Urgent Action: Fight the Parents Television Council, Ask the FCC to Deny NCIS Fine (sticky post)
November 16, 2005 @ 7:02 pm
Filed under: Action, PTC, FCC
Speak up now! (more…)
Speak up now! (more…)
As Chris Zammarelli told you earlier, some strange music has been emanating from FCC songbird (and Chairman) Kevin Martin.
Chris pointed to a report of a report stating that Kevin Martin had come out in favor of “a la carte” cable” programming. (It’s not the first time Martin has pushed for a la carte — he’s been doing it since his days as former Chair Michael Powell’s mild-mannered nemesis.)
Martin’s most recent push for a la carte programming came during an “open forum” on indecency sponsored by Ted Stevens, head of the Senate Commerce Committee — that is, the one with jurisdiction over FCC regulations.
The indecency forum was concocted by Stevens ostensibly to allow disparate voices to speak out on pending legislation that would increase indecency fines ten-fold, along with other aspects of the indecency debate. Some watchdogs, however, feel that the forum was nothing more than an attempt to lure the cable industry to the bargaining table and to publicly hog-tie them. That is, in fact, pretty much what happened.
Broadcasting & Cable reports that the meeting turned into a showdown between Kevin Martin and National Cable Television Association chief Kyle McSlarrow.
At the Senate Commerce Committee’s “Open Forum on Decency” on Tuesday, Martin said that he had the FCC’s chief economist, Leslie Marx, draft an analysis that counters the commission’s previous stance that forcing cable systems to sell all programming a la carte the way-they sell pay movie networks like HBO and Showtime-would substantially increase consumers’ costs because operators and networks would have to raise prices.
Martin said that the old report prepared by the FCC Media Bureau “makes mistakes in its basic calculations” and is based on “incorrect and biased analysis.” A new report to be issued by commission staff soon shows that a la carte “could be economically feasible and in consumers’ best interest.”
In fact, Martin said, applying a la carte to the digital tier would actually lower cable and satellite bills by 2% — a finding he said was omitted from the original staff report
Martin outlined other options to regulate content, including extending broadcast indecency rules to include cable and satellite services, and mandating family friendly tiers.
McSlarrow, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, came out Tuesday morning clearly against a la carte, tiering or indecency regulations for cable. McSlarrow said the Supreme Court has “very clearly” ruled in the past that any restrictions of that sort would be a violation of the First Amendment.
McSlarrow seemed to take dead aim at a la carte, comparing the idea of letting consumers pick and choose their cable channels to allowing newspaper readers to subscribe only to the sports section. McSlarrow said the multitude of channels helps provide the economic base for cable to carry several children’s channels. “The cable industry invented diversity of programming,” McSlarrow said.
McSlarrow said the technology already allows subscribers to block channels they find objectionable, and that it’s easy to do. “It’s four clicks and a scroll on the remote,” he said. “It’s not a heavy lift.”
Mandating a la carte, he argued, would “end up hurting the very customers we’re trying to help.” He ended his short presentation by urging legislators “to take government mandates off the table.”
Meanwhile, the cable industry received an additional blow from one of its own: The Mouse.
A Walt Disney Corp vice-president Preston Padden went on record as saying that he saw no need for the FCC to continue use separate standards when judging the indecency of broadcast and cable/satellite programs. The Disney corp’s cable holdings (ABC Family, Lifetime, ESPN, the Disney Channel, etc.), as you might imagine, would be relatively safe from indecency fines should cable and satellite get the ball and chain. Disney also owns broadcast network ABC, home of Desperate Housewives — which indecency crusaders like the Parents Television Council love to love to hate.
So, calling for regulation of cable and satellite TV isn’t a big risk for Disney. In fact, it may help them curry favor with the Feds. But are they also going to bat for a la carte, which would effectively allow cable and satellite subscribers to opt-out of paying for Goofy programming? Not so much.
Again from B&C:
Yet Padden also argued against a la carte, claiming it would cost cable operators billions of dollars just to provide the proper set-top boxes that would enable a pick-and-choose method of cable viewing. Disney’s gambit, it appeared, was a way for Disney to come out in favor of expanding indecency regulations to cable while defending the current cable delivery system.
Disney-owned ESPN is one of cable’s most expensive channels with the cost paid for by operators; if consumers had to pay for it, the reasoning goes, not enough fans would pay for Disney to continue to pay to show major league sports.
In the end, it all came back to the threat of increased indecency fines.
“As we approach 2006, we ought to look at getting a bill that will deal with this subject,” said Co-Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Congress is actually considering four bills that would toughen rules against the transmission of indecent content. “This is just a statement of fact,” said Co-Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). “We’re going to do something this time.”
Passing laws limiting speech is tough, many noted. Stevens, acknowledging that, said if courts overturned new indecency legislation, it “would be a great disappointment to the American family.”
Um…. And a great relief to the American Constitution, no?
Anyway, no story on indecency would be complete without the blathering of Parents Television Council president Brent Bozell. Yep, he was at the meeting too. Here’s what he had to say:
Some argued that the rating systems and v-chips don’t address the main issue of the content itself. “No one’s addressing the pothole,” said Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council.
I hereby address the pothole: Bozell, stay out of my living room and concentrate on your own. Thankyouverymuch.
Steven Barrie-Anthony of the Los Angeles Times reports:
Toyota Motor Corp. has pulled all advertising from the FX drama “Nip/Tuck” in part over concerns about the show’s content, according to a Nov. 1 letter from the automaker addressed to the television decency advocacy group Parents Television Council.
The move follows a letter-writing campaign by the Los Angeles-based PTC informing “Nip/Tuck” advertisers of the graphic depictions of sex and violence on the show and asking them to rescind their sponsorships, said Tim Winter, the group’s executive director.
…Having advertisers walk away is nothing new for the surgery-heavy show. Last year, Ben & Jerry’s and Gateway Inc. were among companies that pulled ads from the show, although reasons for their decisions were not publicly given. Other advertisers sometimes pulled out of specific episodes, such as one that included underage drinking.
