What's dysfunctional wasn't Janet Jackson getting her bra ripped off during the Super Bowl halftime show in front of millions of children. What's dysfunctional wasn't Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie swearing at an awards show on Fox in a clearly pre-scripted bit of profanity. What wasn't dysfunctional was "NYPD Blue" showing a young boy walking in on a nude woman in his bathroom. What was dysfunctional was letters of protest sent from Idaho, Texas and Ohio.
This is their standard of corporate responsibility: We have none, and we resent that someone would send a letter to Washington insisting that we do.
Team Obama deserves some credit. Even though their FCC under Julius Genachowski is a paper tiger with the TV "tastemakers," Solicitor General Donald Verrilli did defend the current FCC policies in court. He effectively pointed out that broadcasters want to have it both ways.
"The spectrum licenses they have are worth billions and billions of dollars. Spectrum is staggeringly, staggeringly scarce, and they're sitting on an enormously valuable resource which they got for free," he noted. "Then they have a statutory benefit of 'must carry' which gets them on cable systems automatically, and a further statutory benefit of preferred channel placement." And yet, despite all this favoritism from Congress, these billionaire sultans of sensationalism are complaining about the government. Yes, somehow, they're unfairly picked on by red-state grandmas on a fixed income who write letters.
Perhaps the worst thing to recognize in these oral arguments is just how lawyers like Phillips can argue fiercely against reality. Justice Samuel Alito asked: "If Hollywood were free to broadcast without FCC meddling, might we see streams of expletives and parades of nudity?"
Phillips replied: "Not under the guidelines that Fox has used consistently from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m." Ahem. Not only does Fox display no identifiable "guidelines" on taste at any hour, it doesn't broadcast any shows after 10 p.m. Fox stations air late news at 10 p.m.
The Supreme Court should stay the course with the FCC. No one should expect Hollywood to improve. But at least there's still a threadbare expectation that Hollywood should try and behave when children may be watching.