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Fighting Indecency, One Bleep at a Time

She majored in politics at Grove City College, a conservative Christian institution in northwestern Pennsylvania whose Web site notes that it explicitly rejects "relativism and secularism." When a recruiter showed up from the Arlington-based Leadership Institute, which bills itself as "the premier training ground for tomorrow's conservative leaders," she put her résumé in its job bank. She was thrilled to get a call from the PTC, where she started work in 1999.

She won't discuss her political views, citing the PTC's nonpartisan stance. But she's got a coffee mug on her desk that says "Don't believe the liberal media" and she's been known to alert Media Research Center staffers to scenes like the one in which, as an MRC "Cyberalert" headlines it, "CBS's 'Becker' Sit-Com Blasts 'Stupid' People Who Favor Tax Cuts."

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That's not what she's focused on now, though.

On this Wednesday, she has arrived at the office as usual at 8 a.m. and checked the newspapers that she monitors for relevant articles. She has collected the tapes of her assigned shows and fired up her Gateway computer and her VCR. She has faithfully typed in each obscenity uttered on MTV's "Real World: Philadelphia." It was an unusually tame episode, she says. "Last week they had people having sex in the shower." She has also logged the show's advertisers, among them Apple, General Motors and the U.S. Air Force, and she has moved on to "Sex and the City."

Carrie is narrating, in voice-over: "As Samantha said goodbye to Mr. Sex Toy, Miranda said hello to Mr. . . . "

Crudeness ensues in the form of a sexual pun. Rankin laughs. "It never stops!" she says.

Indeed it doesn't.

Before the end of the half-hour, the newly wed Charlotte will be strategically positioning postage stamps on her sleeping husband's anatomy to determine if his impotence is physical or psychological. (Don't ask.) Rankin logs this under "Institutions -- Marriage," because the plot line seems to undercut the notion that getting married is good. Meanwhile, Carrie can't sleep because someone in the next room "is having sex and moaning and banging against the wall." The next morning, Samantha presents autographed merchandise from Mr. Sex Toy to her friends at breakfast.

" 'Sex and the City' doesn't have any violence," Rankin says at one point. "They don't have time for violence."

It's also nowhere near the most disturbing thing she's seen.

When you ask PTC people to name the worst show on television, like as not they'll go straight to "Nip/Tuck." A recent PTC study called "Basic Cable Awash in Raunch" highlights a quote from Ryan Murphy, creator of the FX plastic surgery drama, who once told an interviewer that he hopes he's "made it possible for somebody on broadcast television to do a rear-entry scene in three years."

The show's second season has ended, but Rankin can't get it off her mind.

" 'Nip/Tuck' is so much sex," she says, "and it's really graphic. Like people having sex and snorting cocaine off someone's bare butt at the same time; people having sex with sex dolls; threesomes." Then there's the mother-son incest and suicide: In the season finale, the son stabs himself as they hug.

"I mean, incest is evil; why dramatize it? It's like a sick, twisted thing that people do that really hurts people," she says -- and no, it doesn't help that the mother turns out to be transsexual.

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