Toyota spokeswoman Nancy Hubbell said the carmaker’s decision was based on several factors, including content.
The ability of the PTC to hurt a show with millions of viewers is limited:
John Solberg, vice president of public relations for FX, declined to comment on Toyota’s decision, saying the network does not discuss individual advertisers.
“The show is sold out for the season at one of the highest advertiser rates in all of cable,” Solberg said. He said that the show’s first seven episodes averaged 2.8 million viewers in the highly valued 18-49 age bracket.
David Bauder of the Associated Press writes:
The body count in prime-time television these days rivals that of a war zone. The popularity of CBS’ “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” its spinoffs, imitators and other crime or supernatural shows has made network TV home to an astonishing amount of blood ‘n’ guts, which has attracted little notice due to a preoccupation with sex.
During the last week of September, there were 63 dead bodies visible during prime time on the six broadcast networks. That’s up sharply from the 27 bodies counted during the same week in 2004.
This year, channel surfers in that one week could spot:
— The lead character in Fox’s “Bones” discovering a badly decomposed body hanging in a tree, crows picking on the remains. The maggot-covered head falls off and lands in Bones’ hands.
— A man preparing dinner on the WB’s “Supernatural” when his sink suddenly fills with water. He reaches in and something grabs him, pulls his head in the water and drowns him.
The Parents Television Council, headed by Brent Bozell, supplied those statistics:
The prime-time body count was compiled, after a request from The Associated Press, by the Parents Television Council, a watchdog group that keeps tapes of network programming.
Yet the PTC, which frequently files complaints with the Federal Communications Commission about network fare, admits that its focus has primarily been on sex, not gore. One reason is that there’s no government agency concerned with these issues, said Melissa Caldwell, the PTC’s research director.
The council prefers to steer advertisers away from programming it disapproves of, but hasn’t started any campaign against a broadcaster for violent content this season. The closest it came was a protest this month about an episode of CBS’ “NCIS” where a stripper had her throat cut, primarily because it was shown before 9 p.m.
Americans “seem to have more of a taste for violence, unfortunately, so it’s a little bit more difficult to get people worked up over it,” Caldwell said.
My advice to Melissa Caldwell: Try to get people worked up over free speech, over protecting their right to decide what to watch and what not to watch, without government interference.
The Parents Television Council announced to the press yesterday that it has filed an indecency complaint against the CBS program NCIS. NCIS ranked fifth in last week’s Nielsen ratings.
The Oct. 25 episode, said PTC, “aired a scene containing a gruesome murder and blatant sexual content at a hour when millions of children were in the viewing audience.” The complaint was filed against WUSA-TV Washington by Dan Isett, director of corporate and government affairs for PTC.
The episode dealt with a murdered military wife who had been earning some extra money as an online cybersex model.
Complaints have to be filed against a station, not a network, but PTC wants the FCC to fine every station that aired the show.
The FCC does not regulate violent content, so the “gruesome murder” would not be actionable. PTC also cited a striptease scene.
FCC rules describe the indecency-weighing process thusly:
Material is indecent if, in context, it depicts or describes sexual or excretory organs or activities in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium. In each case, the FCC must determine whether the material describes or depicts sexual or excretory organs or activities and, if so, whether the material is “patently offensive.”
In our assessment of whether material is “patently offensive,” context is critical. The FCC looks at three primary factors when analyzing broadcast material: (1) whether the description or depiction is explicit or graphic; (2) whether the material dwells on or repeats at length descriptions or depictions of sexual or excretory organs; and (3) whether the material appears to pander or is used to titillate or shock. No single factor is determinative. The FCC weighs and balances these factors because each case presents its own mix of these, and possibly other, factors.
As Broadcasting & Cable’s John Eggerton pointed out, violence is not actionable. According to the rules stated above, neither is a striptease (which, no doubt, shopped short of nudity).
Welcome to another bogus, frivolous Parents Television Council complaint.
« PTC machine springs to action? »
The Parents Television Council is nothing if not well-organized. In the past, their letter-writing campaigns have been loudly trumpeted on their website and in emailed action alerts. Sending a complaint from the PTC site is ridiculously easy — accounting in part for the large numbers of complaints received by the FCC.
But where’s that NCIS complaint?
As of 1:30 Eastern time, there’s no press release on their website. (A release dated yesterday announces that the new Dennis Quaid film “Yours, Mine, and Ours” has won the PTC’s seal of approval.) There’s no dubious complaint letter just waiting to be sent. And there’s no e-alert in my inbox.
Is it possible that the PTC know this complaint is too skimpy to pass muster? Was the Bozell statement, perhaps, a desperate act of posturing? (A Wall Street Journal article posted today asks “Whatever happened to the government crackdown on bare breasts and bad words?)
Is it possible that the Bozellians, sensing that their pet issue has been placed on the back burner, really just needed to get in the news again?
By the end of the day we’ll have our own letter ready for you to send, asking the FCC to deny yet another of the PTC’s frivolous complaints.
« Update »
Through my clandestine network of super-sexy secret sources, I’ve received a copy of the PTC’s press release.
Here’s more of what they had to say about the NCIS episode. (As of 3:45 Eastern, they still haven’t asked their activists to send complaints.)
In this episode, the NCIS team tries to solve the murder of a military spouse who had been making extra money as cyber sex model. In the opening scene of the show, the model is shown engaging in an online, voyeuristic, web-cam striptease. After warnings from online viewers watching the internet striptease that a person is lurking behind her, the woman is brutally murdered by having her throat slit. The depiction of her murder is gruesome both in terms of the view of the scene and the carnage shown to the audience. In addition, the aforementioned striptease scene, the victim’s mutilated corpse, and other similar internet websites are subsequently depicted throughout the episode.
