The daily Stern

The daily Stern

: Howard Stern’s source in the FCC tells him today that there have been meetings at a high-level in the agency strategizing when to fine Stern based on the impact it would have on the election of George Bush. Some argue that fining him now will make him a martyr and help him rally voters against Bush; others say not fining him will make him look like a boy who cried wolf; others say they should get rid of Stern now because, to their surprise, much of his audience does vote. and he can have an impact on the election.

If that is true, that could not be a clearer violation of the First Amendment: an agency of government using fines for political ends to affect political speech.

If that is true, if any such discussion occurred in the agency, then they should be hauled before Congress or courts right now.

If that is true, what’s the difference between this and Nixon’s enemies list or J. Edgar Hoover’s harassment of civil rights and antiwar leaders?

So let’s find out whether it is true: Stern should sue and subpoena their asses. Or a legislator with balls should call for a hearing.

: I wasn’t going to have a daily Stern today. But damn the luck, there’s news to report. And that’s bad news.

: Stern got on the air today and said he is tired of the fight and never wanted to be the target of such attacks — “I just wanted to make people laugh in the car on the way to work.”

He said the religious right is winning. And they are.

And so he has pretty much decided to pull himself off the air. Now Stern often said such things and changes his mind. He says he is “80 percent there.” But he is not only tired of the attacks but also sees what is happening in Congress, where fines are being multiplied and will go after not only radio stations but also performers. They’re gunning not just for the media companies but also for Howard Stern and Janet Jackson.

Stern will go to satellite, that much is now clear. I have my Sirius stock.

: The big news is that the Senate Commerce Committee passed legislation to impose huge fines on indecency — whatever the hell that is — and more:

Following the lead of the House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this month, the Senate panel approved increasing potential fines for indecency ten-fold, from the current $27,500 to a maximum of $275,000 for a first-time offense by a broadcaster. The fines can escalate to $375,00 for a second violation and $500,000 for further incidents….

Under provisions passed by the panel, the FCC can double fines for indecent, obscene or profane language or images when the offending programming was scripted or planned in advance, or if the audience was unusually large, such as for a national or international sporting or awards event.

That would encompass entertainment award shows, during which artists have uttered expletives. The bill approved by the panel also would give the FCC the ability to impose the same fines on artists as it can impose on broadcasters, if the on-air talent willfully used indecent or profane language or images when they knew it would be broadcast.

They want to put media companies out of business. They want to put entertainers — and comedians and commentators — they don’t like into bankruptcy and shut them up. They want to censor via fines. Charlie sent me a great link to Classless Warfare, which tallies the damage:

As for the radio fines, this puts Clearchannel and Infinity Broadcasting in a tough spot, especially when it comes to their more popular radio hosts. ‘Bubba The Love Sponge’ was fired by Clearchannel after they were hit with a $750,000 fine by the FCC for 27 incidents of ‘indecency.’ From what I understand, the incidents are counted by radio station. ‘Bubba’ was broadcast on something like 4-5 stations.

Howard Stern on the other hand, is on something like 60 stations. Under the current proposed House bill, if he were fined for 8 incidents, that would be 480 total because it would be 8 for each station. At $500K a clip, Infinity would rack up fines of $240 million! If you were an executive at Viacom (which owns Infinity), would you rather can Stern or face hundreds of millions of dollars in fines every year?

What’s worse is the House bill allows the $500K fine to be applied to individuals, not just the corporations who hold the licenses. Think Sterm wants to get a bill for $240 from the FCC? Hell no. He’d quit first and who could blame him?

The real problem is that many people won’t care. “Why should I give a s*** if Howrd Stern quits or gets fired?” How long before Congress decides the Internet should fall under the same jurisdiction? Think Oliver would keep posting pictures of babes knowing that some dolt at the FCC might determine it’s ‘indecent’ and subject him personally to fines?

: The Senate legislation gets even stupider and more frightening. Getaloada this:

Perhaps most controversial will be an amendment by Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) that would impose a moratorium on rules passed by Congress late last year that allow for some media organizations to get larger. The amendment, which passed on a 13-10 vote, directs the General Accounting Office to study the relationship between indecent programming and media consolidation before the new ownership rules can take effect.

Yes, Janet Jackson’s boob was a conspiracy of the evil media-industrial complex! Numbnuts, they’re all numbnuts!

Fritz Hollings amendment is also now part of the bill: It would “direct the FCC to develop rules for controlling violent programming during hours when children are likely to be tuned in.”

But here’s the doozie, folks: By a one-vote margin, the committee defeated an attempt to extend FCC censorship to cable and satellite.

Listen: The First Amendment should prohibit what the FCC already does to TV and radio but, of course, its regulation and censorship is kept in place by the flimsy tissue of the idea that these are the scarce “public airwaves.” Well, cable and satellite are not public property; they are private property. If the government goes in to regulate and censor what happens there, then there is nothing stopping them from regulating and censoring books, music, concerts, comedy clubs… and the Internet.

This isn’t about Howard Stern. This is about you.

: The only good news out of this is that Stern is also thinking about bringing his show to the Internet. He was thinking about what he could do on the Internet — and what he can’t do on radio — and that seals the deal.

So take everything I said yesterday about SternSpace — as an organizing tool — and add so much more that Howard can bring to the medium. He will make audio and video content work and he’ll be the one who proves you can make money with it. This will be great for the Internet.

