Joe Scarborough's potty mouth earns tape-delay

by Paul William Tenny

If you'll pardon me inserting some personal politics into this blog, just bear with me for a minute. Joe Scarborough is a good example of why I don't like Republicans personally, because generally speaking they tend to be the world's worst hypocrites. This ties in nicely with the FOX vs. FCC story I'm working on that is now badly overdue, because it really shows off the ludicrous practice of censoring television for the wrong reasons in the wrong places.
Scarborough took over the simulcast show that Don Imus had on MSNBC for several years, though now the radio part is gone and it's just a regular long and quite boring morning news show called Morning Joe which is missing the "Joe" half the time I bother to tune in. He's what you would call a "family values" conservative, meaning he takes the most culturally divisive issues and places them at the center of his political aspirations. No sex education, no abortion, hatred of gays generally, everything that could possibly be construed as "indecent" must be destroyed at all costs -- those "family values". Because I'd rather not delve into this particular incident too deeply, I'll just quote what Glenn Greenwald wrote about an incident here within the past week that earned Scarborough the distinction of being the only host on MSNBC with a seven-second tape delay:

On his live MSNBC show this morning, former GOP Rep. Joe Scarborough used the phrase "fuck you" when discussing Obama's appointment of Rahm Emanuel.

Scarborough led the lynch mob over the 2004 Janet Jackson halftime show on CBS -- demanding that the FCC impose massive fines against CBS and MTV, among others -- and has railed against "rock stars" and entertainers who use, as he used to call it (before this morning), "the F word." Indeed, Scarborough even expressed outrage over the fact that the Government would even consider refraining from imposing substantial fines on ABC when Bono, on a live awards show, used the "F word."

A couple points here; this is important right now because the FCC has changed its long standing policy of not punishing "fleeting expletives" like the one that Bono used. If it's live and somebody who isn't a part of the program (e.g. not the host or a guest or someone with at least a marginal level of professional responsibility for the program itself) swears once without some arbitrary intent to offend or titillate, then it's not really the networks fault or the individual station's fault and nobody gets a fine or threatened with a revocation of their broadcast license.

Chairman Kevin Martin declared that policy which has stood for the entirety of the FCC's existence to be non-binding and irrelevant, and tried to fine Fox over a fleeting expletive (along with other networks for incidents of nudity that happened as many as 10 years ago on NYPD Blue) which resulted in a legal challenge.

Scarborough, as Greenwald pointed out, argued that MTV should have been fined for broadcasting Bono's fleeting expletive even though the FCC has no legal mandate to censor cable/satellite networks. MSNBC, like MTV, is also a cable network. Under Scarborough's crusade against ABC and MTV, MSNBC would have to be hit with a "substantial fine" because of what he himself said on the air a few days ago.

Like Glenn I don't much care about this specific incident because I'm not so detached from reality that I consider the word fuck to be all that big of a deal, nor do I agree with Kevin Martin that the FCC should expand its censorship to cable.

If anything, I'd like to see the courts revoke the FCCs congressional authorization to censor broadcast television entirely -- though not radio, since radio has no rating system or "V-chip" that your television does.

If the FCC wins its fight with Fox, cable censorship could easily be within reach over the next few years.

So the points are two-fold. Joe Scarborough isn't just a hypocrite when it comes to obscene language on television generally, he's also a hypocrite because he himself has a potty mouth that he has been denouncing for years when it comes other people. The consequence of that is that Scarborough, a "family values" conservative that has railed against indecency on television for much of his political career, recently got slapped with a mandatory seven second tape-delay by MSNBC that nobody else on the entire network has to deal with.

No, not even live footage of breaking-news events.

I'm not entirely insensitive to the problem of children's access to "indecent" television though. A woman who left a comment on Glenn's post wrote of how her kid heard what Scarborough said and was obviously pretty unhappy about it. I sympathize, although I've not seen it myself (because I don't really watch his program), I'm sure Scarborough's show carries a television rating that the V-chip recognizes, and was probably rated TV-G or lower. While I don't think kids need to be watching and learning from a political talk show, it certainly has been decent up until this most recent incident, at least as far as these things go.

In that instance, yeah, I think the FCC should have the authority to fine even a cable channel, but not because of what Scarborough said or did. It should have the authority to do that when a channel -- broadcast network or cable -- violates its own rating. That's the thing that slays me, these same "family values" conservatives passed a law in Congress that required every television set manufactured after 2000 to have the V-chip, a piece of simple technology that allows parents to set their televisions to only show a program if it meets a certain rating (see the "rated" link above for more on that.)

If the TV is set not to show anything rated 'TV-MA' or above, then it won't do it without a password or passcode that parent had previously set. If Joe Scarborough wanted to continue swearing and MSNBC was ok with it, they could change the rating of his show to TV-MA and no kid would ever see it if the parents of that child bothered to spend five minutes properly configuring their television set. Likewise, if a network drama wanted to go further than everyone else and show real, actual nudity, they could rate it TV-MA (and already do since all broadcast networks use this rating system) and nobody who didn't want to see adult content would have to see it.

At that point it becomes a matter of a channel putting content on the air that matches its rating, so that people who set the rating limiter on their TVs only see what they bargained for. That way nobody has to eat a fine that hasn't actually done something wrong.

The V-chip, as I will argue in my feature story on the legal fight between the FCC and the networks, essentially made the very shaky authority that Congress gave the FCC to regulate and censor broadcast television (extended to that medium from radio) unconstitutional and unnecessary.

So stay tuned for that, and for the time being, enjoy the irony of "family values" anti-indecency-on-television, former Republican Representative Joe Scarborough being forced to use a tape-delay to keep his program safe for kids because he can't control his own mouth. You can follow the link above to Glenn's post to see the actual incident on YouTube, but only so long as the FCC doesn't get authority from Congress to regulate and censor the Internet, too.

And don't think they aren't trying.
in Television


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