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FCC chairman: Much of Super Bowl halftime show ‘offensive’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–FCC Chairman Michael Powell said Feb. 3 that much of the Super Bowl halftime show — and not simply the controversial ending — was offensive.

“I actually find other parts of the programming even more offensive, because I don’t think it took much imagination to understand what a great deal of the choreography was portraying,” Powell, head of the Federal Communications Commission, said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Powell’s comments came as some media outlets, including The Washington Post, reported that the FCC’s investigation would examine the entire halftime program — and not just the ending — to see if it broke indecency rules.

The halftime show concluded with singer Justin Timberlake ripping off part of Janet Jackson’s costume, exposing her right breast. But Powell and others say that the performance up to that point was just as risque.

At the beginning of the halftime program, rapper Nelly performed a single that ended with the lyrics, “It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes.” Dancing cheerleaders then ripped off their outfits, revealing skimpy shorts and shirts.

Jackson and Timberlake sang Timberlake’s single, “Rock Your Body,” which includes the chorus, “Bet I’ll have you naked by the end of this song.” Suggestive choreography accompanied the suggestive lyrics.

The day after the Super Bowl, MTV, which produced the halftime show, was promoting the shocking performance on its website: “Jaws across the country hit the carpet at exactly the same time. You know what we’re talking about … Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake and a kinky finale that rocked the Super Bowl to its core.”

But by the end of the day, MTV had changed its tune by removing any promotion and by posting an apology, saying that the finale was not included in rehearsals. Jackson also issued an apology, saying in a statement that the “decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my halftime show performance was made after final rehearsals. MTV was completely unaware of it. It was not my intention that it go as far as it did.”

Powell isn’t buying any excuses.

“I’ve certainly heard the explanations, but [I] don’t believe it was an accident,” he said on ABC. “I believe that at somewhere down the line, somebody knew what was going to happen and some of it was intended to happen. The real question this morning still is who knew what and when?”

Speaking on NBC’s “Today Show” Feb. 3, Powell said the FCC has broad power in fining. If each station that broadcast the halftime show is fined, then fines could extend into the millions of dollars.

“We can fine anyone who is a licensee,” Powell said. “In fact, the actual statutory law that Congress passed doesn’t limit who could be liable under the statute at all.”

One possible solution to future halftime shows involves using a seven-second delay. Utilized often by talk radio, a delay would allow producers to censor any obscene content before it reaches television sets.

“I do favor a delay, and in fact many responsible broadcasters do use delay in live events for just this reason,” Powell said.

But there may not be an opportunity for objectionable content. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue issued a statement saying that the league will make changes. Another NFL executive said that MTV likely wouldn’t produce another halftime show.

“We will change our policy, our people and our processes for managing the halftime entertainment in the future in order to deal far more effectively with the quality of this aspect of the Super Bowl,” Tagliabue said.

The fallout is extending beyond the FCC probe. The New York Post reported Feb. 3 that CBS is moving to remove Jackson and Timberlake from its broadcast of the Feb. 8 Grammy Awards. In addition, the Post reported that AOL — a sponsor of the halftime program — might ask for at least a partial refund. AOL intended to stream the video online, but won’t because of the ending, the Post said.

Powell said on NBC that the investigation would be quick, although he wouldn’t give a time limit.

“We’ll be pretty swift about this,” he said. “This has a lot of interest behind it.”

While CBS and the NFL were apologizing, conservatives were left wondering why the network and the league expected anything less than risque content from MTV, which doesn’t face the same restrictions from the FCC that broadcast networks do.

“… CBS and the NFL have absolutely no credibility as they try to deny complicity and responsibility for the incident,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in his Crosswalk.com weblog. “They took MTV as their partner, and they knew what they were getting. The football league and the broadcasting company knew exactly what they were getting into when they turned the halftime show over to MTV.”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins agreed.

“The entire halftime program was tasteless and not family friendly,” he said in a statement. “CBS should know better than to turn the halftime entertainment over to MTV, which relishes its ability to shock.”

Mohler added that when it comes to television programming content, the FCC has been part of the problem.

“The FCC has progressively loosened decency standards and has shown little willingness to rule almost any speech or behavior out of bounds,” he wrote. “Perhaps the Super Bowl halftime show could be just the wakeup call the FCC has needed. What are the rest of us waiting for?”

Timberlake has clamed that the incident was a “wardrobe malfunction.” But Morality in the Media President Robert Peters said the stunt was inappropriate — even if it was a malfunction.

“[W]hat will the FCC have to say,” he asked, “about a young man purposefully grabbing a female’s breast, while singing ‘Got to have you naked by the end of this song’? Is this not a patently offensive ‘sexual activity’ when aired when tens of millions of children are watching?”

Several family organizations, including the Family Research Council, the American Family Association and the Parents Television Council, have begun online petition campaigns directed toward the FCC.

Other family leaders spoke up Feb. 2, criticizing the broadcast. Among them:

— Southern Baptist Convention President Jack Graham said the incident was a “public exhibition of the disregard for virtue, innocence, purity and true love in our present society. Yet, while we express our displeasure with such a display of sexually explicit behaviors, we also express love and compassion for a generation of young people who are saturated by this sex-crazed culture.”

— Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, criticized the involvement of MTV in the program.

“When you lie down with mangy dogs, you will get up with fleas,” Land said. “[W]hen you contract your halftime show out to an extremely raunchy, push-the-envelope conglomerate like MTV, whose moral compass has been totally demagnetized, you get what you paid for — an R-rated, hedonistic exhibition of human depravity.”

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust