Now the defenders of sleaze are trying to manufacture the mathematics in Washington, too. The fashionable pundit on all this right now -- recited by every libertine columnist from the New York Times to Newsweek -- is the former TV Guide critic Jeff Jarvis, now fulminating on a Web site called Buzzmachine.com. Jarvis tried to earn his math spurs this fall by asserting that he filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FCC on the fined Fox show "Married by America." Of the 159 complaints he said he was sent, only three count -- because there were two original letter writers and the rest followed the form of a complaint from the Parents Television Council.
Perhaps Mr. Jarvis doesn't know this, but I know this, and will charge here publicly: The FCC is lying in a deliberate attempt to mislead the public. There were not just 159 complaints on this very smutty Fox show that featured simulated oral sex, breast-kissing and other sexual antics on prime time broadcast television. The FCC has been awash in thousands of complaints, in faxes, e-mails and phone calls.
How do I know this? Because I know of over 4,000 PTC members who filed formal complaints on this program. Because I can assume many more non-PTC members complained. And because sources inside the FCC itself have confirmed this to me.
The FCC is saying officially that if an organization mobilizes its members to complain, and 10, or 100, or 10,000 people complain, it is only one complaint. FCC boss Michael Powell earlier this year issued the greatest insult of all when he labeled those who file grievances -- the very taxpayers who pay his salary -- as producers of "spam." Congress needs to step in, exercising its oversight responsibilities to investigate a federal agency that is complicit in an effort to thwart the public will.
But I suspect Mr. Jarvis knows this. And Mr. Jarvis knows this, too: The networks have a legal obligation to conform to community standards. There is not a single, solitary community in America today that countenances as acceptable placing sexual raunch like that found in "Married by America" in front of children in prime time. It is a reason why many people stated on Nov. 2 that their greatest concern was the assault on moral values.