The daily Stern: Go to

The daily Stern
: Go to now and read a very important post on Stern and your freedom. It’s not just me or the liberal vanden Heuvel, below. It’s a conservative issue, too. It’s the First Amendment, stupid.

But when the government decides to step in and wipe people like Stern off the map despite the fact that they’re popular, despite the fact that they’ve been on the air doing their shtick for more than a decade, conservatives should care. I say that because next time the government might decide to step in and start leveling huge fines on WEBSITES that they decide are “indecent” or radio talk show hosts who they decide are only presenting one political point of view and therefore aren’t being “fair”.

Thanks for this, Charlie. More later. I am posting this on my Treo from church.

: And, yes, I quite enjoyed the idea of blogging that from church. I don’t see the slightest irony.

: Dan Gillmor adds his views, saying that this is and isn’t censorship:

It clearly is censorship, disguised as something else, when Congress starts passing laws aimed at stifling speech. An orgy (can I use that word?) of blue-nosing is upon us, and it’s more than a little scary.

It’s theoretically not censorship, however, when a Big Media company like the abysmal Clear Channel pulls Stern off the air after discovering that the hit show (which I don’t personally like at all) has “indecent content.” What’s really indecent here is Clear Channel’s sleazy behavior — its removal of Stern amid Congressional Victorianism, not to mention the odd coincidence that the company, whose senior executives are strong Bush supporters, just happened to pull Stern off the air right after he announced his opposition to Bush’s re-election.

And there are serious First Amendment questions when you consider the pernicious connections between Big Media and Big Government these days. Forget the indecency laws for a moment. Even without them, Clear Channel is beholden to government — the FCC — for its very existence. It’s beholden to Congress and the White House for its ability to consolidate a big part of the radio industry into its own greedy paws.

Jeff doesn’t think media consolidation is the issue. I say it it’s part of the issue.

First, Dan and I agree about the problems of government control of speech; that’s what scares me.

Second, I haven’t answered the consolidation issue, which has been raised in the comments.

I understand why those who believe it is an issue believe that — because when a big company such as Clear Channel can do this, the impact is all the greater, the chill all the colder. And there are fewer alternatives for a Stern to go to once one big company kicks him off.

But if I’m in favor of market control and against government control on speech, I’m also of that opinion on consolidation. I believe the market will handle this. At some point, Clear Channel will grow too big (if it hasn’t already) and once radio takes a nosedive (because, oh, say, Stern goes to satellite and music fans go elsewhere to get their music) then Clear Channel — by virtue of its oversize and lack of diversity — will be particularly vulnerable. The market will tear them down. Mark my words.

In the end, the problem with Clear Channel isn’t that it’s a big company but that it’s a bad company.

: Another question from comments I haven’t answered is, do I have a problem with campaign finance limitations as a governmental interference in free political speech? The oversimplified answer: Yes. We’re all disgusted with the influence certain special interests have on politicians, quite disproportionate to their representation of the priorities of the populace (I’ll bait the hook with the NRA, for example) but I also believe that if I wanted to give $10,000 or $100,000 to a candidate of my choice, it should be my choice. Just to answer your question.

: Ed Cone on Clear Channel.

: Rush Limbaugh changes his tune. When Clear Channel pulled Stern, this is what he said on his show (sorry for the caps — somebody buy Drudge a new keyboard!):




Oh, but that was before he heard that this could be about politics and his boy, George. Now he write a piece in the LA Times switching course to defend George.

He also concedes that he is carried by Clear Channel himself.

Someone might have also told Limbaugh that Stern hates him and even after Rush defended Stern, Howard remained consistent in his disdain for Rush.

Note my relief at no longer being on the same side on something as Rush. Whew.

: Previous Stern posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.

  • The problem with that line of argument — “first Stern, then us bloggers” — is that Howard Stern operates in a heavily regulated public resource (radio airwaves), while bloggers and other electronic commentators operate in a resource with excess capacity (the ‘Net). The government has, for years, regulated the content of radio and TV broadcasts on the grounds that the airwaves, since there are only so many frequencies, belong to the public.
    There’s no precedent for them doing it to the ‘Net (yet), and in fact court cases run against Internet censorship while allowing that “obscenity” can be regulated in so-called public mediums like the mail, broadcast TV, and radio. If we really wanted to change the status quo and keep the Howard Sterns of the world on the air, then laissez-faire airwaves are the only solution, since censorship will always follow regulation.

