Language legal battle a made-for-TV comic drama

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Nov 13 16:02:20 UTC 2008

Language legal battle a made-for-TV comic drama

Alex Strachan, Canwest News Service
Published: Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bono! Cher! They're both four-letter words. And they're at the centre
of a testy spat before the U. S. Supreme Court over obscenity and free
speech on TV. On the same historic day U. S. voters elected Barack
Hussein Obama the 44th President of the United States, a
little-reported case finally made it before the U.S. Supreme Court in
Washington, D. C. At issue: The 2003 Golden Globe Awards show, in
which U2 frontman and anti-poverty crusader Bono used an expletive in
a televised acceptance speech.

The Federal Communications Commission, the U. S. equivalent of our own
CRTC but with more tooth-grinders and knee-jerking reactionaries,
broke its long-standing tradition of only getting excited over
repeated expletives and ruled that, henceforth, any one-time "use of
vulgarities associated with sexual or excretory functions" was
distinctly uncool. And subject to a hefty fine. Under the new
policy--which for some reason was deemed to be retroactive-- the FCC
declared a 2002 outburst by Cher to be indecent as well. A stiff fine
was levied.

Fox Television Stations, on the hook for the Cher incident, gave it
the old street chant: "Hell, no, we won't pay!" Fox Stations, a
division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., fought the fine all the way
to the U.S. Supreme Court, because the new limit on "fleeting
expletives" is arbitrary and violates the First Amendment.And here we
are. Published accounts of last week's session before the Supreme
Court, as dutifully recorded in The New York Times and USA Today, read
like a transcript from a particularly loopy episode of Boston Legal,
right down to the argumentative lawyer (the James Spader character)
and the wacky judge (the Henry Gibson character).

According to USA Today, none of the justices, nor the two lawyers who
argued the case, used the objection-able words at issue. Instead, they
indulged in euphemisms, code words and, at one point, the literal but
generic "F-Bomb."

Of course, one-time-only obscenities aren't just limited to award
shows. The lawyer arguing the case for Fox said that open microphones
at football games and other live sporting events are a fine waiting to
happen under the new FCC policy.

But wait, it gets better. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg
--the Candice Bergen figure on the Supreme bench--wondered out loud
why the FCC found that the language in a Martin Scorsese documentary
was obscene, but the language in a TV airing of Steven Spielberg's
Saving Private Ryan was not.

Sadly, none of the lawyers present had the nerve or forethought to
suggest that perhaps the FCC decision-makers are Spielberg fans but
not Scorsese fans.

But wait, there's more. Chief Justice John Roberts lectured Fox's
lawyer on the use of theF-word, according to the New York Times
account, like this:"Why do you think the F-word has shocking value or
emphasis or force? Because it is associated with sexual or excretory
activity. That's what gives it its force."

Added Justice Antonin Scalia, Roberts' ideological soulmate: "(That's
why people) don't use 'gollywaddles' instead of the F-word."

Gollywaddles! So there.

Justice Stevens suggested a novel standard for judging indecency:
Would it be more appropriate, he mused, if "the particular remark (is)
really hilarious--very, very funny?"

Countered Justice Scalia: "Bawdy jokes are OK, if they are really good."

N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who
disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal. (H. Schiffman, Moderator)

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list