Media Time’s Profanity Problem
posted by June 11 at 8:57 AMon
If Bush can say “shit” to Tony Blair in front of an open mic and “fuck Saddam” in the West Wing, and Dick Cheney can say “Go fuck yourself” on the floor of the Senate—and if a federal appeals court judge can cite these examples of course language used in refined places when overturning the FCC’s decency standards—how come Time can’t use them in print?
On June 4, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of broadcasters in a challenge against Federal Communications Commission sanctions for indecent and profane language. Among the penalized quotes was Richie’s discussing her Simple Life experience on a live Fox awards show in 2003: “Have you ever tried to get cow s___ out of a Prada purse? It’s not so f___ing simple.”
The court argued, among other things, that the FCC’s enforcement was “arbitrary and capricious.” But the reason that stood out most was the court’s assessment of the national indecency climate: “In recent times, even the top leaders of our government have used variants of these expletives in a manner that no reasonable person would believe referenced ‘sexual or excretory organs or activities’”—the definition of indecency that the FCC and the courts have used. The decision cited Bush’s remark to British Prime Minister Tony Blair last summer, in front of a live mike, that Syria needed to “get Hizballah to stop doing this s___,” as well as Cheney’s hearty invitation to Senator Patrick Leahy, “Go f___ yourself.” (The court could have cited Bush’s remark, later reported by TIME, from March 2002 when war in Iraq was allegedly still a last resort: “F___ Saddam. We’re taking him out.”)
The fact that Bush sometimes curses may seem irrelevant, but the “community standard” is one of the most important factors in legally determining indecency. What’s good for Dubya, the court ruled, is good for the debutante….
Of course, the President and his party may try to exploit the inevitable outrage from this defeat. But actually there’s another way for them to make chicken salad out of something you are now allowed to say in prime time. They could call off the decency crusade. They could say it’s a good thing to protest idiotic crudity—on the radio, on TV or on the Senate floor—but to legislate against it is another matter. They could embrace the civil libertarians to whom they inadvertently handed a big win.
What do you have to lose, Mr. President? In recent years, you have disappointed your anti-illegal-immigration base, your fiscal-conservative base and now your family-values base. But to free-speechers, after this court ruling, you are the f___ing man.
If “fuck” and “shit” are good enough for the President and broadcast television—and the pages of the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and other fine publications—surely they’re good enough for the pages of Time. The only subscribers you’ll lose, Time, are the demo-killing subscribers you should be anxious to lose. Publications written by and for adults shouldn’t shy away from adult language, or patronize us with crap like “f___” and “s___”.
Go ahead and drop the “f” bomb, Time, we can handle it.