  • No

    Hysteria again, and I decry it from left and right commentators. “But when the government decides to step in and wipe people like Stern off the map”…??? As far as I know, Howard’s still on E channel every evening, querying guests to discern what favorite orifice has been probed. He’s been banned by what…six of his 81 outlets. Time for the next chicken little liberal story…oh, the horror of____________(fill in the blanks…homelessness, unemployment numbers, AIDs pandemic wiping out everyone, yadda, yadda.) Thank the good L–d, Larry’s still on TV and skewering liberal hysteria…including (please inform Foxman and Rich) being Jewish and enjoying Wagner…to the outrage of the looney left on his side of the aisle (or pew.)

  • This is disappointing. I can see your not wanting to acknowledge others viewpoints or arguments, but when you say something like “It’s the First Amendment, Stupid”, you’re basically saying that not only are you not going to acknowledge what others have said, but that we’re also stupid for not believing as you do, or for disagreeing with you.
    I guess all I can say, as I bid you Ta, and good luck with your efforts on this, is that this discussion has become very Stern-like. Take that as you will.

  • Stop abusing that strawman. We’re walking about Howard Stern, the FCC, and the public airwaves, which have been regulated by the government for decades.
    To extrapolate from that and say that “next time” the government might start fining web sites is ludicrious. It has no factual or legal foundation.
    Fine web sites? Using what mechanism? The President, Congress, and the FCC have no legal authority over the content on the World Wide Web. None. It’s been proven time and time again, no one does. The government can’t even really control the content of this country’s cable TV, nevermind thousands of web servers all over the world. They do have legal authority over the broadcast airwaves, and always have.
    Frankly, this is beginning to sound like Chicken Little. One man with a record of millions of dollars in FCC fines over 12 years has been dropped from six of the 70-odd stations that carried him, and therefore, The First Amendment Sky Is Falling. Web sites are next, and soon your own vocal cords will be put on a ten second delay.

  • You can parse this legally, or you can look at the politics behind it. Legally, there’s a case to be made that Stern is a problem, but there’s a much stronger case that the standard is inconsistently applied if a lot more radio hosts aren’t disciplined.
    Politically, the case is far from airtight, but the general contours – that this is politically motivated – make sense. Do people think the internet is immune from politics or something?

  • *

    You are BLOGGING about HS from CHURCH!!??
    The horror, the horror.
    So HS is the canary in the coal mine, huh?
    The Dixie Chicks and Martin Sheen never found any work again, right? They were shut down and Free Speech was endangered right?
    Free Speech doesn’t mean there are not real consequences to that speech. HS can be a player in the free market, he could be the next Rupert Murdoch… what is he afraid of? Put his money where his mouth is. If he doesn’t like the rules his employer places on him, go somewhere else, start his own media empire (like the playboy guy and larry flynt did)…. he can ply his brand, but his present is telling him what they want from his performance. If he doesn’t like it, he can GO SOMEWHERE ELSE.

  • Trump

    Jeff, can you tone down the hysteria a bit please?

  • Dan Herzlich

    Jeff your argument lacks any subtlety. You claim the gov’t is violating the First Amendment by censoring Howard Stern. You’ve progressed from saying that it was a “chilling” effect.
    Fine, if the gov’t can’t decide what is “indecent” then there should be no FCC and no regulation whatsoever. Let the market decide the standard. Bandwidth goes to the highest bidder. If people are offended they can turn to another station or channel. Just require a warning before each show, e.g., “This show contains: animal slaughter, beastiality, humiliation of the handicapped and disabled, child pornography, Larry King, coprophagia, Briney Spears “singing,” Rush Limbaugh’s medical records, etc., and that’s just the evening news.
    And, as a show of good faith, commentors on blog should not be censored. Simple.

  • Evan

    Keep it up, Jeff, don’t let these pollyannas get to you.

