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Station Break

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With Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 2, 2004; 1:00 PM

Heard or seen something on the radio and TV lately that appalled/delighted/enlightened you? Of course you have. That's what Station Break with Paul Farhi is here for. Local stations, cable, radio shows, commercials -- they're all fair game.

Farhi, a reporter in the Post's Style section, writes about media and popular culture. He's been watching TV and listening to the radio since "The Monkees" were in first run and Adam West was a star. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Los Angeles, Farhi had brief stints in the movie business (as an usher at the Picwood Theater), and in the auto industry (rental-car lot guy) before devoting himself fulltime to word processing. His car has 15 radio pre-sets and his cable system has 75 channels. He vows to use all of them for good instead of evil.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Paul Farhi: Greetings all. So much stuff, so little chat...until now. Are we outraged/annoyed/merely irritated by a) the removal of Howard Stern from six stations around the country because of "indecency" concerns by Clear Channel? b) the removal of Frank Herzog from the great Sonny-Sam-Frank Redskins broadcast team? c)the utter bore that was the Oscars telecast the other night? d)the debut of possibly the worst reality show ever, "Forever Eden," last night? My answers: Yes, yes, yes and, um, yes. But enough of my silly little opinions. What do YOU think about my opinions?

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Arlington, Va.: Where is the uproar over being subjected to Billy Crystals naked body during the Oscars?

Paul Farhi: Hahaha! So true...

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Farragut West, Washington, D.C.: Could the new FCC crackdown on obscenity be the end of Howard Stern on broadcast radio? Will he tone it down, or do you think it more likely he'd move to satellite radio, and continue his normal routine?

Paul Farhi: No, never. Howard will be on the air as long as Howard wants to be on the air. Remember, Clear Channel "suspended" him in six markets (Louisville, Miami, Rochester, Orlando, Pittsburgh and San Diego). He's carried on dozens more around the country. As long as a few million people enjoy listening to him talk to lesbians and porn stars, he'll be around.

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Potomac, Md.: Last week, Clear Channel killed the Howard Stern show from 6 of it's stations. They of course claimed that the new "zero tolerance" policy for indecency was the reason, and that after Stern promised to be nice, they'd reinstate. Hogwash, of course. How much of this do you think was pandering to the FCC, or just a desire to cut a syndicated show that belongs to their only remaining (albeit much smaller) rival, Infinity Broadcasting?

Paul Farhi: Let's note the context: Post-Janet Jackson's boob, Congress has roused itself from its long slumber on indecency and is threatening to increase the fines for same by 10-fold (to something like $275,000 per "indecent" instance). Clear Channel understands broadcasting, it understands politics, and most of all it understands money.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Do you think Infinity's "no more indecency" push is a short term thing, or are they trying to clean their act for good? Will this lead to other major radio players doing the same?

Last, do you think such a movement would lead to occasionally offensive broadcasters (Stern, Don & Mike, Opie & Andy, Bubba the Love Sponge) moving to satellite radio where they'd have more freedom, a la Sopranos and Sex In The City on HBO?

Paul Farhi: I'm not exactly sure what Infinity (or any broadcaster) means when it says they'll have "zero tolerance" for indecency from this moment forward. What, did they have kinda, sorta tolerance for indecency before? I think the statement itself is the answer; if we sound tough in a Congressional hearing, we must, therefore, be tough.

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Arlington, Va.: Can you talk about what's going on with Don & Mike? Are these new rules from Infinity likely to blow over after the election?

Paul Farhi: Again, I'd like someone to explain what the "new" rules are. There's a vague, generically ominous cloud hanging around, but I haven't heard about anyone laying down a new set of do's and don'ts.

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Jacksonville, Fla.: So just what was that musical instrument being played by Sting?

It looked like something out of a bad 50's sci-fi movie.

Paul Farhi: An ice-cream maker? A butter churn?

