Justice and Decency
Delay and indecision are beginning to define the Obama
administration. One matter the Obama Justice Department cannot decide
is whether to file an appeal to the Supreme Court in the "fleeting
profanity" case called Fox vs. FCC. They've filed two extensions to
kick the can down the road. Their latest deadline is April 21. Without
an appeal, the Second Circuit's evisceration of any limitation on
broadcast cursing will stand.
That's right. All bets will be off. If you think the Idiot Box is foul now, wait until Hollywood is allowed to be as gross as it wants.
Some commentators will obviously apply the expected gravity argument. We're in three wars, have a $1.5 trillion deficit, and really, it's crucial to prevent Paris Hilton from swearing at a televised awards show? But Obama's Justice Department is making small decisions all the time.
They jumped in to defend a first-year Muslim math teacher in Illinois against what they called the "head wind of intolerance" when she demanded 19 days off to attend the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. They've joined the ACLU in a suit in South Carolina demanding prisoners have the right to get better reading material in the mail than the Bible. They look more sympathetic to the reading habits of violent criminals than the viewing habits of parents with small children.
That's not to say the Obamas would suggest they're lazy in overseeing their children's television habits. "They can only watch the kid-TV channels for the most part, because you just never know," Mrs. Obama insisted. She said the two girls are allowed to watch television only on weekend, because the TV set is completely off limits during the week, on school nights.
That sounds fairly strict on a personal level. But on a political level, is that all the Obamas plan to offer on broadcast decency? Hey, "you just never know"? Why doesn't Mrs. Obama apply the same attitude toward our children's food intake?
Did Barack Obama somehow miss the tally when Congress voted in 2006 not merely to keep the FCC policing broadcast indecency, but to multiply by tenfold the fines it could impose? The House version of the bill passed by a landslide of 379 to 35. Barack Obama was in the Senate when it passed by unanimous consent.
But federal judges don't look at polls. These judges, apparently educated people with law degrees, found the F-bomb rules too confusing to understand.
This is still an important issue across party lines. The Parents Television Council released a new Zogby poll last week which showed 75 percent of Americans agree there is too much sex, violence and coarse language on television. A majority (57 percent) supported the FCC's long-standing legal authority to fine broadcasters if they air indecent material. Support for FCC indecency enforcement was highest among African Americans (71 percent) and women (62 percent), the two groups Nielsen identified as watching more TV than their racial and gender counterparts.
Memo to anyone running for office: It's an issue. Fox (and all the other broadcast networks that joined their suit) insist that it's not their job to keep sex, violence, and cursing off TV. Why can't they just be honest it state it is their desire to see these things on their networks? Moreover, they continue to trout out the intentionally misleading line that parents can use the V-chip to block programming they don't like, according to the descriptor codes that each network decides to use.
Obama's campaign lingo also echoed that sentiment. But PTC's Zogby poll underlines how that argument is not serious. Overall usage of the V-chip has slipped across all frequencies. The percentage of people saying they don't use it at all is almost 94 percent.
Only 15.5 percent of people can correctly identify the content descriptors that appear on screen, even when given the answer as part of a multiple-choice question. Some seem easy (S for sexual situations, V for violence), but the language ones get confused (L for coarse language, and D for suggestive dialogue). A large majority of people (76 percent) continue to think the "D" stands for drug use, or they just don't know. The V-chip is less than a Band-Aid. It's a placebo.
President Obama is already campaigning for re-election, and maybe his financial base in Hollywood is the first constituency he doesn't want to offend. With their words in the media, the Obamas want to paint themselves as tough parents even as they favor Hollywood over parents - and over the preferences of a majority of women and African-American voters. No one should let this pattern of delays muddle the policy picture if the obliteration of FCC decency enforcement is complete.