One of the bold new frontiers in broadcast television's crusade to make the boob tube safe for profanity is the "news" excuse. The Federal Communications Commission recently ruled it was safe to use the barnyard profanity in the manufacturing of news.
The test case was a 2004 segment on CBS's "The Early Show," an interview with cast members of CBS's reality show "Survivor" in which one used the word "(B.S.)-er." According to the FCC, this constituted a "news" event, and news events are exempt from fines. But is it really "news" when a network uses its morning show to promote its prime-time lineup?
Calling this "news" opens a big profanity loophole. Even worse is the commission's creation of a provision for the networks themselves to determine what fits this "news" definition. What's next? It's not to hard to imagine CBS lawyers trying the argument that the Janet Jackson Super Bowl striptease happened during a news program, since there are few events that garner more news than the Super Bowl.
The broadcast networks are trying everything to muddy the waters while creating a national backlash against the FCC, embarking on a campaign filled with distortions, and using their own programs to promote them.
NBC recently ordered a full season of episodes for the one-hour drama "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," Aaron Sorkin's dreadfully unfunny show about a fictional "Saturday Night Live." NBC is using this series to campaign against the FCC using the "news" event angle, and distorting it to kingdom come.
Here's how Sorkin glorified the "news" excuse on his show: The fictional network NBS gets in trouble with the FCC when its embedded reporter in Afghanistan is interviewing an American soldier who then drops the F-bomb when a grenade lands nearby. And with that, the fun begins.
Almost instantaneously, the FCC has decided to levy a $73 million fine. One of the show's fictional network executives cracks, "You have to understand that pro-family groups support our troops in this time of war, just as long as we don't have to see or hear what our troops fighting in a war looks like and sounds like."
Lawyers counsel surrender to the Evil Empire in D.C., but that's when a top executive charges in to save the day. The plot turns when the ever-boorish Ed Asner dramatically growls and sermonizes that he won't pay the fine, as inspirational music plays underneath the speech: