When the late Playboy centerfold and tabloid-media celebrity Anna Nicole Smith graced the white marble steps of the Supreme Court in 2006, the network news operations couldn't get enough of the story. The blonde floozy had married a fabulously wealthy Texas oilman who happened to be 62 years her senior, and now she wanted to collect his estate. It was a serious legal challenge, and a salacious gossip story, and the networks covered it religiously.
But when a Supreme Court decision affects the networks directly, and adversely, there's no coverage.
The Supreme Court ruled on the case of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox all suing the federal government for the right to drop F-bombs and S-bombs on young children. The Second Circuit had agreed with the networks that regulation of "fleeting" expletives was "arbitrary and capricious." There was great interest then. Both ABC and CBS put on full stories to discuss the issues. But last week, the Supreme Court overturned the lower court. I bet you didn't know that, and if you didn't, it's because the networks didn't report it.
The verdict emerged once in casual conversation on NBC's "Today," in the fourth hour hosted by Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. Actor Hugh Jackman described the latest character he was playing as a "prick." Jackman's subsequent can-I-say-that routine was an exercise in light comedy, as they all laughed about the Supreme Court decision that no one explained.
The Fox News Channel, with 24 hours of news, offered only a tiny brief from Bret Baier on "Special Report" on the verdict: "The Supreme Court today ruled 5-4 in favor of a government policy that threatens broadcasters with fines if even a single curse is uttered on live television. But the justices sent the FCC guideline back to an appeals court to determine whether it violates the First Amendment." To his credit, Baier disclosed his own company's crusade for televised indecency: "The challenge to the rule was mounted by Fox Television, which is a corporate partner of Fox News."
The media could have entertained viewers with snippets of the court's opinion, especially the dissenters. They are eye-openers.
Justice Stephen Breyer bizarrely insisted that the airing of F-bombs is an "important governmental objective." Breyer wrote regulatory agencies are independent "to secure important governmental objectives, such as the constitutionally related objective of maintaining broadcast regulation that does not bend too readily before the political winds."