’s a prediction: first, Stern won’t quit: he’ll continue to whine and bitch and moan about Bush on his Infiniti show, and throw in how the lawyers are keeping him enslaved when he wanted to quit, he really did.

    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.

    Jeff, considering the number of times you’ve responded to me and others saying that you know it’s not just the Republicans and Bush, followed by blaming Bush again, I don’t think I believe you.

    Clear Channel already killed its huge money maker.

    Six markets? Where Stern wasn’t #1 in the market? I don’t think Stern was that big a moneymaker for CC.

    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.

    Another prediction: Howard won’t move to digital until his current Infiniti contract term runs out; the non-compete will stop him. As a result, Howard won’t leave broadcast until then, and will continue with Infiniti: his ego deficiencies couldn’t survive being out of the public eye.
    Keep an eye out for those sharks, Jeff. The urge to jump one may be irresistable.

  • http://wizbangblog.com Kevin

    They’d have had a much harder time going after millions of dollars in fines at $27,500 a pop. Sure it could be done, but it would take a hell of a lot of work on their part.

  • Jim

    Your first poster has it right…The rules about excrement and sex during 6 am – 10 pm are the rules. They’re not “shifting” or an “elusive target”; that’s just so much mumbo jumbo to obscure the facts.
    I’ll grant that enforcement of the rules is spotty, but that doesn’t change the fact that the rules *do* exist and you break them at your own peril. You can argue if you want whether or not there should be rules at all, but all this complaining about “shifting” rules is “shifting” the argument.
    Question 1 for Howard’s defenders: Did he or did he not make a comment about sexual and/or excrement functions between the hours of 6 am and 10 pm or did he not? (It’s a simple yes or no…no “Kerryisms” here..)
    Question 2: At what point did the “right” to listen to Howard Stern make bad potty jokes after 6 am or before 10 pm become more important to society than the rule of law?
    Question 3: If it’s OK for Howard Stern to break laws he doesn’t like, why should *any* citizen be obligated to obey *any* rule he or she doesn’t like? Is there a special exemption that citizens can apply for? Where do I sign up?
    Question 4: Why should I (or anyone else) take your advice to metaphorically take up arms when you only decided it was a First Amendment problem when it got to Howard Stern?
    Question 5: Where were *you* when other shock jocks were taken off the air because their employers feared an FCC backlash because their employees were blatantly breaking the rules? Why weren’t *those* “First Amendment violations”? If you didn’t care then, why should I care now?
    I’ve yet to hear good answers to any of these questions….and truly…they all deserve answers from anyone who would say that Howard Stern *shouldn’t* be fined (or fired) for breaking the law….

  • http://tsar.net tony

    1. Sure. As did thousands of broadcasters between July 2001. “references to sexual and excretory functions” is so frigging broad i bet you could find tens of thousands of infringments over the last 3 years.
    My questions to you are, why Stern, why now, and why – if Powell needed to go back nearly three years ago – is this an issue?
    2. Because it’s a “law” that’s only being selectively enforced.
    3. You sign up by being Rush Limbaugh who can not only be just as retarded on the air but do it high as a kite on drugs that were illegally obtained.
    the other two questions are just dumb.

  • Kory

    I’ll throw in one further question: If you are opposed to the current obscenity laws, what is the solution? Have absolutely no obscentiy laws and allow broadcasters to use curse words and graphically talk about sex in the middle of Saturday morning cartoons? Let people put naked women and four-letter words on giant billboards along the highway?
    Frankly, if free speech is such a concern, I am much more concerned with the new campaign finance law that limits political speech, all the anti-business laws that limit commercial speech, all the harrassment laws that limit workplace speech, and all the hate crimes laws that punish ‘hate’ speech.
    All those, and obscene speech by broadcasters is supposed to be the biggest threat to our free speech rights?

