December 26, 2005

Ted Stevens Says “Shame On You” to White House

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 16, 2005 @ 1:46 pm
Filed under: FCC

A fulminating Ted Stevens (R-AK) has given the White House a drubbing for dragging its feet on a long-vacant FCC post.

From Billboard Radio Monitor:

Commerce Committee chairman Sen. Ted Stevens, R., Alaska, is unhappy with the way the White House has handled naming a final nominee to the position of FCC commissioner. Speaking to reporters this morning, Stevens called it “embarrassing” that the White House has not responded to his own recommendations to fill the remaining, vacant chair and said the whole process has been a “disappointing subject.”

“I think I’ll be the first chairman of Commerce that was denied the opportunity to recommend someone for appointment,” he said. The Alaskan senator has served on the Commerce committee for 35 years. The thrust of Sen. Stevens’ comment was to suggest that the White House is ignoring a long-standing tradition by remaining silent on his recommendations for FCC commissioner.

Stevens said he had hoped to have that final nominee named and available for tomorrow’s committee hearing on the topic. Instead, that hearing will deal with only two nominations rather than three: the nominations of Deborah Taylor Tate as a new Republican commissioner and the re-nomination of Michael Copps to serve another term as a Democratic commissioner.

The White House has not denied his recommendations, Stevens said, rather “I haven’t been able to get them to respond.”




Howard Stern “Reborn, Rejuvenated”

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 16, 2005 @ 1:38 pm
Filed under: Cable/Satellite, Radio, Howard

Howard Stern is looking forward to his new digs at Sirius radio, a move he’ll make in early January.

From the New york Daily News (reprinted in the Arizona Daily Star):

“You get the old Howard back,” Stern said, sitting in his still-under-construction new studio. “For those who are aficionados of the show, they would say, ‘Howard, you stopped doing a lot of things you used to do.’ And they’re right. My personal standards have been reduced. . . . You get the same guy who comes on the radio and flashes you — he opens up his brain and lets you hear everything, the ugly stuff too, the horrible stuff, the real stuff, but you’ll get that now in a way that I haven’t been able to provide since 1987.

“I feel reborn, rejuvenated.”

Stern, 51, said he left over-the-air radio because escalating FCC fines forced everyone in broadcasting to pull out of edgy content. He no longer felt he could be creative.

“What happened was the total erosion of what it is that I do,” Stern said. “I used to wake up so excited. I’d plan out my show the night before, and I’d have four or five killer (obscenity) bits, but then I’d turn it off.”

Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl didn’t help. Soon afterward, Stern was told he couldn’t air tapes of past shows — even shows that didn’t generate any complaints — because management worried they would lead to new fines.

[…]

But there is no censorship on satellite radio. And Stern plans to revisit some old material.
“What I’m going to do is go back and find everything I’ve been fined for and to make sure to do it in the first week. It will be phenomenal. You’ll see it will be so lame, you’ll see, you’ll go, ‘Who cares . . .’ It’s so ridiculous with everything going on in the world.”

[…]

[O]ne of his main concerns is, well, audience shrinkage.

The minute he ends his broadcast show today, his potential audience drops by millions, and Stern is trying to deal with the fact that not all of his audience will make the shift to Sirius.

“I’m the guy who can’t stand to give up one person in the audience,” he said. “In a way, I have such a childish view of this. I want everyone to come with me, and if they don’t, my world is wrecked. . . .

“That’s an unrealistic view — not everyone is ready to pay for radio yet, just like they weren’t ready to pay for television or bottled water.”

Projections are that Sirius Satellite Radio will have 3 million subscribers paying $12.95 a month when Stern launches.

That’s about 7 million listeners short of his audience estimates now.




Texas Man Banned from Computers for 10 Years

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 16, 2005 @ 12:53 pm
Filed under: Government

A sleazy pervert convicted of soliciting sex with a minor online has been banned from using computers for the entire duration of his 10 year probation. Randolph Cunningham was 26 when he met a 13-year-old girl in a chatroom and arranged an in-person meeting with her. The 13-year-old was actually an undercover officer for the Texas Attorney General’s office.

From News 8 Austin:

A Round Rock man in jail for criminal solicitation of a minor is now banned from using a computer for 10 years.

Randolph Cottingham was convicted in 2004 of soliciting an underage girl online. He was sentenced to 150 days in jail and 10 years probation.

Last month, Cottingham admitted to authorities he viewed pornography online and violated his probation.

Prosecutors asked the court to revoke his probation and send Cottingham to prison. Instead, the judge banned Cottingham from using a computer until his 10-year probation ends and increased his jail sentence to 180 days.

In addition, Cottingham must submit to three polygraphs in the upcoming year.

