Monday Night Football and Desperate Regulators

by on November 18, 2004 · 8 comments

Should Michael Powell be the next NFL commissioner? It might make sense, given the amount of time the FCC has spent looking at football broadcasts lately. Only weeks after the commission fined CBS over showing a bit too much of Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl, ABC is now under the microscope for a somewhat tawdry segment aired at the beginning of Monday Night Football this week.

The video–which more people probably saw on cable news than on the actual show–featured a woman from the hit show “Desperate Housewives” dressed in only a towel in the locker room before the game, propositioning a Philadelphia Eagle. The towel drops at the end of the segment, definitely indicating some hanky-panky, although there’s no nudity.

The segment provoked outrage among many–including many conservatives, who found it out of bounds for prime time. Michael Powell dutifully tsked-tsked the segment, saying he found the segment “very disappointing,” adding “I wonder whether Walt Disney would be proud.” A better question might be whether Thomas Jefferson would be proud that federal bureaucrats increasingly decide what Americans get to see and hear.


Was the segment offensive? That’s of course a subjective judgment–it certainly was beyond what is normally seen on tv at that time, although not as shocking as a lot of other things on TV, including the “Desperate Housewives” show itself.

But the real question is who should decide this question: five members of the FCC, or 300 million Americans with their remote controls? There’s something frankly unsettling about federal officials opining on whether they like this or that thing shown to Americans. (And, although Powell was careful to say he didn’t know whether FCC rules were violated, the chill in the air was nevertheless apparent.)

Advocates of regulation, of course, argue that only “inappropriate” content is at risk. “We just have to draw the line somewhere” is the refrain. Yet, that line is a fuzzy one–and tends inevitably to move in the direction of more and more government control. If there’s any doubt of that, just ask station managers who refused to air Private Ryan last week, out of fear of FCC disfavor. And it is unlikely to end there.

No one should know this more than conservatives–who have spent years fighting politically-correct speech codes on college campuses and elsewhere. In the end, giving government power to define what is appropriate and acceptable may be as–or more–obnoxious to conservatives as to liberals.

Americans offended by what they see on TV (and there is a lot to be offended by), should think twice before calling in the censors to protect them. Instead they should protest the old-fashioned way: with their thumbs on the remote control.

  • Stephen

    But the real question is who should decide this question: five members of the FCC, or 300 million Americans with their remote controls?

    I keep hearing this line, and it always rings hollow. We’re talking broadcast TV here, not cable. I feel the same way about radio: they’re both a pervasive presence, and to shoot back with “well don’t watch it” is lazy and dishonest. Besides, not only was this primetime, it was a FOOTBALL game! I think the SuperBowl halftime show is a better example (I didn’t think the MNF clip was bad at all), but in either case, viewers didn’t even have the option to “decide with their remote controls.” Viewers ostensibly DID decide with their remote controls to watch a sporting event, not an exhibition, and were still “treated” to the displays anyway. If viewers want to vote with their remote controls, they should be allowed to: on cable, where there has to be a conscious decision to invite it into your home. Ditto satellite radio. But unless you remove the tv from your home, or the radio from your car, then broadcasts over the airwaves are going to be pervasive, and should be subject to some sort of regulation.

  • Stephen

    But the real question is who should decide this question: five members of the FCC, or 300 million Americans with their remote controls?

    I keep hearing this line, and it always rings hollow. We’re talking broadcast TV here, not cable. I feel the same way about radio: they’re both a pervasive presence, and to shoot back with “well don’t watch it” is lazy and dishonest. Besides, not only was this primetime, it was a FOOTBALL game! I think the SuperBowl halftime show is a better example (I didn’t think the MNF clip was bad at all), but in either case, viewers didn’t even have the option to “decide with their remote controls.” Viewers ostensibly DID decide with their remote controls to watch a sporting event, not an exhibition, and were still “treated” to the displays anyway. If viewers want to vote with their remote controls, they should be allowed to: on cable, where there has to be a conscious decision to invite it into your home. Ditto satellite radio. But unless you remove the tv from your home, or the radio from your car, then broadcasts over the airwaves are going to be pervasive, and should be subject to some sort of regulation.

  • James Gattuso

    Viewer don’t have an option to turn off football? Having your TV on is not a conscious decision? Come on! You really should get out more — there’s a lot more to do than watch TV, and a lot more on TV than football (especially if you think it might offend you, something that viewers should certainly be on notice of by now.)

  • James Gattuso

    Viewer don’t have an option to turn off football? Having your TV on is not a conscious decision? Come on! You really should get out more — there’s a lot more to do than watch TV, and a lot more on TV than football (especially if you think it might offend you, something that viewers should certainly be on notice of by now.)

  • Stephen

    Yeah, you’ve got a point James. Let’s let all the shit in the world over the public airwaves. Hardcore porn in primetime. Anybody who doesn’t like it doesn’t have to own a tv. Or go to stores with tv’s. Or own cars with radios. Or let your kids have friends with either. How about a little full frontal nudity on the nightly news? It’s my fault for watching tv at all. “Get out more?” You’re basically telling me that it’s a parent’s responsibility to shield their kids from anything they don’t want them to see, but the only way to do that is to become Amish. Tell me, do you support having ANY decency standards on tv or radio at all? If so, what is that line?

  • Stephen

    Yeah, you’ve got a point James. Let’s let all the shit in the world over the public airwaves. Hardcore porn in primetime. Anybody who doesn’t like it doesn’t have to own a tv. Or go to stores with tv’s. Or own cars with radios. Or let your kids have friends with either. How about a little full frontal nudity on the nightly news? It’s my fault for watching tv at all. “Get out more?” You’re basically telling me that it’s a parent’s responsibility to shield their kids from anything they don’t want them to see, but the only way to do that is to become Amish. Tell me, do you support having ANY decency standards on tv or radio at all? If so, what is that line?

  • Merideth Carleton

    Have you seen this before? It’s a number guessing game: http://www.amblesideprimary.com/ambleweb/mentalmaths/guessthenumber.html. I guessed 53528, and it got it right! Pretty neat.

  • Merideth Carleton

    Have you seen this before? It’s a number guessing game: http://www.amblesideprimary.com/ambleweb/mental…. I guessed 53528, and it got it right! Pretty neat.

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