  • Shelley: Sorry. I’m not calling anyone stupid. It’s a paraphrase of the paraphrase in yesterday’s Stern post: vanden Heuvel paraphrased the famous Carville line, “It’s the economy stupid.” She said: “It’s the First Amendment, stupid.” I repeated that refrain yesterday and simply repeated it again today. Just so we’re clear.

  • Talking about this in terms of hysteria makes essentially two points.
    1) Proportionality. Yes, this isn’t really that big a deal, relatively speaking. Some people can’t hear the person they want to in some markets, probably because of politically motivated intervention. But it’s not like people are book burning or fascism.
    2) Free speech is under attack here, because it seems awfully close to a politically motivated application of regulatory double-standards.
    Both of these points are worth keeping in mind.

  • billg

    I’ve seen no evidence that tells me the government “stepped in” in a deliberate effort to ruin Stern. What I see is some Bush league politicians in D.C. trying to score points and a company that owns too many radio stations (Clear Channel) taking advantage of that to score a few easy PR points with the crowd that might otherwise be hounding them about all those radio stations.
    Is that a good thing? No. Did someone in the Administration or in the FCC call up Clear Channel and tell them to pull Stern? Pretty damn unlikely.
    Is the notion of the government fining media outlets for indecent content more than a bit problemmatic? Yes, but if you’re gonna do that at least boost the fine to a level that will actually be noticed.
    Lost in all this noise is the fact that Howard Stern is an embarrassingly adolescent champion for the cause of free speech. He belongs to the same camp as Lowest Common Denominator trash TV shows like “The Mullets” and most of the so-called reality shows. He’s an exploitative, puerile, manipulative character who is mining the same ore as pornographers.
    The insistent “the sky is falling” rant about attacks on the first amendment would carry more weight if the proposed Hero of the Moment wasn’t such a perfect example of what parents don’t want their children to become.
    The danger of waving the first amendment flag about Howard Stern is that a lot of people will happily sacrifice that amendment for putting a cork in Stern.

  • Billg: Clear Channel and Viacom were leaving Stern alone until the Government pulled their executives to the woodshed in Washington and until Congress threatened to increase fines by large multiples. A senator wrote to Mel Karmazin telling him he should get rid of Stern. That is government interference in speech.

  • Dan Herzlich

    Jeff, if I decide to walk into your church naked (or maybe in a loin cloth), I don’t want the gov’t to step in and wipe me off the map (to paraphrase what you quoted). I want the freedom to express this very important and personal religious statement as guaranteed by the First Amendment. People don’t have to look at me if they’re offended, besides no one would be getting hurt.
    Next, I want to marry my Treo. BTW, it wouldn’t be a same sex marriage.
    DH – How can we promote democracy in Iraq when our gov’t totally ignores our own constitution? ;)

  • Andy Freeman

    It’s NOT the first amendment.
    If it was, Jarvis et al would have been going off about the various and latest campaign restrictions.
    Instead, they didn’t get excited until boobies, Bush-bashing, and/or big media was involved.
    I like those things as much as the next guy, but you had your chance to get excited about the first amendment – you’re now just trying to wrap your ox with the flag.

  • Richard Heddleson

    Was it the sermon that inspired you to write about HS?

  • kkl

    I believe the governmnent “pulled execs into the woodshed” because of the massive complaints it received following the Superbowl. Voters complained to their elected representatives. Their representatives are acting on voter outrage. *Shrug* I kinda look at it as democracy in action.

  • Heuvel tries to make this a First Amendment issue, but her argument is presented in typical conspiracy theory fashion. She gives us coincidence, rumor, implication and allegations. Where is the evidence that Clear Channel is

  • Dan Herzlich

    kkl: Free speech is not defined by the complainers or even the majority opinion which is now represented in the Congress and Senate by a majority of Republicans who will willingly risk bad press for Bush’s re-election in order censor Stern. Don’t you see, it’s important for liberals and conservatives to stand up to these self-destructing Republicans so Stern can be placated and Bush can get elected(!?!). Maybe they’re suffering from the same self-righteousness that brought down the Deaniacs and Ms. Stewart.
    DH – Gosh, is hubris becoming a theme here or what?

