The indecency fraud

Jonathan Rintels writes a rousing attack on the indecency fraud committed by Congress, the FCC, and their coconspirators at the so-called Parents Television Council, et al, in the wake of the Senate’s late-night passage of its indecent indecency bill.

So, this is a great victory for America’s parents, right? Hardly.

Those tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of complaints we all keep hearing about – they’re, well, forgive me, I know it’s too easy, but I can’t resist – they’re bullshit. They’re a fraud.

The FCC received approximately 6,500 complaints about an episode of CBS’s hit show “Without a Trace,” which featured a brief scene of a teen sex orgy. With so many offended Americans complaining, no wonder the FCC imposed a $3.6 million fine on CBS and its affiliates, even though the “Trace” scene was hardly remarkable to anyone who has ever watched music videos or soap operas.

But a Wall Street Journal review of the numbers found that of those 6,500 complaints, all but three appeared to originate as computer-generated form letters.

The PTC claims credit for submitting thousands of complaints to the FCC about the April 7, 2003 episode of Fox’s “Married by America” that the Commission ultimately fined $1.2 million. But blogger Jeff Jarvis, former TV Guide critic, used the Freedom of Information Act to discover that “all but two came from the so-called Parents Television Council’s automated kvetch-machine.”

According to an investigation done by the conservative Progress and Freedom Foundation [pdf], when the PTC emails its list-serve to complain about a show, a single click on its email complaint form can generate six or more “complaints” since the FCC counts separately each complaint to each Commissioner’s office and other FCC offices. Making these numbers even more phony, there is no requirement that the complainer’s children or even the complainer himself actually view the offending show, let alone be offended by it. It’s the PTC/FCC version of click-fraud.

Both the WSJ investigation and mine show that there are just three prudes in America — plus 100 in the Senate.

  • Jeff, I’d say there are 100 prudes in the Senate, not 50. thanks for the shout!

  • It’s scary that by using a totally unethical method certain elements are able to pretend they’re promoting moral behavior – for everyone else. Thanks, Jeff, for keeping on keeping on.

  • The networks are already dying. Not only are they juggling their programming from one season to another (see today’s story about NBC redoing the line up they announced last week), but they are now doing it from day to day.

    This shows a high level of desperation as the audience evaporates. If the government succeeds in putting in vague indecency rules the programming will get even less appealing. The viewers will move elsewhere: to DVD’s, online video or new technologies still to come.

    More and more legislation of late is symbolic, an attempt to pander to a religious base that may be becoming disenchanted with their alliance with the Republican party. The recent issues of the “official” language, the national anthem, and the location of the ten commandments on public property are typical.

    A study of history is always instructive, the trajectory of the Roundheads and Cromwell comes to mind. These extremists movements seemt to last about twelve years or so, perhaps this one is nearing its end.

  • Bad data makes bad laws. Same as it ever was.

  • Jon: Blush. Thanks.