“There’s a reason why adults have to provide their legal age when subscribing to pornographic internet services. It’s incredible that CBS feels this material can be broadcast right into the family living room — and feels it’s appropriate to be shown during the so-called family hour, no less! This content, aired at 8 pm on the coasts and 7 pm in the heartland, depicts a sexual function that is patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium. CBS knew full well that millions of children would be in the viewing audience. As this episode of NCIS was seen in nearly 13 million homes, hundreds of thousands of children were subjected to this graphically violent and sexual content,” said L. Brent Bozell, president of the PTC.
I’ve always suspected it, but now it’s confirmed: The Parents Television Council is operating under a gross misunderstanding of the definition of “sexual function.”
Note to PTC: A striptease dance is not a “sexual function.”
And if you and your allies weren’t so concerned with removing all traces of sex education from schools, you might have known this. Maybe take a look at this book. Could be helpful.
The head of the Parents Television Council’s Florida chapter, Matt Butler, is rousing the rabble via an op-ed in the Tallahassee Democrat. Butler says that advertisers are ultimately responsible for TV filth — trumping broadcasters, actors, producers, and lazy parents (all of whom receive a cursory nod).
Who is to blame for the poor state of television? The networks and media conglomerates share some of the blame in their race to produce racier fare every week, ignoring data showing that families want entertainment, too.
Hang on a second here.
Let’s look at what people are watching. Top ten shows last week?
2 Desperate Housewives
3 Without A Trace
4 Grey’s Anatomy
6 NFL Monday Night Football
7 Survivor: Guatemala
8 Cold Case
8 CSI: NY
10 Criminal Minds
1 NFL Regular Season (ESPN)
2 Coll Ftball-Sat Prime (ESPN)
3 NFL Prime Time (ESPN)
4 SpongeBob (Nick)
5 WWE RAW (USA)
6 SpongeBob (Nick)
6 SportsCenter (Nick)
6 Fairly Odd Parents (Nick)
9 Fairly Odd Parents (Nick)
10 SpongeBob (Nick)
Broadcast TV: Adult shows prevail. Cable: With the probable exception of WWE Raw, which probably isn’t considered “family” viewing in most households, all of the top-ten shows are family-friendly.
The National Cable and Telecommunications Association reports that at least 2/3 of American households subscribe to cable services.
Nickelodeon and ESPN are both provided with most basic cable packages.
Butler’s implication that families don’t have access to family programming is not only disingenuous — it’s disproven by the above Nielsen ratings. Families have access too — and are watching — family programs.
Fans of adult-tailored shows have access to — and are watching — adult-tailored shows.
As far as I know, there’s no arm-twisting involved in getting audiences to watch a particular program. People generally don’t watch shows they don’t like (except for the most rabid Parents Television Council, who seem to take a perverse, masochistic pleasure in doing just that).
End of story.
But anyway. Let’s get past the first paragraph.
Parents are not blameless. Many use TV as a babysitter and most are not educated about what their children are watching. For those parents who are, they often don’t speak up when they are bothered by what they see.
The actors are not blameless for agreeing to portray the roles they are given, but the ultimate responsibility falls with the advertisers. They pay for the programs. Without their money, bad shows would disappear.
The worst part is that many advertisers don’t even know what they are funding. One would assume that since TV advertising is such an important part of doing business that companies would always know exactly what they are sponsoring. After all, it is their money and their ad. In general, this is why there are no beer commercials during Saturday morning cartoons or toy ads during “Desperate Housewives.”
There are frequent exceptions to this, however, and many companies have no idea what they are supporting. Usually when a block of ad spots is purchased, the ads are aired at the station’s discretion and when certain types of viewers that the advertiser wants to target are expected to be in the audience. This doesn’t let advertisers off the hook, however. It is their money and they should know each and every time their advertisements are aired.
GEICO, for instance, was recently embarrassed to find out, after denying its sponsorship of the extremely violent show “The Shield,” that it was in fact a sponsor. GEICO apologized.
Some companies seek out sleaze to which to attach their name. Sony bought the sole advertising rights to the season premiere of “Nip/Tuck,” the morally irresponsible FX show about two plastic surgeons in Miami. That first episode contained a graphic portrayal of a breast implant surgery gone wrong, a flashback of a rape by a murderer who was not caught, and later the same character having sex with two women at the same time, along with a slew of uncensored profanities.
Does Sony want to be known as the company that supports threesomes and foul language? It seems it does.
Beautiful straw man you’ve got there, Matt.
Advertisers go where the viewers are. Nip/Tuck advertisers are not advertising to you and your squeaky-clean family, Matt.
They’re apparently advertising to moral degenerates like me.
I love the Shield, and I haven’t seen Nip/Tuck only because it hasn’t come up on my NetFlix queue yet.
Apparently, I am a horrible person for watching these shows — which I would not watch in front of my kids, if I had any. (The cats, they seem unaffected.)
I am composed of a weak moral fiber. Please, don’t tell my mother.
Recently the Parents Television Council released a list of the Top Ten Best and Worst Advertisers for the past TV season. They found that while certain companies consistently sponsor family-friendly television, others did not. Those who show up on the worst list owe parents an explanation. For example, Yum! Brands, which owns such fast-food chains as KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, sponsored filth-laden shows like “The OC” and “The Shield.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Clorox keeps it clean. The company’s ads ran during family shows like “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “Joan of Arcadia.”
If parents want more choices for family viewing, they need to let the advertisers know that they are paying attention. It is time for the companies that bring children the steady stream of sex, violence and profanity under the pretense of entertainment to be held accountable for their actions.
Advocating for more choices in family programming is fine. Maybe kids and their parents are tired of SpongeBob and would like to see something new. No problem. The market will respond — that’s what markets do.
But implying that popular, gritty, and well-crafted shows made for adults — the CSIs, the Shields, the Nip/Tucks — ought to be abandoned in lieu of insipid, wholesome fun is downright offensive. And arrogant. And hypocritical.
Don’t like it? Change the channel already.
Get over it Bozell. (And your little Butler, too.)
The “market-oriented” think tank Progress & Freedom Foundation has analyzed the way the FCC counts indecency complaints — and what they’ve found is some questionable math.