  • Once again, the government *already* mounted an effort to censor the Internet on the basis of “indency” regulations, the “Communications Decency Act”. This was ruled thoroughly unconstitutional, ACLU v. Reno, 1997.
    Whatever the merits of the Howard Stern brouhaha, it will not lead to an FCC/indency attempt to censor the Internet, because that’s been run all the way to the Supreme Court already, and lost.
    Just last week there were SC arguments about the latest attempt to have an Internet censorship law, and THIS ONE JUST MIGHT SUCCEED! (“COPA”)
    Given a real law being argued right now, and the FCC-type approach already rejected, the censorship threat-analysis seems very clear.

  • kkl

    Dan, ITA with the majority not granting first amendment rights. As others have stated, there are broadcast standards already in place. The public just wants them enforced right now.
    As far as I know, nobody has published a proposed rule to change federal regulations in this area. They are already there. The public has asked that broadcasters comply with them. They ask the broadcasters via their elected representatives. Once again, *shrug.*

  • Mike B

    I don’t know if its been pointed out, but please read the Sunday Los Angeles Times Opinion piece by Rush Limbaugh regarding Stern. Very interesting…..


    Clear Channel and Viacom were leaving Stern alone until the Government pulled their executives to the woodshed in Washington and until Congress threatened to increase fines by large multiples. A senator wrote to Mel Karmazin telling him he should get rid of Stern. That is government interference in speech.
    What you describe, Jeff, is a lot of things — cynical, oleagenous, mercenary, and stupid, among other things — but it isn’t “government interference” in speech. Clear Channel was not directed by the government to pull Stern; Senators don’t have that kind of authority, and they say a lot of things no one pays attention to. Clear Channel took Stern off their air so they could play “What A Good Boy Am I”, not because a U.S. marshall should up to enforce the law.

  • “I believe the governmnent “pulled execs into the woodshed” because of the massive complaints it received following the Superbowl. Voters complained to their elected representatives. Their representatives are acting on voter outrage. *Shrug* I kinda look at it as democracy in action.”
    What KKL said. See — I’ll type real slow here — the USA is run by its citizens. This horrible “government” you are all upset about did not descend upon our soil from some alien planet; we the people vote for some of our countrymen to go to Washington and do our bidding. Of course, since there are 280 million+ of us, this gets a little confusing, and sometimes desires clash. That is why there are laws and votes and debates and such. Maybe there was no direct route via shocked NFL viewer –> congressman –> Clear Channel, but there was no evil government conspiracy from on high to take away our rights either.
    You know, I really can’t believe you are this naive. I am forty years old and in all the years of my life no one on the radio has been allowed to get away with the things Howard Stern and his imitators have been. I can remember when a deejay couldn’t even say “damn,” let alone go on and on (or let a “caller” go on and on) about what a black woman’s private parts tasted like. I am by no means surprised that he was shut down anywhere — what I can’t understand is why he wasn’t shut down everywhere years ago, if the “f” in FCC stands for “fascist” like you seem to think it does. Not only is your attitude hysterical, it is insulting to the people in other countries now and in the past who are experiencing real censorship. Take Cuba, for one example. The journalists now locked up in Castro’s dungeons aren’t there because they wanted to go into detail about some woman’s sex parts, or have lesbian orgies on the radio.

  • “He also concedes that he is carried by Clear Channel himself.”
    Not an important point, I guess, but Limbaugh pointedly referred to his relationship with Clear Channel during his first “I’ve never heard Howard Stern” monologue. This was not something he “conceded” later.

  • rigo

    jeff and all,
    note the fact that stern, mentioned at the end of this fox news article, was a bush backer:
    Former senator and current Law & Order star Fred Thompson is just one of the growing number of well-known faces who say they support the president’s stance on Iraq — and want the American people to know not all celebs are against the administration.
    “I have been kind of surprised at the unanimity that seems to be coming out of Hollywood against those policies and against those precedents that have been established,” said Thompson, who has also appeared in movies such as The Hunt for Red October. “I think it’s important to have someone from the other side.”
    Thompson worked with the organization Citizens United to produce a commercial supporting the war on Iraq — challenging an anti-war ad by fellow NBC actor Martin Sheen of The West Wing.
    “Hollywood and the anti-war movement have joined forces to attack President Bush as our nation goes to war,” reads the group’s Web site. “Citizens United Foundation is fighting back.”
    Thompson’s ad, according to the site, “encourages all Americans to come together and support our men and women in uniform as they fight the war on terror.”
    And Thompson is not alone in praising Bush: Dennis Hopper, Rob Lowe, Dennis Miller, Howard Stern, rocker Ted Nugent and even hard-partying Kid Rock have all come out in support of military action against Iraq.
    full story here:,2933,81599,00.html