: Stern’s quote of the day: “They see the public airwaves and say let’s censor them. I see the public airwaves and say let’s liberate them.”


: Stern said that Merrill Lynch has issued a report on what will happen to satellite and broadcast radio when and if Stern switches. He also said that he’s talking to both XM and Sirius.

: I’m no fan of Margaret Cho. She’s no fan of Howard Stern. Stern is no fan of her’s. But Cho just called into Stern to support him and she has blogged her support as well:

am going to be on Howard Stern’s show on Wednesday.

Even though he has trashed me in the past, I have said nasty things about nearly everyone who is living or dead – so f*** it, I am not gonna cast the first stone. I am horrified that our First Amendment Rights are being eroded and that we have less and less of a voice in the media. Dissidents are being charged with breaking the rules. Even the most minor infractions are punishable by monstrous fines and people cannot risk speaking up for themselves because they could lose their jobs…

I don’t listen to any radio. I don’t have one. I listen to hip- hop downloaded from iTunes. Don’t you just love the iPod revolution? But I stick with music and read the news online. I believe that if the content of anyone’s art is offensive to you, don’t listen….

: Ed Cone digs up this frightening quote from an FCC commissioner:

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps (a Democrat appointed by Bush) on radio content, in a 2002 interview with Morality in Media: “I’ll bet if we had a particularly flagrant example, and actually revoked a license or two along the way, that would send a message such as has never been heard to the broadcasting community, that the FCC was serious and that maybe this was going to involve something more than the usual cost of doing business, and perhaps it would even be sufficient to militate in favor of a little different kind of programming.”

See, he does want to program your TV. I say, get your hands off my remote, Copps! [thanks, Charles]


: FCC czar Michael Powell is fretting that the bills being pushed through Congress are going too far and could be, oh, well, unconstitutional.

There are a number of things that give me pause because I don’t want to see enforcement remedies being captured by constitutional litigation,” Powell told reporters after speaking to a group of state regulators.

“Things like three strikes and you’re out, I think is an understandable idea but when you think it through, I can imagine scenarios where it can be more problematic than not,” he said.

Powell also expressed concerns that additional provisions, like one in the Senate bill that would put new media ownership rules on hold pending a review of links between indecency and consolidation, could end up scuttling the bill.

“It just seems to me we’ve probably got a lengthier process and we may or may not get a bill at the end of the day,” he said.


: Jonathan Peterson at Corante’s Amateur Hour says this “seems to be turning into a perfect storm of right-wing reactionaries, monopoly media, and an ill-informed population.”

: I’ve been waiting to see a little libertarian angst and anger over this government regulation of what we can say and hear and finally Reason Editor-in-Chief Nick Gillespie strolls up to the line (starting with one great line!):

For the want of a bra, free speech was lost.

Well, not exactly, but if the recent actions by the U.S. Senate’s powerful Commerce Committee are any indication, the future of free speech may be hanging by threads as sheer as the ones in a Victoria’s Secret mesh babydoll….

So it turns out that the outraged pols and social critics were absolutely right when they fumed that Janet Jackson’s notorious Super Bowl half-time show nipple-baring really did drive some Americans stark raving nuts. It’s just that they were talking about themselves more than the population at large, which seems mostly willing to move on (after all, there’s a new season of the violence-and-sex-drenched The Sopranos to catch). But for all too many members of America’s political and chattering classes, beholding the slutty songstress’s galvanized aureole was the psychic equivalent of staring directly into a total eclipse of the sun, blinding them with indignation, outrage, and national shame….

How seriously should we take any of this new congressional and regulatory activity? Given the unprecedented level of free expression we have and the ineffectiveness of past regulatory schemes such as the V-chip and past threats of content crackdowns from elected officials, it’s easy to laugh off these latest legislative efforts. At best, they represent election-year pandering and, at worst, they will act as a minor drag on an unstoppable culture boom that gives all of us greater and greater opportunities to produce and consume more and more media.

Yet as Buzzmachine’s Jeff Jarvis reminds us, “Once the government gets in the business of content [regulation]…then there is no stopping them. Slide down that slippery slope. Today, Howard Stern is offensive. Tomorrow, Sandra Tsing Loh on knitting is. Tomorrow, they try to regulate cable and not just broadcast. The next day, they go over the Internet (where, after all, there’s lots of dirty, nasty, offensive stuff). This isn’t about Howard. It’s about you.” If Jarvis seems a bit overanxious, it’s worth remembering that it’s only been a few years since the federal government almost succeeded in applying stultifying content regulation to the Internet. And it’s only been a few decades since such obscene garbage as Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Tropic of Cancer, and Fanny Hill (among others) were fully cleared for publication in these United States.

I’m far more confident than Jarvis that audiences and producers will always be able to route around censorship and regulations, especially the relatively mild sort of restrictions that would eventually pass constitutional and popular muster. This is especially true because technology continues to make it harder for all sorts of suppression. But he’s right to emphasize the underlying logic behind the sorts of legislation and policy that are making the rounds in Washington, D.C. Just because censorship is unlikely to work is no reason not to stand against it in the first place. And in the second and third place, too.

Welcome to the good fight, Nick!

: This has nothing to do with government regulation but…. Michael J. Totten reports that anti-smoking forces want to force NC-17 ratings on movies that show smoking because some find smoking offensive.

See? Being “offensive” is the crime of the century.

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