From the Hawaii Reporter:
The Federal Communications Commission tallies complaints regarding broadcast indecency in a matter different from all other complaints received by the agency, finds Progress & Freedom Foundation Senior Fellow Adam Thierer, and the methodology changes resulting in those differences have inflated the total number of complaints.
These are the findings of a PFF study titled “Examining the FCC’s Complaint-Driven Broadcast Indecency Enforcement Process” (pdf).
The FCC in recent years has increased its fines for broadcast indecency and has cited rising complaints as a reason. Thierer’s study calls into question the reliability of those quarterly compilations, the most recent of which was issued by the FCC Friday.
“The FCC now measures indecency complaints differently than all other types of complaints,” says Thierer. “In so doing, it permits a process whereby indecency complaints appear to be artificially inflated relative to other types of complaints. Journalists, policy makers, social scientists, and others should weigh this disparate treatment when considering the significance of the reported figures.”
In recent years the FCC has quietly and without major notice made two methodological changes to its tallying of broadcast indecency complaints, both changes urged upon the FCC by a single advocacy group targeting broadcast indecency:
On July 1, 2003, the agency began tallying each computer-generated complaint sent to the FCC by any advocacy group as an individual complaint, rather than as one complaint as had been done previously. The advocacy group benefiting from that change had challenged the FCC to make the change by June 30th and boasted later that it was responsible for the FCC’s redirection, citing reassurances of FCC commissioners.
In the first quarter of 2004 — the time when the Super Bowl incident with Janet Jackson occurred — the FCC began counting complaints multiple times if the individual sent the complaint to more than one office within the FCC.
This change, which had the capability of increasing by a factor of 5 or 6 or 7 the number of complaints recorded, was noted in a footnote of that quarter’s FCC Quarterly Report. The footnote acknowledged that “[t]he reported counts may also include duplicate complaints or contacts…”
Thierer points out that upwards of 99 percent of the broadcast indecency complaints received by the FCC have come from campaigns generated by a single advocacy group. He further shows that those totals have been inflated by changes in methodology by the agency, changes not made to other complaints received on topics as disparate as cable rates and spectrum interference.
Though the “single advocacy group” is never mentioned in the article, the PFF report is up-front about the fact that the Parents Television Council is responsible for the “change in methodology” that has led to spurious complaint tallies.
And for the record — the FCC is required to evaluate complaints on quality, not quantity. In theory, the number of complaints received about a particular incident should be irrelevant. However, in practice, the tally matters a bit more. The FCC must gauge a broadcast against “contemporary community standards” in determining whether the indecency line has been crossed.
The PTC has a much easier time making its case for indecency fines when it looks like the whole community has been scandalized. The numbers — the inflated numbers — they matter….
Even though the letters behind those inflated numbers all say the same damn thing, verbatim.
Not according to Bill O’Reilly of Fox News.
Media Matters for America criticizes right-wing bias in news coverage.
Discussing Media Matters, O’Reilly said “There’s nothing that exists on the right that I know of that can compare,” during his TV show last night.
Apparently, O’Reilly doesn’t know about the “Media Research Center” or “Accuracy in Media.”
The right has Brent Bozell’s “Media Reserch Center,” which claims news coverage has a liberal bias. (An example on their home-page now is “Morbid Networks Tout Iraq ‘Milestone:’ Network news shows align themselves with Cindy Sheehan’s anti-war agenda by headlining the death of the 2,000th U.S. serviceman in Iraq.” Previously discussed at SpeakSpeak.)
The right also has Cliff Kincaid’s Accuracy in Media, which likewise claims news coverage has a liberal bias.
The right additionally has Brent Bozell’s Parents Television Council to complain that entertainment shows are indecent.
The only group that asks people to send non-complaint letters to the FCC, saying a show wasn’t indecent according to contemporary community standards, is SpeakSpeak.
Update of October 27, 2005
Last night Bill O’Reilly has someone from the conservative “Media Research Center” on, and so apparently now he knows about them.
Ah, I love it when people stand up to the Bozellians.
Every year, the self-righteous Parents Television Council lists the top 10 best and worst shows on television for families. Fox got spanked this year.
According to the list, released last week, six of the top 10 worst shows were from Fox, three of them from the network’s comedy block on Sundays, including “The Family Guy” and “American Dad.” So much for keeping the Sabbath holy.
The worst show on television, according to the PTC? It’s Fox’s “The War at Home,” which I could agree with, though not in the “I’m-going-to-burn-in-hell-for-watching” kind of way. There is much funnier filth on TV.
Every year, the PTC compiles a list to warn families about the scum and depravity overrunning television. The media watchdog’s mission is to “promote and restore responsibility and decency to the entertainment industry.”
There’s no question the entertainment industry needs to be more responsible (have you seen what they pass off as comedy these days?) and more decent (anyone who thrusts “Freddie” on an unsuspecting public is hardly moral). But why should a pious organization like the PTC regulate what we watch?
If it is so much in tune with American tastes, why is the the fifth-worst television show on the group’s list, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” the most-watched program on television, according to season-to-date Nielsen ratings? “Desperate Housewives,” the sixth-worst show according to the PTC, is the second-most watched show in the country.
Television is such a sewer of wickedness and impure thoughts the PTC could come up with only nine “best” shows. (Let me complete that list then with HBO’s “The Sopranos,” because it is, after all, about family.)
It’s funny that the group’s top 10 “best” shows are those that celebrate American dreams (No. 1 “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and No. 2 “Three Wishes) and American family values (”Reba,” Bernie Mac” and “7th Heaven”), but the goal of the Parents Television Council is to take away our most important right as Americans - the power to choose, in this case, what we want to watch on TV.
PTC’s Web site, for example (http://www.parentstv.org), doesn’t seem to have any link about parental controls on cable and satellite receiver boxes or the V-chip embedded in most TVs.
A means exists already for parents to choose which channels they want to watch and which to lock out. The PTC site doesn’t promote that technology but seeks to control viewing choices for us by pressuring networks.
So take those lists issued by the PTC with a grain — or a bottle — of salt. Remember, we can always change the channel if we don’t like what we see.
