Hearing whom? Not us.

I tried to get on the list of witnesses testifying before the Senate Commerce Committe’s Jan. 19 hearing on decency. I was told by people who know such things — D.C. attorneys — that it would be futile, that they invite whom they want to invite and whom they want to hear. They were right. It was futile. I faxed and emailed Sen. Frank Lautenberg (because, post-anthrax, the mail doesn’t get through) and his staff. I sent along the op-ed I wrote in the largest newspaper in Lautenberg’s state, the Star-Ledger, just to let him know my views — views that are not being represented in these hearings. And I made it clear that I have experience as a critic, editor, and media executive.

Nothing. My senator did not even give me the courtesy of telling me to fuck off.

And today, they announced the witnesses they chose to hear. B&C reports:

The hearing will be divided into two panels. The first will feature Jack Valenti, former president of the Motion Picture Association of America, who has been charged by Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) with helping come up with a new program ratings system.

Also on the stand for hearing number one are EchoStar Chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen and Comcast Executive VP David Cohen.

Stevens has said that if the multichannel video industry does not sufficiently self-regulate content, Congress may have to step in. Comcast is one of the companies that has already announced a family-friendly programming tier in response to pressure from Washington.

Four indecency-related bills are currently before the committee, including one raising FCC fines and another mandating per-channel cable pricing. The cable industry, which is not subject to FCC indecency enforcement, is trying to head off per-channel pricing through family tier initiatives like Comcast’s.

The second “decency” panel–the committee doesn’t use the term indecency to refer to the issue–features National Association of Broadcasters Joint Board Chairman Bruce Reese; Parents Television Council President Brent Bozell; CBS Executive VP Martin Franks; Screen Actors Guild President Alan Rosenberg; and Jeff McIntyre of the American Psychological Association.

So they decide to hear from Brent Bozell, the self-appointed chief prude of America who keeps defrauding Congress and the FCC — and, above all, the media — into thinking that he truly represents the community whose standards they have decided to set. The dickless media executives who have caved to FCC and PTC censorship are heard. This shrink on their side is heard.

But there is no one from the other side. There is no spokesman for the audience or for the First Amendment.

There is no free speech about free speech in Washington because Washington can’t hear.

The scandal here is that Washington acts as if it listens to and represents the people by holding these hearings. But the people are not welcome.

: Here is the letter I sent to my senator, Lautenberg. Be warned: The who-is-this-guy paragraph is obnoxiously filled with tooting of my own horn but I wanted to make sure I presented my credentials in full. And here is the Star-Ledger op-ed I write and sent to Washington.

: QUESTION: How do I file a FOIA request with the Senate Commerce Committee? I can’t find any instructions online.

  • Bill Henry

    Jeff, have you made a, say $20,000 contribution to your dear Senator or other rep in congress? No wonder no one wants to listen to you! Money talks, First Amendment lovers walk.

  • No big surprise Jeff. This is what moralists do. This is their game. They stack the deck in thier favor and then spin tall tales of social horror. Remember the comic book hearings of the 1950’s?

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  • … absent from the list but heavily desired by the certain members of the Senate were Tomás de Torquemada, Dr. Fredrick Wertham, Thomas Bowdler, and former Senators Joe McCarthy and James Exxon, all of whom could not attend this panel on the account of being no longer among the living.

  • I am sure you will hear from them back Jeff, but it’s Hill time not internet time I wouldn’t expect any response in less than two weeks. Just cause the net moves fast don’t expect the goverment does.

    (4 years of Hill experience)

  • Mark

    Jeff, this is bullshit. But I agree with Thomas; it usually takes about 10 days to get an email response from a Senator.

    Is there no forum by which the public can weigh in on issues before congressional committies, as with an FCC license renewal, whereby public comments get into the record?

    Maybe you need to hire a lobbyist. I hear there are a few looking for clients.

  • I first sent the letter to Lautenberg on Dec. 14 and the op-ed appeared in The Star-Ledger the week before. Having heard nothing via fax, I also emailed. Nothing. Silence.