I’m not about to defend the behavior of a low-life like this guy, but banning someone from any contact with a computer for ten years seems rather unconstitutional to me. Besides which, keeping a sexual predator away from computers is hardly a solution to the problem. Why not concentrate on what he does in real life? Keep the guy away from minors. The keyboard is irrelevant.




Local Reaction to the Abominable Snow Penis Mixed

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 16, 2005 @ 12:27 pm
Filed under: Obscene!

The Middletown (NY) Times Herald-Record published local readers’ reactions to the front-yard snow penis built by a bored, snowbound woman.

Police destroyed the snow sculpture after receiving a complaint.

Reactions to the issue and the article were mixed.

I think we better keep the New Windsor police out of museums.

- Montgomery

I can’t believe that the Record would even waste space with this story. It was incredibly offensive, and whoever decided to post the before picture right with the story online should be ashamed. I feel that it was very inappropriate and is only giving the girl who built it undeserved publicity. Whoever is in charge of the decision for what stories run and which pictures are posted, please think it through it if there is a next time. It’s not funny, but downright offensive.

- Sara, Newburgh

Is there mandatory overtime tonight for the New Windsor police, since a snow storm is coming and so are the “snow penises”?

- Lisa, New Windsor

May God damn this newspaper for running the photo of the snow penis online. I am no prude, but this display was truly pathetic and you should be ashamed of yourselves. Is this why you became journalists?

- Joseph

This was funny and today we need a chuckle or two. What is NOT so funny is how it was handled in such an unprofessional manner. Now, let’s not let some “nut” pass some idiotic law against what we can and can not do on our front lawn.

- LAS, Essex JCT, Vermont

Young children would not be hurt by seeing this. Young children would just see a snow sculpture and not even know what it was unless the adults around them made a big deal about it - oh wait, that is what happened. If a child was traumatized in any way, it was not by the person who built the sculpture, but by the adults around them who made such a big deal about it.

- A mother, Narrowsburg

Since when are TOWN Police allowed to destroy private property??!

- Tricia, Blooming Grove




NPR’s Right-Wing Bias

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 16, 2005 @ 10:46 am
Filed under: Government, Media Watch, Radio

The radio network National Public Radio is funded with federal grants, corporate donations, and individual donations.

NPR broadcasts more remarks by people at right-wing think tanks than left-wing think tanks. Their ombudsman admits this, but doesn’t consider it a problem.

From NPR ombudsman Jeffrey A. Dvorkin:

NPR does not lean on the so-called conservative think tanks as many in the audience seem to think.

…The score to date: Right 239, Left 141.

In other words, in 2005, NPR got quotes from people at right-wing think tanks 239 times and from left-wing think tanks 141 times.

But critics of NPR’s right-wing bias are supposed to take comfort that they’re not leaning as much to the right as some people might think.

From the Daily Howler:

Dvorkin says that NPR “does not lean on the so-called conservative think tanks as many in the audience seem to think.” As evidence, he offers a numerical accounting which tilts almost two-to-one toward conservative think tanks! Only in our broken discourse could such “logic” obtain.

Some have complained that Brookings and CSIS aren’t really think tanks of the left. But for the sake of argument, let’s leave that point to the side. Where except in the mainstream press can we find public figures who reason so strangely?

By any rational standard, Dvorkin’s figures represent one thing. So he says that they stand for the opposite!




Clear Channel Refuses Billboard Critical of Wal-Mart

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 16, 2005 @ 7:29 am
Filed under: Free Speech, Media Concentration, AdWatch

The organization Campaign for America’s Future wants to rent a billboard that says, “‘Wal*Mart: Killing Local Businesses…One Main Street at a Time.”

Robert Greenwald writes:

After allowing Campaign For America’s Future to reserve a billboard less than a mile from Wal-Mart’s World HQ, Clear Channel has refused to accept the ad, censoring the message about Wal-Mart which received 13,000 votes! You can help by demanding Clear Channel not suppress speech to placate Wal-Mart.

Greenwald quotes this letter by Robert L. Borosage of Campaign For America’s Future:

Bob Sadler, Clear Channel’s Fort Smith, Ark., division president, unilaterally made the decision. To try to rationalize his censorship, he forwarded a copy of Clear Channel’s official content review policy which stated:

“I wish I could offer objective guidelines for reviewing copy, but I can’t. Frankly, I think these kinds of issues need to be viewed the way Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart approached a very controversial pornography case many years ago: “You know it when you see it.”

This is outrageous. Our ad isn’t pornography. It is a clear statement of the truth about Wal-Mart. Mr. Sadler is suppressing free speech out of fear of offending Wal-Mart.

Clear Channel owns more billboards than any other company in America and over 1,200 radio stations nationwide. It is simply outrageous that they would use this power to suppress speech — even a message that we are prepared to pay for. We have to let Clear Channel know that their censorship is unacceptable. Please send an email to Bob Sadler, the man who rejected your billboard, and demand that he not suppress speech to placate Wal-Mart.

