Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard


AMEMO TO those appearing on live TV award shows and the broadcasters planning to air them: Feel free to drop an f-word. Just make sure you don't make an off-color reference to a stripper pole.

AMEMO TO those appearing on live TV award shows and the broadcasters planning to air them:

Feel free to drop an f-word. Just make sure you don't make an off-color reference to a stripper pole.

Because that would be crossing the line.

Let me explain. On Monday, a federal appeals court struck down an indecency ruling against Fox Broadcasting, and in the process dealt a blow to a Federal Communications Commission no-tolerance policy regarding offensive language.

Monday's decision dealt primarily with what the U.S. Court of Appeals called "fleeting expletives" - basically, the one-time use of an obscenity. Fox, appealing a 2006 decision in which they were penalized for expletives used during live broadcasts, said the FCC's strict policy set dangerous free-speech precedents.

It all started during a December 2002 Billboard Music Awards show televised on Fox during which Cher dismissed her critics with a resounding "F--- 'em!"

Nicole Richie topped that in 2003 during the next Billboard awards show by asking the audience, "Have you ever tried to get cow s--- out of a Prada purse? It's not so f------ simple."

Also in line in the decency debate was U2's lead singer Bono, who dropped the f-word during the 2003 Golden Globe awards. All this was followed, of course, by Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction at halftime of the Super Bowl in February 2004.

Around that time, the FCC tightened its rules and adopted its zero-tolerance policy regarding on-air expletives, including "fleeting" ones. On Monday, the appeals court said that policy was enforced arbitrarily, and that the FCC had not adequately justified its 2004 rule change.

This all comes in the midst of what one blogger is calling another "Imus moment" for MSNBC.

Last Friday (in the chair formerly occupied by Don Imus), Joe Scarborough wondered aloud if former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson's wife "works the pole." Sounds like a reference to a stage prop typically associated with strip clubs, though MSNBC has said Scarborough was referring to a trendy exercise routine.

Either way, Scarborough was complimenting Thompson's wife, Jeri. You wouldn't know it though judging by the reaction his comment is fetching from both conservatives and liberals.

Michelle Malkin (herself a hottie) scolded Scarborough, saying he owed the Thompsons an apology. And liberal talk-show host Taylor Marsh thinks the remark tells "the story of what Republicans think of women."

The whole controversy is ridiculous. Jeri is 24 years younger than her husband, and she's gorgeous. When did it become reprehensible to acknowledge that?

If you're like me and searching for the latest line in the sand, here it is: Within just a couple of days time, an appeals court ruling essentially made inadvertent or unexpected curses acceptable, even as a television bystander found himself in hot water for a profanity-free reference to a stripper pole.

The post-Imus, out-to-get-you reality is that making a vague reference to stripping will earn you a week of criticism, and perhaps even some calls for your job.

But you'll see no FCC repercussions for slipping an f-bomb into a live broadcast.

I'll offer the same disclaimer I have for almost two months: Don Imus said something stupid. He deserved his initial suspension. He was going for a cheap laugh, and what resulted wasn't funny or in good taste.

But the appeals court decision is just more evidence of the overreaction to Imus' comments in April. Where CBS and MSNBC trudged through a week of criticism and ultimately had to fire Don Imus, Fox Television wins a court victory after airing a couple f-words on live TV.

The effect of this cycle of offense and apology is to add to the pile of eggshells already under the feet of those who offer opinions and conduct conversations in public (like me).

It sends the message that politics obscures objectivity when we're dealing with offensive behavior. Now Cher can say the f-word on live television, but Scarborough can't joke about an attractive woman.

We need to get over it and stop crying wolf. Otherwise, we risk taking the life out of the conversations we do manage to have. *

Listen to Michael Smerconish weekdays 5:30-9 a.m. on the Big Talker, 1210/AM. Read him Sundays in the Inquirer. Contact him via the Web at