The new seriousness at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) toward basic, unmissable profanity on broadcast television and radio is beginning to draw great protest from the proponents of profanity and indecency. They have unfurled the banner of the First Amendment and uttered the usual buzzwords and mantras: free speech, censorship, chilling effect. Then there's a new one: "creative integrity."
This last one comes from NBC president Robert Wright, who wrote a passionate editorial in the Wall Street Journal claiming the TV elite are the titans of "creative integrity," and must not be protested. "Ultimately, we have much less to fear from obscene, indecent or profane content than we do from an overzealous government willing to limit First Amendment protections and censor creative free expression. That would be indecent," Wright insisted.
It's an argument Howard Stern would love: It's not smut that is indecent, it's protesting smut that's indecent! It's like saying cigarettes don't kill people, the anti-tobacco lobby does.
Wright and other activists are now condemning the FCC for defining NBC's airing of the F-word during the Golden Globe Awards as obscene. Apparently, the F-word is the very height of "creative integrity." I wonder if Robert Wright taught his own children that profanity is creative and laced with integrity.
NBC filed its own brief of protest at the FCC. The other, more publicized brief -- covered with headlines like "Hollywood Fights Back" -- can be found at the Web site of People for the American Way. It is signed by Fox Entertainment, Viacom (CBS, MTV, etc.), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), several broadcasting lobby groups, the magician duo Penn & Teller, and the potty-mouthed bisexual comic Margaret Cho.
This coalition is not interested in the broader cause of free speech -- you will not see Margaret Cho or Penn & Teller speaking out for the right of high school children to pray at the flagpole, or the right of a graduation speaker to credit Jesus as a positive influence in his or her life. (In fact, the ACLU is an aggressive litigant against this form of "offensive speech.") This brief is an overt effort to make America's airwaves safe for the F-word. It warns the FCC's Golden Globes ruling that "the isolated use of an unplanned and unscripted expletive is both 'indecent' and 'profane' represents an unconstitutional expansion of the government's intrusion into broadcast content."