At least give them credit for being straightforward about it this time.
From the Southern California Press Enterprise:
On Aug. 1, 1981, MTV hit the airwaves, offering kids the first real sanctuary from adults since the invention of the teenager’s bedroom.
Like its poster-covered, closed-door, music-blasting cousin, the channel provided an escape from school, chores and nagging, clueless parental units.
Nearly a quarter of a century later, MTV is no longer the same teenage refuge it was. On shows such as “Date My Mom,” “My Super Sweet Sixteen” and “Room Raiders,” parents are showing up everywhere.
Yet, surprisingly, their appearance has done little to alter the channel’s content.
To the dismay of TV watchdog groups concerned with MTV’s racy programming, parents have failed to elevate the material to a more mature level.
Instead, parents can be found playing the fool to their prankster kids, enabling their kids’ bratty behavior or joining their kids in their sexually provocative exploits.
Melissa Caldwell, spokeswoman for the Parents Television Council, which monitors sex, violence and profanity in the media, said her organization has noticed the increase in parents on MTV.
“It is frankly pretty disturbing that (parents) have embraced this raunchy culture,” she said. “So many parents out there are not being parents.”
The furor over The Nipple fanned the flames of “anti-indecency” activists like the Parents Television Council and American Family Association. Any whiff of implied sexuality makes the evangelicals squirm these days. Less attention has been given to violence on TV — which the FCC does not currently regulate. The nanny brigade is headed in that direction, however, trying to expand the definition of what’s “indecent” from Janet Jackson’s mammary glands to CSI’s gore.
On the one hand, the PTC decries fictionalized violence in video games. On the other, it mourns the acknowledgement of the very real, very heart-wrenching violence being committed on a daily basis in Iraq.
Is sexual prudery responsible for increased depictions of violence on TV? The PTC’s own Melissa Caldwell seems to imply just that.
From an article in the Philly Inquirer:
But CBS’s Vegas crime-scene geeks have plenty of company. In the debut of the network’s new drama Criminal Minds, for instance, a woman - bound, gagged and caged - frantically struggles as her rapist/serial-killer captor jabs at her bloody fingertips with pincers.
Why are TV producers suddenly so enamored of hard-core gore? They may be sublimating their frustrated sex drive.
“In the post-Janet Jackson media environment, the networks and TV producers and writers are wary of pushing the content envelope as aggressively as they have with regard to sexual content,” said Melissa Caldwell, director of research for the Parents Television Council, a watchdog group. “… As the law stands now, the [Federal Communications Commission] has no authority over violent content.”
The commission says it doesn’t normally track violence complaints.
Sen. John D. “Jay” Rockefeller (D., W.Va.) has introduced a bill that would give the commission jurisdiction over egregiously violent displays.
“There’s no question that violence in television programming continues to dramatically increase,” the senator wrote in an e-mail. “More and more, broadcasters are looking for ways to increase ratings and, unfortunately, increasing violent content seems to be their answer.”
Until now, politicians have focused most of their rhetoric and concern about media violence on video games, because of their youth appeal. In this era of an Xbox in every kid’s bedroom, these kill-’em-all games have set a new standard for graphic and casually cruel violence.
Combine that with increasingly cutthroat movies, DVDs and TV shows, and it’s clear that today’s young people are being exposed to unprecedented levels of violence.
What effect does all this savagery have on the audience?
“It makes all of us fearful,” said Scott Poland, a psychology professor at Nova Southeastern University. As administrator of a national task force, he has responded to 11 school shooting incidents, from Columbine to Red Lake, Minn. “We’d all like to believe that man is basically good, but with all the crime and violence depicted, it gets harder and harder to hold onto that viewpoint.”
Are TV shows creating a climate of fear, or are they reflecting one that already exists?
“Today’s television audiences have witnessed… the events surrounding 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Oklahoma City bombing and a myriad of natural disasters,” wrote Charlton McIlwain, an assistant professor in New York University’s Department of Culture and Communication, in an e-mail.
“We’ve seen the… real carnage inflicted on the victims of such violence. And because of the seemingly daily communication of terror threats, we’re constantly reminded that we ourselves may be next.”
One of the popular media’s glaring distortions is its grossly exaggerated incidence of serial killing. If you judge by books, TV and movies, approximately one out of every three people is a budding Ted Bundy. The fiends figure prominently in prime-time shows from CBS’s Cold Case to ABC’s Night Stalker, and in a coming two-part crossover episode of the NY and Miami franchises of CSI.
“That scares the hell out of us - the idea of being killed randomly by someone we don’t even know,” Poland said. “That doesn’t fit the real pattern of violence in America where serial killers are exceedingly rare. But it sells books.”
People in the TV industry maintain that this season is merely business is usual.
“When I was a kid there was violence on TV and there’s violence now,” said Nick Santora, a writer-producer for Fox’s Prison Break. “In fact it’s less gratuitous now. Physical confrontations are story-driven. They’re not there just for shock value.”
Asked about the scene on his show where the hero’s toes are chopped off by a convict with a pair of garden shears, Santora responded:
“We’re the least violent prison show you could imagine. Ninety percent of our show is cerebral, exciting and caperesque. And every once in a while we have to hurt somebody.”
Even Santora admits that when it comes to violence, TV producers are operating without clear limits. “The standards are so ambiguous as to not give you much of a guideline, so often you go by instinct,” he said.
The TV and film industries are self-governed through content-ratings systems. And those classifications tend to be vague and inconsistent.
Graphic shows have prevailed because they’re highly rated. They’re complex, interesting, and more stimulating than “Highway to Heaven.”
Audiences tell broadcasters what they like, and broadcasters respond.
And by the way — in case you’re wondering whether all the CSI gore is making us more prone to butchery (which is what the cultural watchdogs will surely claim) — the US Department of Justice reports that violent crime rates have reached an all-time low.
Blah blah blah blah blah, blah blah Parents Television Council blah blahed blah blah ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” blah blah blah blah blah blah families blah blah TV.
