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The TV Column by Lisa de Moraes: Jamie Foxx Gets Frank on 'American Idol'

Paris Hilton, left, and Nicole Richie are awards-show guests who have the standards police on alert.
Paris Hilton, left, and Nicole Richie are awards-show guests who have the standards police on alert. (2003 Photo By Joe Cavaretta -- Associated Press)

The Supreme Court yesterday said the Federal Communications Commission had acted properly when it modified its policy to hold even fleeting words actionable for indecency violations. In a 5 to 4 decision, the court said the FCC's policy on "fleeting expletives" was neither "arbitrary" nor "capricious."

The court did not rule whether the FCC's new policy violated the First Amendment and whether it sent a chill down the spines of creative types, as contended by broadcasters who anointed Ken Burns their poster child. That's because PBS sent his miniseries "The War" to stations in both censored and uncensored form, and let them decide whether to run the risk of being slapped with one of those FCC fines for showing footage of World War II veterans using expletives in discussing the war and in explaining where the commonly used expression "snafu" comes from.

The case got rolling when, in 2006, the FCC declared that Fox had violated decency standards during two separate broadcasts of the Billboard Music Awards. In 2002 (yes, this all started a long, long time ago), Cher, picking up her BMA for best doesn't-matter-what, prattled on merrily about how people had been saying for years she was so over and what she had to say to those people was "[expletive] 'em."

That set the bar pretty high. But Nicole Richie was up to that challenge and, the very next year at the same trophy show, while presenting a trophy to somebody-or-other, she explained to millions of viewers at home that it was not so [expletive] easy to get [poo] out of a Prada purse.

In between these two Billboard assaults on sensitive ears, that great humanitarian/singer/future-Obama-inauguration-performer Bono, picking up a trophy for the year's best something-or-other at the Golden Globe Awards on NBC, pronounced his win "[expletive] brilliant."

Initially, the FCC turned down the "Bono" complaint at the enforcement-bureau level, declaring it not warranting a fine since it was neither indecent nor obscene because, of course, Bono had not said the word to describe a sexual act, but just intense happiness.

About a year later, in 2004, after Americans caught a glimpse of Janet Jackson's right breast, did the full commission realize its enforcement bureau was a bunch of cloth-headed numskulls and announce to the world that fleeting expletives were henceforth fair game in the United States of America.

"Even when used as an expletive, the F-word's power to insult and offend derives from its sexual meaning," Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote yesterday by way of slapping the FCC on the back for expanding its enforcement to include "fleeting expletives."


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