  • And the Congress was in session until the 22nd or 23rd, which means staff was focused on members until Xmas. Usually staff takes the week between Xmas and New Years off (the only ones who usually stayed were jr staff to answer the phone and maybe one other). I suspect you will hear something early next week. Because with Congress it’s at the last minute and rushed or takes months.

    Just my gut read on Hill offices…

  • Time to start a new group: Families For the First Amendment. I think you could round up 21 people!

  • Unfortunately, neither of my two Senators are on the Commerce committee, but I think I’ll drop them each an email expressing my concern that people who are intellectual incapable of working a remote control or television v-chip are attempting to ruin things for those of us who can.

  • Soldier’s Dad

    Sorry Jeff,

    Hearings are scripted events. The staffers have all done their homework, put together the position papers, invited the relevant witnesses on both sides that will “Testify to this”,say that etc,etc,etc. The votes are already counted. Allowing private citizens, who can’t be counted on to stay to on script, upsets the whole show.

    Look at the Alito hearings…Kennedy is going to bloviate to keep the party “Base” happy…Biden is going to appear to be “probing”…Spector will ask the same questions that Kennedy asks…but in a way that lets the Alito actually answer the question.

    A private individual of modest means influencing public policy is possible…but it has to occur before the position papers and the script for the hearings are written.

    The hearings are merely a summarization of the position papers prepared by staff for “the record”. Very much like supreme court cases where the “written briefs” prepared by each side tend to be more important than oral arguments.

  • jon

    With apologies to Robert Towne: Forget it, Jeff, it’s Kabuki.

    Hearings are meant to advance an agenda– and it shouldn’t come as a surprise what kind of agenda Ted Stevens (R-Bridge to Nowhere) has. And Senate staffs whose principals aren’t on the committee in question don’t have the interest/time/skill to educate a civics-class constituent on this brutal fact. (and that’s what you’re being, just so you know)

    You want to advance OUR side? Some ideas:
    Pitch a similar op-ed to the Wash Post pegged to the hearing date.
    Get word to Howard’s all-news staff about this.
    Get a nonprofit (and a Dem Senator) to mount an alterna-hearing, to be broadcast on the Stern News Channel.
    Submit testimony in writing, and make some friends on the Dem committee members’ staffs. Not that hard, but it takes away hours from paying work. C’est le guerre.

  • Of course, it’s fixed. But that doesn’t mean we need to accept that. Used to be, we didn’t have a voice so we didn’t have to be heard. But now we do. So I’m going to use it to bitch.

  • JBK

    Why didnt you send it to the senator’s media relations/press guy. He probably has at least a little bit of media savvy as to your credentials. But let’s face it, this is a Republican-controlled Senate hearing. You ain’t got a chance if you’re going to be speaking about freedom of speech with this group.

  • JBK: Yes, I did.

  • It may that Congress has exempted itself from FOIA just as it exempted itself from OSHA, Social Security, and most other requirements it places on everuyone else. Imagine if Sarbanes-Oxley applied to Congress:-}

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  • If people felt they could influence or be heard by their legislators there wouldn’t be any lobbying industry.

    Jeff, now you have found out the ultimate corruption of our system. It is that only money gets heard and it is all perfectly “legal”.

    Using your internet platform is your best avenue as others are starting to realize as well, hence MoveOn and the like. Whether this will alter the culture is hard to predict. As long as elections remain so expensive, supporters with funds will still get priority.

  • Call me cynical, but is anyone else suspicious of another kangaroo hearing that looks like it’ll garner media attention that could have been focued on the ongoing and growing Ahbramof scandal?

  • I have an interesting question… is there any chance there could be a COUNTER-hearing outside of the government? Find all of the people who WANT to be in the hearing and are being intentionally shut out and make a big public presentation condemning the kanagroo court being held in the Senate. Condemn the senators for silencing the truth and preventing a fair and impartial hearing from taking place. Keep this serious and keep records, and when any kind of censorship legislation the Congress enacts gets challenged, use the records of those hearing to challenge and neutralize the testimony given in Congress. I think there is enough outrage from freedom-loving organizations to get something like this together.