The problem is that billboard ownership is so concentrated. Ideally, a billboard company could refuse an ad and the sponsor could just ask dozens of other billboard companies serving that area.

We’d have more free speech if the big billboard companies were broken up such that there were a variety of owners along each highway.

Regarding the billboard calling Bush “Our Leader,” which Clear Channel ran, there is more information at Move Left.




At Least $300 Million of Our Tax Dollars Being Spent On Propaganda

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 16, 2005 @ 6:53 am
Filed under: Government

From USA Today:

A $300 million Pentagon psychological warfare operation includes plans for placing pro-American messages in foreign media outlets without disclosing the U.S. government as the source, one of the military officials in charge of the program says.

Run by psychological warfare experts at the U.S. Special Operations Command, the media campaign is being designed to counter terrorist ideology and sway foreign audiences to support American policies. The military wants to fight the information war against al-Qaeda through newspapers, websites, radio, television and “novelty items” such as T-shirts and bumper stickers.

The program will operate throughout the world, including in allied nations and in countries where the United States is not involved in armed conflict….

The military’s communications work in Iraq has recently drawn controversy with disclosures that Lincoln Group and the U.S. military secretly paid journalists and news outlets to run pro-American stories….

It’s legal for the government to plant propaganda in other countries but not in the USA….

The Iraq example may cause Arabs to doubt any pro-American messages, says Jumana al-Tamimi, an editor for the Gulf News, an English-language newspaper published in the United Arab Emirates.

Placing pro-U.S. content in foreign media “makes people suspicious of the open press,” says Ken Bacon, a Clinton administration Pentagon spokesman who heads the non-profit group Refugees International.

The USA Today article doesn’t say whether it’s $300 million per year or over a longer period.

One of the problems with the US planting stories covertly in the foreign press is that a US Senator may visit Iraq, see positive stories in their press, and become convinced things are going well, when those stories were actually US propaganda. Media Matters for America discusses this issue regarding Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT).




Bush Authorized NSA to Spy on American Citizens

Posted by Chris Zammarelli
December 16, 2005 @ 4:46 am
Filed under: Government

James Risen and Eric Lichtblau report in today’s New York Times that President Bush secretly signed a presidential order in 2002 that allowed the National Security Agency to monitor phone calls made and emails sent by US citizens to international sources — without a warrant. According to an ex-government official:

“This is really a sea change. It’s almost a mainstay of this country that the NSA only does foreign searches.”

The NSA’s operation was briefly suspended in 2004 when questions about its legality were raised in Congress and in court. It was reinstated after restrictions on the program were put into place.

The White House requested that the New York Times not publish Risen’s and Lichtblau’s report, saying it could be disruptive to ongoing anti-terrorism efforts. While the article was published, certain info federal officials argued could be beneficial to terrorist organizations was removed.




Flag Flap Flummoxes Washingtonians

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 15, 2005 @ 2:35 pm
Filed under: Free Speech?, Confederate flag

From Washington state’s Olympian:

A white Black Hills High School student flew a Confederate flag from his truck as he drove onto the campus Wednesday, prompting a verbal dispute with at least three black students, school officials said.

The black students ultimately removed the flag from the boy’s truck, school officials said.

There was no physical fight, but the incident sparked concerns from parents of some of the black students who see the event as evidence of ongoing racial tensions at the school.

Students aren’t allowed to display or wear clothing depicting the Confederate flag at school because it’s highly disruptive, Black Hills Principal Jim Hainer said.

School officials are in the midst of investigating what transpired and did not take immediate disciplinary action against any of the students, Hainer said.

School officials plan to meet with the involved students and their parents, after a two-week winter break, to discuss the matter and determine what steps to take next, he said.

“It’s not an issue we take lightly,” said Hainer, describing the students involved as “good kids who are on opposite ends of a problem.”

Black Hills officials did not release the names of any students involved. But The Olympian was able to confirm the names of students involved through interviews with students and parents.

According to school officials and students:
Wade Martin, who is white, arrived at school Wednesday morning with a Confederate flag flying atop a pole sticking out of a hole in the bed of his pickup. Seniors Kevin Johnson, 18, and Dominic Lewis, 17, and junior Aba Adjepong, 16 — who all are black — approached Martin and asked him to take down the flag because they thought it was disrespectful.

A fourth black student also might have approached Martin’s vehicle, but school officials were uncertain about the total number Wednesday afternoon.

Eventually, one or two of the students removed the flag.




Utah Senator Wants to Outlaw Gay Support Groups

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 15, 2005 @ 2:31 pm
Filed under: Right Watch, Schools, Free Speech?

