Monday, February 28, 2005

Glad They've Got Their Priorities Straight

Rolling Stone reveals the clearest evidence yet that we have officially entered Bizzaro world:
When the Federal Communications Commission fined Clear Channel Communications $27,500 last year for each of eighteen incidents of "indecent material" spouted by shock jock Howard Stern, it sure seemed like a lot of money. But in retrospect those fines look like chump change. On February 16th, the Bush administration won House approval for a bill that would raise the maximum FCC fine to $500,000 per violation. Under the new measure, Clear Channel -- and Stern himself -- could each have been fined a total of $9 million.

"Free expression and First Amendment rights are the real target of this legislation," declared Rep. Bernie Sanders (Ind-Vt.) during the debate over the bill. "This is not what America is about."

A review of fines levied by other federal agencies suggests that the government may be taking swear words a bit too seriously. If the bill passes the Senate, Bono saying "fucking brilliant" on the air would carry the exact same penalty as illegally testing pesticides on human subjects. And for the price of Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the Super Bowl, you could cause the wrongful death of an elderly patient in a nursing home and still have enough money left to create dangerous mishaps at two nuclear reactors. (Actually, you might be able to afford four "nuke malfunctions": The biggest fine levied by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission last year was only $60,000.)

If Bush has his way, Howard Stern may soon have a tough choice to make: Tell a sex joke on the air, or dump toxic waste in New York's drinking water while willfully placing an employee at risk of injury or death? No wonder the foul-mouthed host is moving to satellite radio, which falls outside the authority of the FCC.


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