  • I just registered for the LA Times online, and Rush’s piece is great!
    “The real hypocrisy here is saying we need to regulate radio but we can’t have standards about what appears on TV if it arrives in your home via cable or satellite.”
    This doesn’t feel like an about-face at all… in fact, he still defends Stern *somewhat* in describing him as “Romper Room” compared to TV (although he’s softened his “I’ve never heard” Howard to “I am not a listener of” — I’m surprised no one has called him out on the first statement, because it sounds like a forthright fib.

  • billg

    Andrea, you don’t need to be a conspiracy addict to see a pretty clear link between Janet Jackson and the Stern flap. I don’t agree with Jeff’s characterization of this as censorship, but it isn’t very healthy. A few folks who think they can play politics by pandering to people who are genuinely concerned about what’s on the public airwaves recognized a freebie when Janet dropped one in their laps. After that, Stern was an easy and obvious target for more pandering and exploitation.
    Nothing much is happening here that merits being called “democratic”, either. Congress is not acting democratically if it legislates based on the noise generated by letters, phone calls, and email. We can’t equate noise in the streets, in blogs and on talkshows with the “voice of the people” democratically expressed.
    The democratic way to respond to content you don’t like is to stop buying it, or to buy more of content you do like. If people don’t want Stern on the air, they should stop listening and call up his sponsors and tell them they’ve stoppped. Likewise, folks who like Stern should do the opposite.
    It would be very nice if all this noise would go away and the networks would begin to understand that adults want quality entertainment, not something that’s labelled “adult” because people swear and take off their clothes. Get a clue, networks, it ain’t the four-letter words that gets an audience for HBO.

  • Jim

    Actually I’m with Shelley on this one regarding your use of the “It’s the First Amendment, stupid…”
    Issue 1: Katrina traffics in conspiracy and hate. That’s her MO, and everyone who has ever been unlucky enough to be subjected to her screeds is well aware of this.
    “I was just repeating what she said..” is intellectually indefensible. If I led off my website on a daily basis with something insulting about you Jeff, would you accept that “I was just repeating what someone else said” as a valid excuse for my behavior? Jeff, we’re not stupid…don’t treat us like we are…
    Issue 2: By repeating it, you *are* calling those who disagree with you stupid. It’s fine if you think we are, but you should have the cajones to come out and say it rather than hiding behind Katrina van den Heuvel.
    Issue 3: As many, many posters have pointed out, you have repeatedly failed to answer many of the extremely valid points raised in your comment section. It is you who are refusing to engage intellectually on the subject. You are all emotion on this subject and it is blinding you not only to reason but to the mutual respect and cordiality required for reasoned debate. So if you want to start tossing around “stupid,” be careful lest you lose control of the genie you let out of the bottle…
    If you want an echo chamber, you’re not going to be long in finding one. I enjoy a vigorous debate, but vigorous is not insulting and vigorous requires two sides to participate. If you don’t want to engage with your readers regarding the posts you make, then close the comments section. Don’t pretend it matters.
    ..Especially since we’re “stupid” anyway…Not that *you* think so, of course, we’re just repeating what you repeated that she said…

  • billg, I wasn’t focusing so much on the details of just who got what message from who and who caused who to do what — I don’t really care, see. All I know is that Jeff is acting all shocked like because a show gets dumped from some radio stations because of dirty talk (not political talk, let’s be real here), when he is at least my age if not older than me and he knows full well that a) FCC rules about dirty talk have been around since radios had wood cases, and only in the last few years have the rules been bent or ignored; and b) he is fulminating about “government” as if it were some sort of oppressive alien entity imposed upon us.
    And yes, you can’t count on the “voice of the people” in this matter entirely because the people are liars and hypocrites when it comes to free speech — it usually turns out that “free speech” means what I like to hear, and speech that should be restricted means what I don’t care about or don’t want my kids to hear or people to hear me listening to. Personally, I’d ban all talk radio because when I turn the radio on all I want to hear is music, not some stupid human’s opinions. When I want opinions I read blogs.
    I’ll end this with: if you have some beef with the FCC — even with its existence, whether it should even exist or not — then discuss that in a rational manner. If you are worried that dissenting political opinion is missing or stifled on the public airwaves, then address that concern with examples. But don’t expect my sympathy for the travails of shock jocks. They made their beds knowing just what stained the sheets.