From the Deseret Morning News:

Two months after a gay-straight alliance club started meeting at Provo High, a state senator said he plans to run a bill in the 2006 Legislature that would prohibit such clubs in Utah’s public high schools.

Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, already taking on the public school establishment with legislation to require schools to teach a religion-based alternative to the theory of evolution, is now aiming at high school gay-straight alliances as well. His effort is backed by the conservative Utah Eagle Forum.

“I’m concerned about gay clubs,” Buttars said Wednesday, a day after opening a bill file regarding extra-curricular clubs. Buttars said his goal is to ban gay student associations from meeting on public school property.

“In my mind, if you are in the chess club, what do you talk about? Chess,” Buttars said. “If you are in the dance club, what do you talk about? Dance. If you are in a gay club, what do you talk about? I just don’t believe members of sexual orientation clubs should be sanctioned by the public schools — what they are talking about even a part of the public schools. They should not be allowed to have that on school property at all. It’s just wrong.” […]

“Oh, that silly Sen. Buttars,” said Dani Eyer, executive director of the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “What would we do without him? He just doesn’t have a nuanced concept of constitutionally mandated fairness and freedoms.” […]

In 1995, a group of East High students asked to form a gay-straight alliance, resulting in a firestorm of debate over homosexuality. The Salt Lake City Board of Education responded by eliminating all non-curriculum clubs, a move that took out groups including Young Republicans and Students Against Drunk Driving.

Students protested. The Legislature held a special session to discuss club restrictions. National headlines and lawsuits ensued. The district won one federal lawsuit challenging club policy. But in a second, a judge ruled it must allow People Respecting Important Social Movements (PRISM), which students wanted to create to discuss issues affecting the gay community, until the lawsuit was resolved.

The school board in 2000 allowed all clubs to meet either as curriculum-related “school clubs” or extracurricular “student clubs,” essentially ending the fight.

The article continues, at length.




Borat Banned in Native Kazakhstan

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 15, 2005 @ 2:01 pm
Filed under: CensorWorld

Borat, the fictional Kazakh gadabout and Kazakh’s purported “sixth-most famous man” portrayed by British satirist Sacha Baron Cohen, has been banned from the webspace of his native country.

Free speech group Reporters without Borders said yesterday that the Kazakh government shutdown the character’s website, Borat.kz.

From Chortle UK:

The site was closed earlier this week after Cohen mocked the nation’s threat of legal action over boorish Kazakh reporter Borat, who depicts the county as a backwater where wine is brewed from horse urine, punching cows is a national pastime and women are kept in cages.

‘We’ve done this so he can’t badmouth Kazakhstan under the .kz domain name,’ said Nurlan Isin, President of the Association of Kazakh IT Companies at the time. ‘He can go and do whatever he wants at other domains.’

Reporters Without Borders said the move raised fears about politicians interfering with free speech on the internet.

[…]

In November, Reporters Without Borders put Kazakhstan on a list of “countries to watch” because of repeated violations of free expression on the internet.




Ho Ho Ho Hum: O’Reilly’s War on “The War on Christmas” Continues

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 15, 2005 @ 1:47 pm
Filed under: Right Watch

Media Matters for America, that tenacious Bill O’Reilly watchdog, reports that O’Reilly falsely accused a Texas school district of anti-Christian “fascism.”

On December 9, Bill O’Reilly falsely claimed on both Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor and the nationally syndicated The Radio Factor with Bill O’Reilly that the Plano Independent School District (Texas) “told students they couldn’t wear red and green because they were Christmas colors.” He labeled the alleged ban “fascism.” On December 12, the school district released an official statement by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Doug Otto refuting O’Reilly’s contention:

“The school district does not restrict students or staff from wearing certain color clothes during holiday times or any other school days,” noted Dr. Otto, who said that the school district’s attorney has requested that Mr. O’Reilly retract the statement.

More on the Plano backstory, as well as a video clip, at Media Matters.




Washington High School Students Sue Over First Amendment Rights

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 15, 2005 @ 1:24 pm
Filed under: Schools, Free Speech?, Free Press

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

The co-editors of the student newspaper at Everett High School sued the school district Wednesday, claiming officials are violating their free-speech rights by demanding to review editions of the paper before distribution.

The editors, Sara Michelle Eccleston and Claire Marie Lueneburg, argued in their lawsuit that since 1989 the paper, the Kodak, has served as a public forum for students, with no content oversight by school administrators, and that as such, the district’s ability to demand editorial control is severely limited.

But district spokeswoman Gay Campbell said there has been consistent school oversight of the newspaper, and that the district has an explicit policy allowing prepublication review.

“We’ve complied with the law in every way,” she said. “We’re sorry the students have decided to take this course of action.”

Mitch Cogdill, the students’ lawyer, said the root of the controversy is that the Kodak reported on the hiring of the high school’s new principal, Catherine Matthews, who took over this fall. Matthews was the third choice of the students on the hiring committee, and the Kodak ran articles suggesting their voice was ignored.

