BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm BROOKE GLADSTONE.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. [TAPE PLAYS]
HOWARD STERN: This is the beginning. Sirius Satellite will rule. This will be the dominant medium in the future because there's no government interference. [CHEERS, APPLAUSE] It's the beginning. [TAPE ENDS]
BOB GARFIELD: That was Howard Stern at a lunchtime event Thursday in New York to promote Sirius Satellite Radio, his future radio home. Also Thursday, Sirius named former Viacom president Mel Karmazin as its new CEO. Government interference, of course, has been the thorn in Stern's side throughout his tenure in terrestrial broadcasting -- the thorn he says finally pushed him to satellite. And, as if to prove his point, just a few days after he announced his move last month, the FCC levied its largest fine ever for indecency on TV. Fox stations were ordered to pay a collective 1.2 million dollars for an April episode of the now-defunct reality show Married by America for a scene that involved strippers and-uhh . . . whipped cream. The FCC said it was responding to complaints from offended citizens -- 159, to be exact.
JEFF JARVIS: I thought that was ridiculous on its face right there, that 159 people could decide what the rest of us millions would watch. And in fact, by the way, the millions had already decided they didn't want to watch Married by America, and it was canceled.
BOB GARFIELD: That's Jeff Jarvis, founding editor of Entertainment Weekly and current blogger-in-charge of buzzmachine.com. Jarvis wondered who these 159 offended viewers were.
JEFF JARVIS: I filed a freedom of information act request with the FCC, asking to see all 159 complaints. And I just got it back, and they admitted to me in the letter, "Well, it wasn't actually 159. It was 90, cause there were a lot of CC's. And those were written by just 23 people." And then I examined the actual complaints that the FCC sent me, and all but 2 were virtually identical. Which is to say that only 3 people in America took the time to sit down and write a letter to the FCC. What the heck are 5 people on the FCC or 3 bozos out there in the country doing dictating to the rest of us what we can and cannot see and hear on our media?
BOB GARFIELD: Do you have any reason to think that the FCC knew that there were, in fact, but 3 actual authors of complaints to the agency?
JEFF JARVIS: Absolutely, yes. In fact, I talked to an FCC flack, and he acknowledged that these things are, are xeroxed like this.
BOB GARFIELD: So that would raise the question of regulatory good faith, wouldn't it?
JEFF JARVIS: Well, yeah. It's first a question of the Constitution, but then it's a question of really stupid enforcement, and this is a political act. This is done to assuage people out there and say we're going to go cover up America. Well, that's not their job, and they shouldn't be doing that.
BOB GARFIELD: Let me talk to you about the general problem of the coarsening of the culture. Is there no point at which you believe the government has the right to make an example of somebody?
JEFF JARVIS: No! Why would the government do that? The marketplace will do that. People already said they didn't want to watch Married by America. CBS, next time around, with the Super Bowl is not, believe me, going to allow a single inch of breast flesh to be shown, because the marketplace won't let 'em, and they'll lose money. I trust the people. I do not trust the government with that, and neither did the founding fathers. That's why we have a First Amendment. So the answer to your question is a simple and absolute no.
BOB GARFIELD: So three prigs or three persons legitimately aggrieved essentially astro-turfed the FCC, and the FCC, which in every other respect is deregulatory by nature, sprung into action and levied this fine. All right, so it's kind of comical and horrible at the same time, but what does it mean?
JEFF JARVIS: I think it's very illustrative of what's happening in the media right now. We're all assuming there's a great big gigantic moral Army out there that's taken over America. Well, it actually reminds me of an old Foreign Legion film where you maybe have 3 soldiers, and about 200 helmets stuck up on poles over the wall of the fort, so they look bigger than they are. We're not a Bible-thumping nation. And the problem in media is that is being assumed, that somehow we got taken over by the God squad, and that's a dangerous characterization that's being made as conventional wisdom in media. We in the media should not be in the business of spreading conventional wisdom. We should be in the business of questioning conventional wisdom. It's not as if it's America at war with itself, red states versus blue states. Let's question that. It's not as if a moral Army has taken over America. Let's question that. Instead, what we've seen in the media is that it's been accepted and xeroxed over and over and over again till it becomes accepted wisdom. And it's not right.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, Jeff. Well, thanks very much.
JEFF JARVIS: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Jeff Jarvis authors the blog buzzmachine.com.