You'd think a broadcasting company would crack down hard on a couple of talk show hosts who joked on air about raping the Secretary of State – you'd think so.
However, XM Satellite Radio's suspension of Opie and Anthony may not have been an indignant punishment of two shock jocks who went way over the edge. XM apparently was not concerned about the company's moral responsibility to uphold reasonable standards of decency, but about a proposed merger requiring approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Reporting on the 30-day suspension handed down to veteran talkers Opie and Anthony (Gregg Hughes and Anthony Cumia) by satellite radio provider XM, The New York Times suggested that XM suspended the shock jocks to win FCC approval to merge with its competitor, Sirius. Times reporter Jacques Steinberg noted on May 16, “the hosts' suspensions come at a politically delicate moment for XM, which is seeking Congressional and FCC approval of its proposed merger with Sirius, its satellite rival.”
A May 17 San Francisco Chronicle report reinforces this interpretation, quoting Andrew Jay Schwartzman, director of the Media Access Project: “This (proposed merger) is the most prominent example of a satellite broadcaster feeling pressure to reign in its programming.”
According to a statement by XM, Hughes and Cumia were suspended May 15 because they failed to appreciate the magnitude of their offense when they let a guest named “Homeless Charlie” fantasize on May 9 about beating and raping Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and assaulting First Lady Laura Bush and Queen Elizabeth II of England. The pair apologized on their show on Friday, May 11, but the following Monday, May 14, they began complaining on air that their free speech rights had been violated.
The real question is, why didn't XM suspend the shock jocks on May 9?
While satellite radio is not subject to the FCC decency standards that apply to “terrestrial” radio, XM is still a member of the American community, and its broadcasts influence American culture for good or ill.
Broadcasters have a moral responsibility to require their on-air talent, even shock jocks, to maintain reasonable levels of decency. Joking about raping the Secretary of State, the First Lady and the Queen of England is clearly beyond the pale. The FCC should block XM's merger with Sirius, to teach XM a lesson about corporate responsibility and good citizenship.