“Blah blah blah blah blah!” said Parents Television Council President Brent “Blah Blah” Bozell. “Blah blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah smut! Watch ‘Dancing with the Stars!’”
Fox’s “Family Guy and “American Dad” blahed blah blahest blah.
Brent Bozell is president of the Parents Television Council and the Media Research Center.
In his latest column for PTC, “The Sleaze Subsidizers,” Bozell expresses outrage at “Yum! Brands*, the fast-food kings that oversee the Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Long John Silver’s, and A&W restaurant chains.”
Bozell doesn’t like the TV shows during which these restaurants’ ads run.
When they advertise, they’re putting their dollars in the hands of the MTV Spring Break sleaze promoters, Fox’s alcoholic-orgy scenes on “The O.C.,” and the perverse plots on FX’s wretched corrupt-cop show “The Shield.”
MTV and FX are cable channels. No one has to subscribe to cable at all. People who do can choose only to get broadcast channels (at least with Comcast cable.) Regarding Fox’s “The O.C.,” parents who don’t want their kids watching it should say no to their kids.
Bozell uses tacky language to condemn sponsors of TV shows with racy content:
We also have some companies that could care less how many millions of young minds they help poison.
Right. Who cares about mercury poisoning when kids may consume the “poison” of watching parties on TV?
Bozell also smears corporations who sponsor racy TV shows, saying they violating the spirit of sexual harassment laws:
There’s more hypocrisy, too. Corporations have an obligation to enforce strict sexual harassment policies, providing employees with a working environment that is not hostile or sexually aggressive. And yet, these same corporations underwrite broadcast material which could violate those same harassment policies if the material were communicated by one employee to another.
Asking people in bathing suits at a Spring Break beach contest to do sexually suggestive things isn’t the same as asking an office worker in the office to do sexually suggestive things. Brent Bozell knows that. Speaking of hypocrisy, nonsense tossed out by the president of the “Media Research Center” — which purports to correct inaccuracies — qualifies.
* As a vegetarian, I’m not fond of “Yum! Brands” either.
Brent Bozell can’t understand why a woman camping out near a president’s vacation house because she wants to speak with him again (Cindy Sheehan), gets more media attention than critics of US foreign policy who don’t engage in similar protests.
It must be because the press has a “liberal agenda” according to Bozell.
The Boston Globe today reports on the Cardinal Newman Society, an organization whose mission is to expose “heretics and dissidents” at Catholic colleges and universities. (One aspect of the article focuses on the Society’s tax-exempt status, which the group’s president claims is “clearly a mistake.”)
One of the group’s board members is the Parents Television Council’s Brent Bozell.
Reilly, 35, said his concern about the direction of Catholic higher education began when he was studying journalism at Fordham University. Back then, he said, Fordham was considering whether to allow student groups for gays and lesbians and those who favored abortion rights — something Reilly, the student newspaper’s top editor, opposed in editorials.
In 1993, Reilly founded the Cardinal Newman Society, named after a 19th-century cardinal, and became its president in 2001. Though the society’s official goal is ‘’the preservation of Catholic higher education,” a fund-raising letter Reilly signed is more provocative: Catholics should demand that universities fire ‘’any professor who refuses to conform to Catholic teaching” and strip any college ‘’of its Catholic identity” if it doesn’t comply.
Reilly’s presidency coincides with an aggressive new fund-raising strategy in which the society attacked Catholic colleges that staged performances of ‘’The Vagina Monologues” and that invited commencement speakers who favored abortion rights. The society’s annual income soared from $126,000 in 2002 to $622,000 in the fiscal year that ended in June; membership during that time multiplied from about 3,000 to more than 18,000, Reilly said.
Yet it’s difficult to independently verify some of the society’s claims of influence. For example, a recent society document included this contention: ‘’Recently a Catholic bishop contacted Patrick Reilly to discuss how he could put the screws to a wayward Catholic college in his diocese, including ways of encouraging the removal of dissident theology faculty.” Reilly said the bishop spoke confidentially.
Although the group does not speak for or represent the church, its listing among other Catholic groups has raised questions about whether its policies are in accordance with the church itself.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops referred questions about the society to the Diocese of Arlington, Va. In a statement, diocese spokesman Soren Johnson said the church ‘’has established procedures for investigating allegations of heresy.”
Beal said a charge of heresy — officially defined as ‘’the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith” — is rare.
Also, earlier this year, the society claimed credit for stripping Marymount Manhattan College of its Catholic identity after contending that the school’s commencement speaker, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, supported abortion rights. The college said at the time, however, that it had previously shed its Catholic identity.
The society has targeted three Boston College faculty members — law professors Milton Heifetz and Charles Baron and theology professor the Rev. John Paris — because they signed a legal brief filed on behalf of those wishing to remove Schiavo’s feeding tube.
Remember this next time Bozell says he’s not politically motivated, as well as the next time he says that the PTC has no ties to religious groups.
More in the Boston Globe.
Let’s all let out a cautiously celebratory “Woo Hoo”: The FCC reports that indecency complaints in the first quarter of 2005 declined precipitously.
From the LA Times:
But that doesn’t necessarily mean radio and TV stations have cleaned up their act. Instead, FCC officials attributed the marked drop — which saw complaints plummet from 317,833 to 157,650 from one quarter to the next — to the end of e-mail and write-in campaigns aimed at certain television and radio stations. The report did not identify which organizations were behind the campaigns or which broadcasters were targeted.
In early 2004, religious and parent groups across the country mobilized to support stricter moral standards in broadcasting after Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl halftime show. In the quarter that included the exposure of the pop singer’s right breast on live television, the FCC received 693,080 complaints about indecent or obscene programming.
On the other side of the coin, however, the Times reports that complaints about cable and satellite programming increased. The FCC did not reveal what percentage of those complaints were indecency-related. It would be a mostly moot point anyway, since the FCC has no jurisdiction over cable and satellite naughtiness.
What does this mean?
TV has been sanitized to Brent Bozell’s satisfaction? (No.) The PTC is falling asleep on the job? (Not likely.) People are finally putting the issue in some perspective, thanks to activists like you? (We’d like to think so.)