  • jethro

    Thomas, you have 4 years of Hill experience, which is exactly 4 more than I. However, I wouldn’t sit for several weeks waiting for a response. My wife emailed our senators regarding a health care issue this December 23. We received a snail-mail response from Senator Carper’s office, written by a staffer who had clearly read and understood the original letter, the first business day after Christmas. Admittedly, senators from Delaware get less mail than those from New Jersey, but I’ve never had to wait more than a week or so for a written response.

    So don’t settle for business as usual!

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  • Debra

    I called Time Warner, my cable station. I only have basic cable and wanted to block a lady PIG-Jo hanson (or johnson I change it quickly) I also want to block the party girls commerical. I am a grand mother and was still ofended as a young mother. I DON’T want to have to be aggravated to the point were I yell at the offensive programing. I am 50 yrs old. If I ever have a heart attach I have told my children to sue TV CABLE. I have no control in my own home. Time warner said it would cost me $30. to block programs. I only pay around $15.00 for the basic cable. Then they said they could block out the whole channel from the pole. The rest of the channel except a handful of shows and commericals are ok. How can I block that pig teaching girls about sucking male you know whats. What if we could watch a regular program but put a block on sex, and we would see the couple kiss once, (no toung down the throath) then the block (won’t should the sex parts or violent parts and still see the rest of movie. I have not invited pono into my home. I am tired of seeing bouncing boobies. How would straight men like it if we saw men in jock straps bouncing around? I want the garbage out of my home. It sickens me!!! I also want to block out offensive programs all toghter11111 (I like CSI but I block out the gorry parts by putting my hand in front of my face. I only like the technical aspects (I’d like a v chip for gore parts ) Why do I have to pay for this block or lose of the whole channel. . That means my cable bill instead of $15.00 it would be $45.00. Men are the people with money not the women let men pay for sports channels and prono!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • I hear about you trying to get into these hearings on Sirius. It was a good try, but you know they will stack against you. These hearings are all BS anyway. Hopefully nothing will come out of them.

  • Concerned Citizen

    I heard on the Howard 100 news broadcast yesterday an exerpt from tte hearings held. I for one am all for freedom of speech. Parents should be parents and regulate what their children hear and see. This responsibility should not fall on the broadcasters. The airwaves should be left open for those who so choose to speak as they choose, as is layed out in the United States Constitution. If there is a program that a person does not wish for their children to hear, or see, then they should be responsible for regulating their children. Instead of sending their children to the room to watch/listen to/play what they choose, they should be parents and spend time with their children. If they do not like the content of the show that is on, they have the option of changing the channel. I, as a tax paying, law abiding citizen should not be deprived of my right to hear, or say, what I please. I pay extra for Sirius radio so that I do not have to hear the censored garbage on the free airwaives. The fact that I have to pay for radio to get past censorship is rediculous enough, and now they are entertaining the idea of censoring pay radio services!! If this is accomplished, this is going to open a can of worms that no one wants open. I am sure these censor mongers will be happy when they can not go to their beloved websites because some said the word “fuck” on it. How about the pay per view channels on cable and sattelite TV? How about HBO, Showtime, or any other subscription required cable channels? Will the censorship spill over into other media besides radio? I truely hope that someone will come to their senses and realize what a true Constutional violation this current proposed legislation will become. I remember a time when the United States of America was known as the “Land of the Free”. Sadly, that time is quickly vanishing. We as Americans do not have to stand for this. I would gladly participate in any political/legal battles that may be organized that will further guarantee my right to free speech, as well as the right of every man/woman/child in this once great nation to speak freely. It all boils down to parents not wanting to be parents anymore. When I was growing up, we had all of the cable channels. My parents did their best to keep me from seeing and hearing the things they did not want me to see or hear. They did this by being parents. Sadly, the desire for people to be parents is diminishing just as quickly as our rights which are guaranteed by the United States Constitution. I will be sending a letter to my congressman in regards to this situation, expressing my concern for the ever growing censorship, and ever vanishing rights, and I suggest everyone who is ready, willing, and able to take a stand do so.

  • lipwak

    There was a lawyer from the “adult industry”. I forget his name and exactly who he represented but he did say some good things. Sen Ted Stevens told him they’d better clean up their act re: something about warning anyone about sexual content of web sites, if I remember correctly, and he said he would take that back to the industry.

    So they at least had one guy there.