The Daily Stern: A complaint to the FCC

The Daily Stern: A complaint to the FCC
: I sat down and wrote a letter to Michael Powell, head of the FCC, to see how easy it would be to use the FCC’s own words to argue that if they fine Howard Stern, they must fine Oprah Winfrey. Piece of cake. Not sure I’ll send it, though; I don’t really want to stoke the FCC’s stove with complaints. But you can send it if you want. Powell’s address is The letter:

Mr. Michael Powell:

I write to file a complaint against the Oprah Winfrey Show that aired across the nation on Thursday, March 18, 2004 with explicit sexual and excretory references.

Let me make clear that I strongly oppose the FCC and government attempting to regulate speech; it is, I firmly believe, a violation of the First Amendment. I consequently strongly oppose the FCC’s imposition of fines against the Howard Stern Show on Thursday, March 18. On the same matter of principle, I also would oppose the imposition of fines against the Oprah Winfrey Show.

However, what was said on the Winfrey show — on the very same day that you imposed fines against Stern — is quite equivalent. If you fine Stern, it seems clear that you must fine Winfrey. If you do not fine Winfrey, then it seems equally clear that you must rescind the fines against Stern. The speech is virtually identical. The only difference is the speaker.

Please note these excerpts from the transcipt of the Winfrey show:

Winfrey promotes the segment in question with the specific references to the sexual and excretory language, clearly demonstrating that it was planned and not accidental:

WINFREY: If your child said they had their salad tossed or was going to a rainbow party, would you know what they meant? The secret language of teens when we come back…

In the segment in question, the guest speaking is Michelle Burford of Winfrey’s own magazine, O.

Ms. BURFORD: Salad-tossing. I’m thinking cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes. OK? I am definitely not hip.

WINFREY: OK–so–OK, so what is a salad toss?

Ms. BURFORD: OK, a tossed salad is–get ready; hold on to your underwear for this one–oral anal sex. So oral sex to the anus is what tossed salad is. Hi, Mom. OK. A rainbow party is an oral sex party. It’s a gathering where oral sex is performed. And a–rainbow comes from–all of the girls put on lipstick and each one puts her mouth around the penis of the gentleman or gentlemen who are there to receive favors and makes a mark in a different place on the penis, hence, the term rainbow. So…

And later in the show, Winfrey returns to the subjects at issue.

Ms. BURFORD: And if suddenly your kids want to make salad all the time, you should be wondering. OK.

WINFREY: Yeah. OK. And boo–booty call is pretty common, right?

And again:

WINFREY: Are rainbow parties pretty common?

Ms. BURFORD: I think so. At least among the 50 girls that I talked to, this was–this was pervasive.

Now let us take this speech and put it to the tests to which you put the speech on the Stern Show. Quoting from your FCC ruling against Stern:

“The Commission defines indecent speech as language that, in context, depicts or describes sexual or excretory activities or organs in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium.

“Indecency findings involve at least two fundamental determinations. First, the material alleged to be indecent must fall within the subject matter scope of our indecency definition