In October, Matthews told the Kodak staff that the paper couldn’t be published unless she approved it in advance. She also objected to the masthead, which identified the Kodak as a “student forum,” the lawsuit said.

Eccleston, 17, and Lueneburg, 18, refused to submit to prepublication review. They appealed to the superintendent and the school board, to no avail.

“No principal had asked to review it before, even though it is provided for in the policy,” Lueneburg said Wednesday. “All of our options were kind of used up.”

The Student Press Law Center provides this explanation of school administrators’ right to censorship (or lack thereof):

Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision, gave public high school officials greater authority to censor some school-sponsored student publications if they chose to do so. But the ruling doesn’t apply to publications that have been opened as “public forums for student expression.” It also requires school officials to demonstrate some reasonable educational justification before they can censor anything. In addition, some states (currently Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas and Massachusetts) have passed laws that give students much stronger free expression protection than Hazelwood. Other states are considering such laws.




Religious Groups Still at Odds Over Cable Packaging

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 15, 2005 @ 12:52 pm
Filed under: Right Watch, Indecency

The Parents Television Council and Concerned Women for America held a joint conference call with reporters yesterday denouncing the cable industry’s plan to offer a “family-friendly” programming package. The groups are instead continuing with their attempts to extort the industry into offering a la carte programming.

Meanwhile, leaders of other religious groups oppose a la carte-ism because of the (realistic) possibility that religious programming will disappear from a large percentage of subscribers’ homes.

From Broadcasting & Cable:

The Parent’s Television Council (PTC), whose members have filed a large portion of all the indecency complaints at the FCC, will join with Concerned Women of America (CWA) Thursday in a conference call press conference declaring that the announced tiers aren’t sufficient and that they will join to push for full-blown cable a la carte.

Following the Senate Commerce Committee’s indecency hearing Monday, Stevens said of the tiers: “[I]t should be able to meet the demands that were made of use by the family-based organizations.”

But after that same hearing, which was a follow-up to an earlier one attended by Brent Bozell, the PTC president said that the tiers were a “red herring.”

“The only model Congress should consider and the cable industry should provide is an a la carte cable choice model,” Bozell said in a statement, “giving consumers the ability to choose and pay for the programs they want, and opt-out of what they don’t. Anything less is unacceptable.”

Together, CWA and PTC comprise some 1.5 million members (PTC says its rolls top a million and CWA pegs its head count at 500,000).

More receptive to the tiering plan were Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and the Faith and Family Values Coalition, both praised the tier, but both also oppose a la carte cable, fearing it could push religious channels off the dial.




FCC Nominee Tate Has Concerns about Indecency

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 15, 2005 @ 12:26 pm
Filed under: FCC, Indecency

FCC nominee Deborah Tate and incumbent Michael Copps faced a blandly welcoming Senate Commerce Committee today. Tate has been nominated to fill the seat left by Michael Powell earlier this year, and Copps was renominated after his term expired.

According to a report in the National Journal, both Tate and Copps expressed to the committee concerns about indecent content on television.

The nominees were peppered with questions on a wide range of issues, including indecency, Internet telephony and congressional efforts to update the nation’s telecom laws, but faced no resistance from the panel.

Tate said that as a mother of three, she has many concerns about “indecent” television content. “It’s important that the commission enforces the laws that we have,” she said.

Copps said Congress needs to keep the pressure on the TV industry to offer family-friendly content and should not rule out legislation. “I wouldn’t give us good marks,” he said of the FCC’s steps on indecency, grading the agency a failing “D-” or “F.”

Tate, citing her background as a mediator, said that as a state regulator she has focused on consumer outreach and forging industry consensus. Copps, a gadfly on communications issues who often has butted heads with Republicans on the FCC, pointedly praised Stevens for the latter’s indecency crackdown and cited Ronald Reagan as a role model.

An LA Times article on the nomination hearings says that Tate demurred when asked how she’d act on the commission, “saying she wasn’t yet versed on the issues.”

Perfect. Big controversy. High Constitutional stakes. Open seat on key federal agency. Hey, let’s install a lapdog who doesn’t know the issues!




FCC Commissioner: Fight Indecency with More Legislation!

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 15, 2005 @ 10:11 am
Filed under: FCC, Free Speech, Cable/Satellite, Opinion, TV

A big trend in entertainment for the past few years has been increased options and control for consumers.

« Recent developments »

Families with children who subscribe to Comcast Digital Cable, for example, can use “parental locks” to block out specific programs. They can also block all programs with a certain rating.

For people who choose not to subscribe to cable or satellite at all, there are more options:

* Entire seasons of certain TV shows are available in DVD sets, not long after they aired.

