The late Steve Allen used cite a delicious analogy to describe why the public airwaves should be kept free from offensive content. If a stranger walked into your house, stood before your children in the living room, and started stripping and cursing, would you feel their innocence had been violated? Why then, he'd ask, should TV networks be allowed to do the same, using the airwaves owned by those very parents?
NBC/Universal CEO Robert Wright might offer a different perspective. Faced with this scenario with his grandchildren, he might instead praise the intruder's "creative integrity."
In his distinguished capacity as head of the NBC empire, Wright has pronounced from the hallowed editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal that dictatorship is on the march in television. The threat of fines from the FCC has created a "climate of self-censorship," an unmistakable "chill in the airwaves," in which "the viewing public is the biggest loser."
He lauds his own talent at prediction, and how he warned in the same newspaper in 2004 that the titans of "creative integrity" in Hollywood would look less obscene than those who would urge the government to punish the broadcasting of obscenity. (How Orwellian: Freedom is slavery, and opposing obscenity is obscene.)
Watch a week of Wright's NBC, and decide if you've just watched a schedule full of chilly self-censorship. It's more likely you'll seE a lot of violence, a lot of sexual themes and scenes, and coarse dialogue, including language that would be edited out of this newspaper as obscene if I were to repeat it.
You won't be running for your rhetorical parkas from the chilling effect. The only recent chill discovered on NBC was that company's Saturday-morning censors slicing any mention of God out of the "Veggie Tales" cartoons for little children.
Wright fancies himself as an enthusiast for technology as our solution to every problem in television. He suggests that the V-chip blocking technology is a "21st-century solution," unlike those fines of a "bygone era." But Wright doesn't say that his own NBC went for years refusing to provide the "content descriptors" that would enable V-chips in TV sets to work.
Instead, he makes a complete, head-over-heels fool of himself, boasting that broadcasters are "the most responsible, community-focused providers of programming in the business." This is about as plausible as claiming Janet Jackson's Super Bowl flash was a public service announcement on the perils of designer clothing.