  • kkl

    [quote]Nothing much is happening here that merits being called “democratic”, either. Congress is not acting democratically if it legislates based on the noise generated by letters, phone calls, and email. We can’t equate noise in the streets, in blogs and on talkshows with the “voice of the people” democratically expressed.[/quote]
    Hee. Guess you’ve never been in Washington and worked for either the Legislative or Executive branches. Noise? Gets a lot of attention.

  • Charlie (Colorado)

    Politically, the case is far from airtight, but the general contours – that this is politically motivated – make sense. Do people think the internet is immune from politics or something?

    I was going to write that I didn’t think political motivations made any sense, except that I suddenly realized it mattered what the hypothetical political motivations were. So let’s say it this way: I don’t think an argument that it was political motivation to silence a critic of the Bush administration makes any sense at all.
    What’s more, I think there can be a very clear argument made purely on economic grounds that Clear Channel was looking at Stern going from a financial gain to a financial loss in the presence of high fines. Since they don’t have a financial interest in the show itself (they buy it from a competitor) and they might very well have other shows that could be implicted, offering Stern up as the sacrificial lamb makes sense. While we might prefer CC to be a “profile in courage”, in a public company, that’s also called “failing their fiduciary duties” and “fired”. So an argument that they’re firing Stern because they don’t like his politics per se isn’t well supported, if not unthinkable.
    If, however, you mean “politically motivated” in the sense that they’re responding to pressure and threats from the FCC, based in massive political pressure on the FCC by Congress, which comes in a bipartisan fashion from masses of people who think Nanny Government should be making sure that they’re never offended by what’s on TV and radio, I guess I’d have to agree.

  • TC

    ==I am posting this on my Treo from church.==
    Great relationship you got going with God there, Mr. Jarvis. Did you wait for the homily before you checked out?

  • bobthebuilder

    Ah Jeff the true religious zealot mutitasking in church rather than devoting real attention to his devotion. Ah Jeff, pious and far superior to the vast hordes of the “Stupid” who just do not get his (and Mr Stern’s) grand scheme of what is right for all of us (..and dutifly blind to the overwhelming number of comments taking him and Stern to task). Ah Jeff, lost in a vaccum and ignorant of his own stupidity has but his blog to play out this idiot’s crusade because he has yet to understand that masturbation — be it mental or physical is a fleeting and momentary thing — wipe off and move on Jeff, you will always be able to find your fill of Howard: fear not his end.
    For us the “Stupid”, we understand the politics, the public airwaves, the ramifications and the responsibilities in far subtler and far greater depth than you seem capable of.

  • HH

    Drudge is coming, indirectly, to Stern’s defense tonight on his show, threatening to read’s obscenities over the air to see what happens, demanding that Kerry defend his site after condemning Stern.

  • billg

    Agreed, Andrea. Nothing new here: Politicians exploit Stern; Stern exploits audience and politicians. (See Larry Flynt.)

  • Drudge is a f****** hypocrit going after Kerry for his language, but not after Bush for his well documented (in a Talk Magazine profile by Tucker Carlson) use of similar languge (not to mention calling Adam Clymer an asshole).
    And I guess it isn’t surprising Rush says he’s never listened to Stern. He was upset when there was a early 90s Time magazine cover with him and Stern on it. It has been ages since I’ve read that cover story by Kurt Anderson, but I think it made the point that Stern and Limbaugh were more similar than most would think.
    Rush talked about sex in ways that many of his listeners weren’t comfortable with, once even talking about how women would have orgasms just listening to his voice. And one women called in and claimed that it worked.