* People can rent DVDs both in person and over the internet (via NetFlix and other services).

* Some TV shows can be legally downloaded over the internet.

« The near future »

Some cable providers will voluntarily offer a family tier as early as March 2006 (the details are unclear, but depending on how it’s implemented it may be valuable to some families).

Other cable providers, such as Cablevision and AT&T, may voluntarily offer a la carte programming.

« What this means »

All this suggests that now is a good time for Congress to be hands-off regarding TV content.

But an FCC commissioner doesn’t see things that way:

FCC member Michael Copps is urging Congress to move forward with measures that would curtail sexually explicit and violent material on cable TV. Appearing before a Senate Commerce Committee hearing that is considering his reappointment to the commission, Copps, a Democrat, appeared decidedly unimpressed with Monday’s proposal by several cable companies, including the two largest, Time Warner and Comcast, that they provide a “family tier” of cable channels. “We’ve got to define what a family tier is. We’ve got to figure out how much it’s going to cost,” Copps told the Senate panel. “I don’t think we’re anywhere near the point where we can say we don’t need legislation. … Let’s keep pushing. … We got a long way to go.”

If Copps means that Congress needs to pass legislation defining a “family tier,” he is wrong. The cable companies offering a family tier will define it by what channels they offer and how. Congress should focus on other things in the near future as the cable TV industry develops.

« Action »

Please tell your Senators and Congressperson to vote against any indecency bill that should come up for a vote. Free speech is more important than regulation.

There is Congressional contact information at vote-smart.org.




Military Spying on Civilians in US

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 14, 2005 @ 10:03 pm
Filed under: Government, Free Speech?

The US military is spying on opponents of the Iraq War. This includes a Quaker group in Lake Worth, Florida, dubiously labelled a “threat.”

People should be able to exercise their First Amendment rights without fear of ending up in a government or military database.

A video of a report by Lisa Meyers from Countdown with Keith Olbermann is at the blog Crooks and Liars.

A transcript is available at the MSNBC website.

Previous SpeakSpeak article: “US Military Spying in America.”




Jeff Jarvis Says, That’s Not the Avon Lady You Hear

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 14, 2005 @ 4:29 pm
Filed under: FCC, Indecency

BuzzMachine’s Jeff Jarvis reports that there’s grim news on the First Amendment front.

Cable mergers, Howard Stern, mandated a la carte, kicked-up indecency legislation, Michael Copps (”the FCC commissioner from hell”), and Euro censors — Jarvis has it all, baby.

Read more at BuzzMachine.




Ford Will Advertise Its Cars in Gay Magazines, After All

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 14, 2005 @ 3:51 pm
Filed under: Right Watch, AdWatch

From the AP:

Ford Motor Co. said Wednesday it would reinstate and expand the scope of its advertising in gay publications after criticism from gay rights groups.

Ford said in a letter it would restore advertising for its luxury Jaguar and Land Rover brands in gay publications and run corporate ads marketing all eight of its vehicle brands in the publications.

“It is my hope that this will remove any ambiguity about Ford’s desire to advertise to all important audiences and put this particular issue to rest,” wrote Joe Laymon, Ford’s group vice president for corporate human resources.

Last week, Ford announced plans to reduce its advertising in gay magazines, following a meeting with the conservative “American Family Association.” This was criticized by gay groups, including the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

Seems like the AFA and gay groups got into a tug-of-war with Ford in the middle, and the gay groups won.




Another Snow Penis Sighting

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 14, 2005 @ 2:46 pm
Filed under: Obscene!

Tis the season.

From a report in the Canadian Press:

It was the perfect advertisement for Viagra.

And because the 1.5-metre-high penis sculptured from snow was made by second-year McMaster University engineering students, it was stabilized to stand up to kicks and attempts to push it over.

It stood over the weekend until it was knocked down Tuesday by a work crew.

But for some residents, the snow penis was highly offensive and another flashpoint in the ongoing problems of student parties, pranks and antics that plague the neighbourhoods around McMaster.

Retired Mohawk College professor Bill Goruk says the sculpture may have offended families with young children in the area.

He and other residents are tired of students who live off-campus and party in the area.

“How often do we need to be woken up at all hours to hooting and hollering, bottles being broken in the street and students puking on lawns?” Goruk asked.

The students, identified as Mitch and Kevin, said they created the sculpture to relieve the stress of exams.

The sculpture may have upset some people, but most laughed and chuckled at it or took pictures, Kevin said.

“We make snowmen, snow angels, snow forts, and a sculpture that is phallic shouldn’t offend someone,” Mitch said in an e-mail. “It’s there for people to laugh at and be reminded that winter is a time to have fun and be creative.”




