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Stern: Where's the Outrage?

The February 1 Weekly Standard contained a piece by David Brooks about the moral apathy that explains, among other things, high approval ratings for our pathologically mendacious president. Brooks traces the condition not to an economic or intellectual elite, but rather to the middle class. "Bourgeois man," he writes, is "content...with giving the belly priority over the soul. [He] never seem[s] to look up from [his] quotidian concerns to grapple with great truths or profound moral issues."

Bill Clinton is the most prominent figure getting away with misdeeds these days, but he's not the only one. There's also broadcast vulgarian Howard Stern. Ironically, the two mirror one another: Clinton is the cautious politician with a highly immoral private life, whereas Stern is the conventional suburban family man with a crass public persona.

In January, Stern's syndicated weekly television hour, "The Howard Stern Radio Show," presented perhaps its most disgusting episodes yet. On January 16, his first guest was porn star Jenna Jameson. "You look hot as hell," mused Stern. "Those are the tightest g-damn pants...Mmm, what an ass on you...You gotta just let me do it to you one time...Hold onto a chair, close your eyes, and pretend it's Tommy Lee." The next guest was a woman who blew out a candle by expelling air from her vagina, then tried unsuccessfully, in the same manner, to dislodge a ping-pong ball.

Bear in mind when this filth is airing. It's not on some sleazy late-night pay-per-view channel. It's on broadcast television and is distributed and airs on stations owned by CBS, the same network that gives you "Touched By an Angel."

On January 23, Stern welcomed Bernadette, a young woman who had volunteered to be his "slave" in exchange for his playing a record that a friend of hers made. "I'm gonna need you to pee in a diaper," Stern told her. "I wanna roll you up naked in a...carpet and put you in a shopping cart and wheel you around the station...I want you to eat [dog food]...and possibly eat peanut butter from [Stern sidekick] Jackie's toes." The segment concluded with Stern and Jackie smashing eggs on Bernadette's bare buttocks as Stern remarked, "It's fun to humiliate women."

It's often said that Stern is obsessed with sex. That's true, but it's not specific enough. Actually, he's obsessed with sex in its most sordid, degrading forms. Witness the January 30 installment, which centered on Christi Lake, another porn star, who volunteered to have sex with a Stern listener. After Stern and his crew narrowed the field of aspirants, three finalists were brought to the studio to compete for Lake's favors in a "Dating Game"-like setting. One contestant suggested that Lake was "a nasty ho, man...I need somebody nasty," to which Stern added, "You want to have freaky sex with her?You wanna yell at her and smack her ass."

Lake chose a man whose stated ambition was to break into porno movies. Their intercourse was not shown - I would have said "of course," except at this point I don't know that it's so obvious - but Lake offered a graphic summation: "He did great. Above average, 'cause he stayed hard the whole time...He just rocked my world...He was hitting my G spot all over the place...I was screaming."

Depressing? Infuriating? Yes. But let me add another descriptor: Creepy. It's scary that almost no one cares that such garbage is on national TV.

While all this sewage was flowing, Stern, addressing a January 27 New Orleans gathering of television executives, was, well, Stern: "I'm the guy who put the 'sin' in 'syndication.' I am Mr. Controversy. I am a rebel. So at this point in my speech, I'd like to say the following thing: [crude synonym for 'penis']. The late [sic], great Newton Minow said it best: Television is a vast wasteland, and...I will do all I can to make sure it stays that way." According to Variety's Cynthia Littleton, this self-proclaimed "great broadcaster" also "berated the packed house of TV biz execs for not recognizing the 'pure genius' of his work in TV over the years."

Maybe the most absurd utterance in Stern's speech was, "People want to tune in and have no idea what they are going to see next." Hogwash. His fans expect sleaze, and they're never disappointed. And to think that when Stern finished, the executives...applauded.

In a sense, apathy - i.e., not watching - is a correct response to "The Howard Stern Radio Show." But it's not a sufficient response. The sponsors of this trash - both at CBS and in the advertising community - should be taken to task. We can argue about exactly where the line between corporate responsibility and irresponsibility should be drawn, but clearly, any company that produces or advertises on this soul-starving filthfest has crossed it.