The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Thursday, February 26, 2004

So Howard Stern has been dumped from six ClearChannel stations in advance of Congressional investigations into "indecency" on television. Jeff Jarvis was outraged:

: The more I think about this, the more enraged I get. One tit flopped out and the government -- the Bush administration -- can't wait to play to its far-right fringe and censor speech and intimidate speech and chill speech. How dare they? This is not the role we expect of our government. We don't need a nanny.
Let's hear a little liberartarian outrage at government meddling in our lives and our speech.
Let's hear a little conservative outrage at government growing beyond its bounds.
Let's hear a little liberal outrage at goverment stiffling free spech.

Jarvis' words prompted over 200 comments, most of them extremely critical. Here are the most common counter-arguments:

  • It's not a problem because Clear Channel is a private company:

    Private companies making their own decisions on what they will tolerate from their employees--the horror!

    Sorry, this is not an action taken by a private company for its own reasons. It is an action taken by a private company to appease the government. Clear Channel was just fined $755,000 for the antics of another of its shock jocks. Various Congresscritters have been howling for blood ever since Janet Jackson's breast was (somewhat) exposed at the Super Bowl.

    Would I have a right to complain if I were mugged? So the guy did tell me "Gimme that money or else," but hey, giving someone your wallet is a private transaction!

  • The public airwaves are America's Sacred Trust and must not be exposed to boobies:

    I think you've lost sight of the fact that radio and TV broadcasters (as opposed to cable/satellite producers) operate on a public monopoly and have always had a mission to provide a public service. Janet Jackson's breast flopped out on 200 or so channels that no one else can broadcast on because CBS holds those local frequencies as government-granted monopolies. Since they are government monopolies, and since there's no other way to allocate frequencies except to one broadcaster at a time, it presents no conflict to me that those private businesses cashing in on government monopolies be required to do so in a manner that serves the vast majority in their broadcast area. In that regard, these private businesses are actually allowed a tremendous amount of leeway; the only restrictions are those of "decency" and not of political message, and even at that only during certain hours of the day.

    "Racism" means "whatever some liberal doesn't like." I am beginning to believe that "monopoly" means "whatever some economic illiterate doesn't like." I can receive 500 channels if I buy a satellite dish, but CBS has a "monopoly" because they use Channel 5? Well, I have a "monopoly" on "" I'd better call Bill Gates and ask if I can borrow some of his lawyers.

    The assertion that radio frequencies are somehow special, and require state monitoring and censorship, is one of the shabbiest excuses for the modern regulatory state. What would a radio station do if someone broadcast on the same frequency? Probably the same thing I would do if someone built another house on my lot. I get along just fine without a "Federal Land Title Commission," and as a bonus my activities on my property do not have to meet "community standards."

  • Freedom of speech applies to politics, not artistic expression:

    You are comparing bananas to peanuts. Do you really want to equate political/religious speech with "sexually explicit language and graphic[] discuss[ion of] a pornographic videotape"?

    What about South Park? It's a foul-mouthed, nasty show, but it also makes some very cogent points about contemporary politics and culture. To say that entertainment is not protected by freedom of speech is to say that people cannot use controversial entertainment to make a political point.

  • Howard Stern's speech is put to trivial use, so why protect it? Here is what James Lileks posted in today's Bleat:

    I think it's a shame he was reprimanded. I don't think people understand what's at stake here. We need to coarsen public discourse as much as possible as quickly as possible, because a free and open society depends on the right of Pink to flash her labia at the next Superbowl. I'm serious: if we don't see a clitoris on the Jumbocam, this nation is OVER.

    What's at stake is that Stern is a citizen, with the same rights as me or Lileks. If we ask courts to make decisions that vary depending on whether defendants are serious-minded or silly, where would it stop?

  • People have a right not to be offended by broadcasts:

    I don't have to be subjected to Janet Jackson's bra being ripped off in front of my 10-year old daughter and her friends on the public airwaves. I agree with most of the other posters and don't feel I have to summarize their excellent arguments regarding Howard Stern: you are way off base here.

    And, more succinctly though perhaps less felicitously,

    Your right to watch naked titties ends at everyone else's cornea. And when it comes to network TV, in daylight hours, that's a lot of corneas that you can offend.

    I think that this is the only argument that holds water. I also think it's pretty much what everyone who disagreed with Jeff thinks, even if they didn't say so. And I sympathize: I often find Stern rank and crude. I don't like a lot of the sex and violence on television.

    But: America is a huge, free, rich, diverse country. It has diverse cultures, politics, and richness of media. How can one person possibly expect that turning on the television or the radio will not occasionally offend him? Why do people think that of the hundreds of shows on television, each and every one of them is suitable for their children? It's as if you were to go into town and invite the first person you saw to your house for dinner. If he was ill-mannered, or smelly, or drank too much, would you really have grounds for complaint?

    Furthermore: What I think is appropriate for me, or for children, is a completely different issue than whether it is moral for a government agency to levy huge fines on foul-mouthed people.



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