There’s also a slightly sinister subplot in all this. The Parents Television Council has lately been focusing its efforts on MTV, F/X, HBO, and video game makers.
They’re not slowing down. They’re branching out.
They took a break, but the PTC complainers are back in action.
Speak up now!
The 1976 “Bad News Bears” contains expletives, and has a rating of PG.
The 2005 “Bad News Bears” contains more expletives, and has a stricter rating of PG-13.
This makes sense. It doesn’t seem to leave much room for Brent Bozell to complain. And yet…
In 1976, “The Bad News Bears” was a funny movie about a team of Little League misfits, but it was also in its day raw in its language and child behavior. So how to “update” that? As the Los Angeles Times notes, the remake “has nearly as many four-letter words as it does bats and gloves.” Amazingly — and this is truly reprehensible — it’s also rated PG-13. Hollywood is not only peddling raunch to children, it is disguising the raunch in its parental advisories.
…There was one thing the MPAA drew a bright line against: “We were told in no uncertain terms that showing the kids smoking or drinking [as they did in the original] was a guaranteed R.” What foolishness will be next? Just wait until the MPAA thinks showing kids eating Twinkies is unhealthy and should earn an R.
Bozell doesn’t want to knock the original movie, which people reading his column probably saw a long time ago and have fond memories of. So he does a contortion to praise the original as “funny” and not mention its rating.
The re-make which his readers probably haven’t seen, Bozell knocks for not being rated R for expletives.
But if the director of the re-make had a kid smoking as in the original (which he didn’t) and if the MPAA gave the movie an R-rating for that reason, apparently Bozell would still be upset. Difficult man to please.
Or, specifically, about its ratings system.
This ho-hum, color-me-unsurprised diatribe wouldn’t be an interesting story — except that Bozell previously excoriated NBC for refusing to use the ratings that he now criticizes. (NBC agreed to use the ratings’ content descriptors shortly before the networks banded together to extoll the virtues of the V-Chip.)
If it’s not one thing, it’s another. It must suck to be Bozell.
Brent Bozell says, pretty much, yeah, you are.
“Exposed,” a new public service announcement produced by the TV Watch coalition, asks if you think you’re smart enough to figure out your V-Chip. (Hint: You’re supposed to say yes.) The video then cuts to a clip of Bozell implying that, in fact, you’re just too dumb, and that’s why our culture’s going down the tubes. Really. It’s all your fault.
TV Watch asserts that politically motivated special interest groups like the Parents Television Council “want the government to program your TV… their way.”
It’s a good point.
Although 8 out of 10 people surveyed want the government to stay out of television programming, groups like the PTC want to turn the FCC into America’s censorship board.
We can’t let that happen.
Sure, there’s a lot of useless crap on TV. Even the most liberal among us wouldn’t disagree that a lot of television content, frankly, sucks. But we have a right to watch it.
Broadcasters aren’t stupid, and they aren’t depraved. They’re greedy, that’s all. They wouldn’t show crap if we didn’t secretly want to watch crap. They’ve got us pegged.
Now, should we protect our children from adult-oriented crap? Yes! Absolutely! And that’s where you and your not-too-dumb-to-operate-a-V-chip IQ come in.
If you’ve got kids at home and are worried about what they’re watching, give that old V-chip a try. (Yes, you most likely have one, even if you didn’t know it.) Don’t know how? TV Watch has put together a Parent’s Tool Kit to help you.
And if you don’t believe me, take 51 seconds out of your day to watch “Exposed,” the TV Watch video (Windows Media file).
Bozell’s cameo will convince you.
And yes, SpeakSpeak is a (somewhat inconsequential) member of the TV Watch coalition. No, they don’t pay us. Yes, we agree with them. No, we are not shilling the video at their request. Watch it. You’ll want to shill for them too.
Brent Bozell is president of both the Parents Television Council and the Media Research Center.
In his latest column for the MRC, Bozell smears National Public Radio’s Legal Affairs Correspondent, Nina Totenberg.
Bozell first asks, “Who Started The Supreme Court Circus? ” (his dubious phrase for confirmation battles.)
He answers his own question with:
Republicans have been willing to grant Democratic presidents their right to select nominees of their choice, while Democrats have used an explicitly ideological standard since the 1987 trashing of Robert Bork: if you’re conservative, you’re disqualified — period.
Bozell ignores that the first filibuster against a Supreme Court nominee was of President Lyndon Johnson’s (D-TX) nomination of Abe Fortas.
Bozell also ignores the blue slips used by Republican Senators to block some of President Bill Clinton’s (D-AK) judicial nominees. (Bozell isn’t only referring to the Supreme Court. He refers to nominations for Attorney General previously in this column.)
Later in the column, Bozell says about Nina Totenberg:
These Democrats are emboldened because on high-profile, non-electoral fights like this, liberal bias flies fast and furious in the newsrooms. A classic example can be found in the work product of staunchly liberal National Public Radio reporter Nina Totenberg, who has tried to ruin two conservative Supreme Court bids.
In 1987, she took a bitter ex-girlfriend’s diary and ruined Douglas Ginsburg’s nomination by forcing him to admit marijuana use at Harvard in the 1960s and 1970s, after which a parade of politicians from Gingrich to Gore admitted the same, with no career damage. (The Didn’t Inhale President came later.) In 1991, Totenberg took a bitter former employee (and according to some, wanna-be girlfriend) named Anita Hill and forced a new set of hearings around Hill’s unsubstantiated tales of sexual harassment by Thomas. But when Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and Juanita Broaddrick came forward with their (far more serious) charges against Bill Clinton, Totenberg’s compassion was nowhere to be found.
What does “compassion was nowhere to be found” mean?
It’s her job to report, not to show on-air compassion.
Is Bozell saying Nina Totenberg never filed a report about any woman who made an accusation against Bill Clinton?
If so, Bozell is lying.
Is Bozell saying she did report on Paula Jones, but did so unfairly?
