George W. Bush and the Curse Heard ‘Round the World


Senior Member
Sep 23, 2004
Is license to curse on live television a presidential perk?

If George Bush were a NASCAR driver or an NFL quarterback, his use of the s-word might have triggered a six digit fine from the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC commissioners aren’t making a fuss over their boss’s on-air swear at the G-8 summit, but the incident brings some clarity to the indecency debate.

It demonstrates that live broadcasts cannot always be appropriate for most children if they are also appropriate for adults – people who take their truth straight up, even if it’s sometimes coarse. Athletes, politicians, musicians and actors sometimes do and say things unfit for kids.

We Americans have to choose.

We can either make it so painfully costly for television to risk possible “indecencies” like Mr. Bush’s St. Petersburg slip that all live news and sports coverage is delayed, air brushed and self-censored. Or we can accept that sometimes, um, stuff happens.

Live mikes can have unintended consequences, for instance, if an American soldier curses out on the field in Iraq or a football coach or fan goes ballistic over a dubious call.

President Bush signed legislation raising the roof on fines for broadcasters and affiliates, even for accidental slips like his. Legislators even considered letting the FCC fine the cursing individuals as well. Imagine the President’s colorful response if the Federal Communications Commission hit him with a $325,000 fine for venting against the Syrian regime’s duplicity.

Perhaps Mr. Bush would see the FCC's scrutiny of live broadcasts as unwarranted government interference, especially now that the FCC is asking broadcasters for 30 tapes of sporting events to investigate profanity picked up by live mikes. Swear on the football field or the battlefield, and all heck breaks loose – so broadcasters faced a difficult and potentially costly decision when the President's language turned salty.

The St. Pete slip also demonstrates what we already know: that most of the complaints lodged with the FCC are manufactured by special interest groups bent on re-cutting television to fit their values. Accidental curses have triggered mass carbon-copy complaints, but I’m willing to bet that the FCC won’t hear from outraged viewers about the President’s s-word. Why not this time? Because the group that orchestrates complaints against media companies, the Parents Television Council (PTC), won’t pick a fight with the free world’s most powerful curser.

A recent PTC-orchestrated campaign against the popular show "Without A Trace" prompted the FCC to fine many of the broadcasters that aired it. Court documents exposed that nearly all of the complaints were generated by the PTC's online network, and many came from people who admitted to never having seen the show at all.

PTC’s founder Brent Bozell attacks the programming that tens of millions of Americans enjoy as a “river of smut, sewage and pornography,” echoing the 19th Century moral guardian, Anthony Comstock.

In 1873 Congress deputized Mr. Comstock to rid America of the influx of “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” material. He proceeded to destroy 15 tons of books, 284,000 pounds of plates for printing ‘objectionable’ books, and nearly 4,000,000 pictures and caused the arrest of 3,000 persons. The United States Postal Service prohibited certain anatomy textbooks from being sent to medical students.

Like Mr. Comstock, Mr. Bozell intends to save us all, but we need saving from him.

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