Arrogant Michael Powell

Brent Bozell

8/3/2003 12:00:00 AM - Brent Bozell

FCC Chairman Michael Powell is getting set to be royally humiliated.

After announcing his intention to allow the powerful television networks to increase their market ownership share from 35 percent to 45 percent, there was an outpouring of opposition. Dozens of organizations, ranging from NOW to the NRA came forward to criticize the planned power grab. An arrogant Powell ignored them all, and over the additional protests of the two Democratic commissioners, rammed through an expansion of the networks' control over the airwaves.

Powell underestimated his opposition.

After some 70 high-priced industry lobbyists reportedly descended on Congress, and word went out from the GOP leadership that all Republicans were dutifully to support the Powell caper, something very odd -- and so refreshing! -- happened. Members of both parties put aside partisan politics and came together in an appropriations bill to stop the giveaway by an unmissable 400-21 margin.

In the Senate the sentiment is the same. Though the White House has threatened a veto, numerous Republicans, like Trent Lott (MS) and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (TX) have already announced their intentions to roll back Powell's move in September.

You would think that Powell would have learned a thing or two about pragmatic politics from his old man, but the arrogance of this man seems boundless. He's now taken to the New York Times to push his agenda, and it was in that paper's op-ed pages that he penned this brand-new line: "Much of the pressure to restrict ownership, I fear, is motivated… by a desire to affect content. And some proposals to reduce concentration (of media ownership) risk having government promote or suppress particular viewpoints."

Those are the words of a scoundrel. C-E-N-S-O-R-S-H-I-P. The inference is all over that statement, and one wonders why Powell didn't just come out and say it. But we know why he didn't say it. This Clintonian scare tactic has no basis in fact. North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan dismissed the charge as "absurd," stating, "I have no idea what he had for breakfast before he wrote that."

Powell's wordsmithing is too cute by half. The content of programming is a factor (among others) in the ownership debate, but this is not equivalent to Powell's accusation that it is government -- or any other entity -- that would "promote or suppress particular viewpoints."

What the networks and, apparently, some Commissioners at the FCC, would have us forget is that we, the public, own those airwaves over which they broadcast. More: The networks are obligated -- not encouraged, mind you, obligated -- to uphold some shred of decency in programming by fining broadcasters who have no standards but making a buck.

These networks have simply ignored the public's standards of decency. And the same holds true for the FCC. In its entire history the FCC has not once fined a TV station for airing indecency. Apparently it can't stretch its $278,000,000 annual budget far enough to watch what's on television.

In a real sense it is the height of irony that these networks that have consistently abused the public trust would come forward and demand even more control of the public airwaves. It is the height of outrage that the FCC would side with them.

"Keen Eddie" is a new offering from the FOX entertainment network. It airs at 9 p.m. East Coast time, meaning that in the Central and Mountain Time zones it airs at 8 p.m.

Just after the "family hour" show "American Juniors" in June, "Keen Eddie" featured a storyline wherein a band of thugs trafficking in horse semen hires a prostitute to have sex with a horse in order to extract its semen. The script matches the plot, as when the prostitute objects and is told, "You're a 40-year-old filthy slut; you'll do anything."

There is not a corner of America, not even in the 90210 area code, where this sewage conforms to community standards of decency. So why did stations air it? Responding to outraged viewer sentiment in its community, Kansas City FOX affiliate WDAF responded thusly: "We forwarded your letter to the FOX network. The network, not WDAF-TV4, decides what shows go on the air for the FOX Owned and Operated Television Stations."

So why did the FOX network air this garbage? Because it has nothing but contempt for community standards. And why is it so emboldened in its contempt? Because, apparently, the view is shared by FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who has had nothing, nothing at all, to say about it. What's so indecent about having children watch hookers have sex with horses?