If so, he should give us the airdate of at least one allegedly unfair report, so that we can judge for ourselves.
This column shows the sliminess of Brent Bozell.
Brent Bozell is the founder and president of the Parents Television Council. One of the main goals of that organization is to stop TV networks from broadcasting content it considers offensive.
Yet, Bozell devotes his latest column to ridiculing the National Fair Housing Alliance for its protests of the TV show “Welcome to the Neighborhood.”
ABC canceled the show before it even aired, due to the protests of Left wingers and Right wingers.
Brent Bozell denounces the Left-wing groups as “political-correctness lobbies.” He waits until the 11th paragraph (of the 13-paragraph essay) to admit that “some Christian conservatives complained as well.”
Bozell concludes that the cancellation of “Welcome to the Neighborhood” is “win-win, just one less lame ‘reality’ show….’ But it’s also evidence that Hollywood has a much closer and hypersensitive relationship with politically correct lobbyists than they do with traditional-values folks. “
The man whose organization issued a press release headlined, “PTC Calls Paris Hilton Ad for Carl’s Jr./Hardees Ultimate Example of Corporate Irresponsibility” should think twice before criticizing others for beng hypersensitive.
Brent Bozell writes that the New YorkTimes’ Alessandra Stanley “cheered” the cancellation. This is misleading. She opposes the show by describing “Welcome to the Neighborhood” as “fascinatingly wrongheaded.” The tone of her analysis isn’t cheering. Bozell minimizes rightwing opposition to the show while exaggerating leftwing opposition to paint a distorted picture of politically-correct liberals getting their way.
While many people are opposed to “Welcome to the Neighborhood,” including Bozell and Stanley, it would have benefitted society to bring the issue of housing discrimination into the open by airing the show.
It’s a sad and tragic story, so we’ll reserve commentary. It’s also a fascinating one — so we can’t help but pass it along.
The Boston Globe has a long piece about the life and self-inflicted death of writer Tristan Egolf — Brent Bozell’s godson.
Egolf’s brief life story reads like a fairy tale. A punk rocker turned street busker in Paris, he struck up an acquaintance with the daughter of Patrick Modiano, a prominent French author and screenwriter ('’Lacombe Lucien”). Modiano helped publish Egolf’s first novel, ‘’Lord of the Barnyard,” in France. Subsequently published in Britain and the United States, ‘’Barnyard” received gushing reviews. Le Monde likened Egolf to Mark Twain, J.P. Donleavy, and Cormac McCarthy. The French daily and the Times of London both compared Egolf — presciently, it turned out — to John Kennedy Toole, the talented New Orleans novelist who killed himself at age 32.
Outside his writing, Egolf achieved some renown as a political agitator. In July 2004, Egolf and a group of friends — the ‘’Smoketown Six” — were arrested in Lancaster, Pa., for stripping down to thong underwear and piling on top of one another during a visit by President Bush, to protest the treatment of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. Also last year, he organized an anti-Columbus Day rally and burned President Bush in effigy. You can hear Egolf discuss his protests on his multimedia website, windmillsonline.us.
From the Didn’t See This One Coming file:
Bozell likes “smut,” and admits it.
“I think The Simpsons is hilarious,'’ Bozell says a little sheepishly. “I love The Simpsons. But every once in a while, it just hits you right in the face. . . . It would be a hilarious show without it, so why did you do it?'’
This is a news flash, and not just to the First Amendment attorney who calls Bozell ‘’devoid of humor, lustful after publicity, and vastly ignorant'’ or the network executive who derides him as “the guy who thinks he can take care of my kids better than I can.'’
To the FCC, whipped into a frenzy by the deluge of e-mailed complaints from Bozell’s group, to the network executives cowed by his rages into pixilating everything from old women’s cleavage to cartoon babies’ butts, and even — perhaps most of all — to his million-member TV legion of decency, the Parents Television Council, it is liable to be a shock that in the privacy of his own living room, Bozell consorts with the enemy.
With those over-sexed, under-disciplined Friends, for instance. Last year, when 51 million other Americans were saying tearful goodbyes to the show as it ended its decade-long run, Bozell was filing an FCC complaint over an episode about a birthday cake decorated with a frosted penis. ‘’Patently offensive,'’ Bozell called Friends then.
Now, though, he says he may even have shed a tear or two himself.
‘’It’s unquestionable that it was a very terrific, extremely high quality show,'’ Bozell says. “So much of it was so enjoyable for adults and even younger people. And yet so much of it also was really pushing the envelope. So can I say 51 million people are wrong? No, no, I can’t say that.
“But even of those 51 million, I suspect, even the fans of Friends would also acknowledge that Friends could go a little overboard. Nobody is suggesting that Friends the show ought not to have been on. What we’re saying is some of the stuff on that show ought not to have been on.'’
That’s considerably milder rhetoric than you see in the newsletters and press releases that come smoking out of Bozell’s Parents Television Council. There, the cop show The Shield is ‘’this assault on decency.'’ MTV is ‘’blatantly selling smut to children.'’ The fast-food chains using an ad with a wetted-down Paris Hilton are “forcing American families to digest their filth.'’
From the Miami Herald.
In their ongoing attempt to keep us guessing, the Parents Television Council has decided that the lesser watched networks are more dangerous than the MTVs of the world. Today, anyway.
The PTC is upset with G4, which bills itself as a network for video game lovers. G4 is holding a contest for Videogame Vixen of the Year. Turns out that animated bikinis get the Bozellians just as hot as the real thing.
From Broadcasting & Cable:
“The fact that these are animated cartoons versus real women doesn’t make it better. It’s meant to elicit the same reaction as pornography,” says Melissa Caldwell, the Parents Television Council’s director of research. Caldwell says the contest — and its slot on the not exactly high-profile G4— bolsters the argument for reining in cable, either with indecency standards or by offering a la carte or family-tier programming options. “It shows how hard it is to monitor what programs are coming into your home.
“You may know that MTV is something you want to watch out for, but who’s ever heard of the G4 channel?”