  • sol

    Jeff, man, today was your low point. It’s actually striking to get as much dumb into a blog post as you’ve managed to get. Your use of the name Howard is a bit disturbing as well. “Howard won’t do this” “Howard won’t stand for that” “Howard will just counter by da da da”. Jeff, Howard has the I.Q. of shellac. Sticky shellac at that. Sticky shellac with pieces of crap (or, excuse me, cr**) in it. Mancow got fined for saying something about Clinton. Oh, but he use to be a regular on the Fox News Channel, so he should be fined I guess…

  • http://www.tonypierce.com/blog/bloggy.htm tony

    Kory,
    why do people always have to go to the extreme? curse words in the middle of saturday morning cartoons? come on.
    heres your answer: have clear laws, clear restrictions, and quick punishment.
    the seven “dirty” words is an example of a clear law.
    “references to sexual and excretory functions” is not a clear law. it’s so vague you could bust probably every single daytime tv talk show from dr. laura to oprah to springer to even Rush.
    fining a guy for something he said in 2001 is an example of grasping, not enforcing
    everyone, including you in your weak “question”, hide behind children when they grasp. they do it cuz its easy. it’s also lazy.
    but i’ll bite.
    the 6am-10pm unsafe harbor time is ridiculous. ever listen to “Lovelines” where mostly 13-18 year old kids call up a radio show and ask sex questions? kids are not listening to howard stern at 7am – they’re with their parents getting ready for school. but kids ARE up at 10pm. alone. listening to every single sexual and excretory story you could imagine – from the mouths of their peers.
    so if you want to “protect” kids from something that has never injured a child before, move the safe harbor time up to 10am-midight.
    or lock them in their basement.
    kids love excretory jokes and if youre going to ban speech on the radio you better think about banning it from the playground too.

  • http://debragalant.typepad.com Deb

    Not allowed to reference any sexual function except in the wee hours of the night? What about all the Viagra ads, etc.? The football through the tire, etc. that preceded the Janet Jackson boob? Maybe we should go after the pharmaceutical companies? Or Bob Dole?
    And excratory? Well, what about gas? How about fart jokes? Let’s legislate that.
    Today, Howard Stern. Tomorrow, the Simpsons. Then I get mad.
    As my husband says, current technology can provide the solution to this whole fuss. It’s called the off button.

  • hen

    “today stern, tomorrow the simpsons”…well considering that stern hasn’t been funny in about a decade and the simpsons have been miserable for the past 2-4 seasons, i say good riddance. bring back Family Guy.

  • Jim

    Tony –
    I tried to read some substance into your answers. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible.
    Defending Howard Stern is like following behind a high speed police chase and then yelling at the officers who pulled the guy over because there were other people speeding too, and they didn’t pull over everybody else – so that made it OK for him to race past everyone on the shoulder at 100+ mph. Besides, you like that guy so it’s not fair that the cops singled him out for speeding this time when he has clearly been speeding before without being pulled over for it. It’s quite frankly ridiculous. So you can define stupid your way, I’ll stick with reality…
    As I said before, I’ve yet to hear a good answer to any of the questions I asked. Trying to use the tried and true response of “Because I said so” doesn’t cut it…

  • k

    and Futurama!

  • http://upsaid.com A.H.

    The most hilarious part is that Jeff is blogging about the f-word from church. That is hi-larious.

  • Mike

    Jeff, it’s depressing the way you believe everything Howard says about George Bush. Howard is the one with the agenda here, and it’s all about him. His fight is all about Stern and has nothing to do with you.

  • hen

    i said it before i’ll say it again: stern’s entire turnaround on bush began after he read franken’s book. deep, man, very deep.

  • Charlie (Colorado)

    They’d have had a much harder time going after millions of dollars in fines at $27,500 a pop. Sure it could be done, but it would take a hell of a lot of work on their part.
    Uh, Kevin — they got that $2 million in fines while the maximum was $27,500 a pop.

  • http://www.tonypierce.com/blog/bloggy.htm tony

    Jim,
    this is how you people work.
    ask questions, demand answers, and then when they come you ignore them.
    typical.

  • http://www.workingwithwords.blogspot.com John Ettorre

    Like most of America, I agree with your earlier poster who thinks Stern has the IQ of shellac. And I’m afraid by your increasingly loony rantings on his behalf–which are almost beginning to sound like some kind of bizarre homosexual crush–are turning off thousands of people who once read you closely and trusted you as an interesting voice. You’re not that anymore Jeff. But if you keep up with this defense of the foul-mouthed idiot filling the airwaves we all own with his crap, you will get yourself carted off to the loony bin eventually…