AdAge on the Pitfalls of the “a la Carte” Proposition

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 14, 2005 @ 1:53 pm
Filed under: Cable/Satellite

With the recent announcement by the cable industry that it will begin to offer subscribers a “family friendly” packaging bundle, the prospect of true “a la carte” programming is receiving lots of lip time.

Here’s Ad Age’s Media Guy on why a-la-carte, a seemingly perfect solution on paper is, at best, imperfect.

Last year, when the FCC (under Martin’s predecessor) issued a report effectively condemning a la carte, even a lot of non-liberals concurred. Republican Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana, for instance, told the press that a la carte “would only result in limiting choices and driving up costs for all consumers. The United States has the most robust and diversified programming anywhere in the world and there’s a good reason for that — our government does not mandate programming choice. It’s a bad idea.”

But other conservatives freaked out — particularly Parents Television Council Executive Director Tim Winter, who declared that “the prime reason that so many people want cable choice: Cable is completely awash in raunch.”

Now, the idea that the only way to give parents choice is to restrict choice for all viewers is a classic bit of doublethink. It’s a lot like the parents of fat kids insisting that potato chips and Snickers bars be banned so that they might have the “choice” of feeding their pudgy offspring more nutritious fare. The even scarier thing is that Martin has publicly flirted with wanting to get decency laws applied to cable and satellite programming, not just broadcast.

Now, of course, I’m exercised about all this because I’m a grown man living in a free country, and I’m mortified by the idea of my government forcing Tony Soprano to say “darn” and “fudge.” But I’m also disturbed by the prospect of the further Balkanization of media.

This already happens, to a large extent, in the way that people consume news: As Kurt Andersen recently noted in New York Magazine, “Public discourse now takes place in echo chambers, each side preaching to its own choir.”

But what happens when that sort of self-selecting media consumption moves beyond politics to basic programming? Let’s not forget that the diversity of viewpoints and lifestyles shown on TV — the medium that still dominates our collective national mind share — has arguably been the most important catalyst for social progress in this country.

For instance, millions of white Americans, of course, were educated about civil rights through TV news coverage of the likes of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., but they also learned to respect and even love black people in the form of pop-cultural figures like Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey.

It’s telling that Burns invoked national pride in praising our “robust and diversified programming,” because that’s what this debate is really about: Pushing for a la carte cable means pushing for monochromatic, undiversified culture. Even as red-state sensibilities have saturated TV — witness the rise of squeaky-clean fare like “American Idol” and “Dancing with the Stars,” not to mention those recent Pope John Paul II bio-pics on both ABC and CBS — the Kevin Martins of the world would seek to prevent children and adults from getting exposed to any more of that nasty blue-state degeneracy. (The PTC, for starters, seems to be very, very afraid of gay TV characters.)

A final irony of the conservative a la carte crusade is that conservative-favorite Fox News could never have gotten off the ground in an a la carte world. (Everybody would have said, “I already have one 24-hour news channel; why would I pay for another?”) Same thing with Pax (now known as “i”), and countless others.

Of course, if Kevin Martin really is serious about wanting to extend the FCC’s powers of censorship over cable, there’d be one upside: He won’t have to hire nearly as many censors to monitor the ever dwindling number of cable offerings.




Brent Bozell’s Christmas Humor

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 14, 2005 @ 1:46 pm
Filed under: Right Watch, PTC, TV, Religion

Conservative Brent Bozell is the founder of the “Parents Television Council.”

He writes a weekly column about the entertainment media. In his latest, Bozell praises the decision of “three different TV networks to produce TV movies about” the life of Pope John Paul II.

Near the end of the column, Bozell writes:

The cynic might argue that these films are just an insincere attempt to cash in by baiting all John Paul’s admirers to the TV set during the Christmas — can I say that? — season, especially after the great love outpoured for the Holy Father after his death.

Great joke! America is so anti-Christian, people aren’t even allowed to write the word “Christmas” anymore — we’re just allowed to watch tons of Christmas specials on TV and listen to tons of Christmas music on the radio.

Bozell illustrates the opposite of the expression, “funny because it’s true.”




Another Year, Another Snow Penis

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 14, 2005 @ 1:29 pm
Filed under: Obscene!

Last winter, we told you the story of a couple of silly Wyoming men who were arrested on obscenity charges for building a front-yard snow penis. (The charges were dropped for failing the First Amendment test.)

Well, it’s that time of year again.

A New York woman is in hot water for erecting a “huge” snow penis in her boyfriend’s front yard.

From the Middletown (NY) Times Herald-Record:

What, some might ask Jessica Sherer, is with the giant snow penis she built on her boyfriend’s lawn this week?

As everyone knows, phallic displays were central to Viking winter solstice celebrations of fertility and rebirth. Yeah. So what.

And readers of this paper surely know that phallic rituals were as much a part of the Hopi Indian winter festivals as the Hawk dance.

[…]

“We got some calls that people thought it was offensive,” said New Windsor police Chief Michael Biasotti. “We assumed it was some kids who did it.”

Officers found no one home. Assuming the snow sculpture was more prank than nod to Christmas’ pagan roots, the police knocked it down. Beat it down with shovels, actually.

“We came back around 11 in the morning, and it was just a pile of snow,” recalled Sherer, 19. “Just some shovel marks.”

Sherer, um, erected the statue with her boyfriend and another friend Sunday. She said she was surprised to hear some neighbors took offense. Motorists honked their approval, and people walking by pointed and laughed, she said.

“People were waving and laughing,” she said. “It was pretty funny.”

No citations or criminal violations will be issued for the display, Biasotti said. The town codes prohibit lewd signs on businesses, but don’t mention anything about public snow sculptures.

“We probably weren’t 100 percent correct in going on the property and knocking it down,” New Windsor Town Supervisor George Meyers said. “But our intentions were pure. Some people were offended. There are school buses going by there all day.”

The last two nights of freezing weather has made the snow too stiff to sculpt, said Sherer. But she intends to rebuild.

“In a couple of days, Thursday or Friday, after it gets a little warmer,” she promises.

Police and town officials aren’t sure what their move will be.

“I’d want the police to talk to the property owner if we got complaints, ask them to take it down” Meyers said. “But after that, I don’t think there’s too much we can do.”

Biasotti worries the display might give others ideas. “Now we’re going to get snow penises popping up all over town,” he said.

Many scholars, of course, trace the origin of the modern-day yule log to ancient pagan totems to virility and sun-god worship. Is that what Sherer was going for?

“We just did it because we were really bored, and we thought it’d be funny,” she said. “It was huge.”

« Penis envy »

A quick Google search shows that phallic snow sculptures are nothing new. In fact, 2.6 million Google hits prove that the building of snow penises are practically human nature. (Not all links safe for work.)

Harvard students constructed a giant snow penis in 2003 (link not safe for work).

Though it’s out of date, this Craigslist posting promises that you can have your very own snow penis — for a price.

And for the record, there’s little parity in the world of snow genitalia. Snow vaginas don’t seem to have caught on. But here’s hoping, right?




Senate to Take Up FCC Nominations

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 14, 2005 @ 12:56 pm
Filed under: Right Watch, FCC

The Senate Commerce Committee will address the respective FCC nomination and reappointment of Deborah Tate and Michael Copps tomorrow. Tate would fill the position left vacant by former chair Michael Powell, who left the Commission in January.

If Tate’s nomination is approved, as it is expected to be, there will still be one vacant seat on the Commission — the post vacated by Kathleen Abernathy last week.

Tate, a Republican lawyer from Tennessee, is something of an unknown quantity. She does, however, have considerable political ties to the Bush Administration. (Surprise!)

Tate previously served as an assistant to former Tennessee governor (and current Bush appointee) Don Sundquist. Sundquist now co-chairs Bush’s Medicaid reform panel, despite having faced harsh criticism during his gubernatorial tenure for mismanaging — and possibly profiting from — Tennessee’s TennCare program.

Another assistant of Don Sundquist, Chip Saltsman, was a Bush “Pioneer” fundraiser in 2004. He as also served as the head of the Tennessee Republican Party and as the development director (i.e., chief money grubber) for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. (Profile of Saltsman.)

Michael Copps, a Democrat, has historically been conservative on indecency issues (pdf file).




Ted Koppel Criticizes News Media; Bush Administration

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 14, 2005 @ 12:45 pm
Filed under: Government, Media Watch, TV

Ted Koppel, former host of ABC’s “Nightline,” was interviewed by New York Magazine’s Meryl Gordon for the December 5 issue.

Koppel said there are too few foreign correspondents in network news:

At the moment, he’s howling against the sorry state of television news. “When I look back 30 years ago, we had 25 foreign correspondents, and now we have five.” His voice rises. “To just dismiss foreign news because it’s boring is idiocy. I understand that corporations need to make money. I also remember that broadcasters in exchange for their licenses are supposed to operate in the public interest, and that means covering the news.”

Koppel also criticized the Bush Administration’s attitude toward journalists:

Twice in the past two years, Koppel has raised the ire of the Bush administration with segments called “The Fallen,” in which he read aloud the names of the soldiers who had died in Iraq. “I didn’t do it to piss them off,” he says. “It was to honor the people who have lost their lives, to remind us that a tiny fragment of the population is bearing a disproportionate burden.”

His voice drips with contempt as he talks about the Bush team’s spin tactics on Iraq. “There’s this sense, ‘Don’t worry your pretty little heads about what’s going on over there — just do what we tell you, don’t question it. We know what we’re doing, leave the grown-ups alone.’ It’s not smart, it’s not healthy, and in the final analysis, it doesn’t work.”