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Jacksonville, Fla.: Where would one go to suggest some kind of investigative award for Diane Sawyer for her uncovering of the specific "background-noise-blocking" microphone used by Howard Dean on the notorious "scream speech"? She noticed he had the same type of microphone she used when doing crowd scene coverage so the roar of the crowd wouldn't drown out what she was trying to say. She further obtained a film clip from a documentary that was taped right down on the floor, IN THE CROWD, and the noise level was unbelievable. You could see Dean grinning and gesturing and the people behind him on the stage enjoying the exuberance of the pep rally but NOTHING COULD BE HEARD except the general crowd noise. It would seem that others in the media would have been alert to that, also, but it suited their objectives to go for the cheap sound bite "joke". I feel Ms Sawyer and ABC, for airing this info, deserve recognition and, possibly, awards but I don't know where to address this concern. Do you have any suggestions?

Paul Farhi: I think her report was interesting, but irrelevant. Dean LOOKED crazed. And even at low mic levels, his "scream" sounded crazed. All that fit into a pre-conceived suspicion about Dean: that he's angry, tightly wound, humorless, etc. He stepped right into the propeller blades on this one.

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Arlington, Va.: Paul - I just wanted to bring attention to a wonderful tv resource that I haven't seen mentioned here - the MHz networks out of Fairfax (WNVC and WNVT). I ADORE the foreign programs, including International Mysteries and Water Rats (Police drama from Australia). MHz seems unique to me - a non-PBS affiliated public station. What do you knoow of them?

Also gotta love the foreign news! (I watch Italian and French, not that I understand a word - Also, DW broadcasts an English language news - it is amazing what our networks don't cover).

Paul Farhi: Attention granted. I think it's great that an area as diverse and international as Washington has this sort of programming. Not sure there's a huge market for it, but then that's what non-commercial stations like MHz are supposed to provide.

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Ashburn, Va.: Paul,

My wife and I carpool to work everyday. On the way home, I like to listen to Don an Mike. My wife likes to spend this time talking about her day at work. I turn up the radio so I can hear what Don an Mike are saying, and my wife talks even louder. What do you suggest I do?

Paul Farhi: Take this one to Carolyn Hax maybe? Or perhaps our chatters have some helpful suggestions. Gang?

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Washington, D.C.: Did you see the end of Average Joe? What a surreal finish!

Not that I expected Larissa to really end up with average Brian, but the guy she picked only got there by default and flying under the radar. She was always talking about how they lacked a connection. And then he gets all huffy because she dated FABIO?

I swear it was a setup designed to get Larissa out of a tough situation where she had to choose between two guys she'd never really end up with. As hard as it was for Brian, I think it was less cruel than stringing him along. Of course, when he sees what she said early on about the average guys and what she said about the guy she picked, he is going to be justifiably steamed!

Whew!

Paul Farhi: I thought that was the phoniest, most manipulative "reality" show I've ever seen (and there's a lot of competition for that dishonor). Did she ever really give a darn about the chinless Brian? And she goes for the handsome, personality-free hunk? What a surprise. The Fabio "revelation" was ridiculous; the dumb guy gets all huffy about that and leaves her? Why?

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Baltimore, Md.: Fabio? The big secret was that she used to date Fabio? I got what I deserved here, didn't I?

Paul Farhi: Yep. I loved the hunky guy justifying his huffiness about that by saying something to the effect of, "Every many in America will relate to what I'm feeling here." They would? And wouldn't a woman who dated Fabio be very likely to pick a similarly handsome but empty character like Hunk Guy in the first place? Why should he be surprised?

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Let me take you to, Arlington: Are we going to bash George Michael some more this week?

Paul Farhi: What ya got, Arlington?

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Washington, D.C.: At the start of PBS/WETA-TV's broadcast on the crash of the Swissair flight last week, they had a pair of full-blown commercials at the start.

I didn't think PBS could air commercials - and these weren't the voiceovers of "this show is supported by XYZ," but ones just as easily seen on the for-profit networks.

What's going on?

washingtonpost.com: Transcript: David Evans on PBS NOVA: Crash of Flight 111 (Live Online, Feb. 18)

Paul Farhi: PBS has been loosening its "underwriting" standards for years. It now allows 30-second "credits" that are just classy commercials (there are still rules, however, such as no advertiser, er, underwriter can make a "call to action" such as "buy this product now!"). But local PBS-affiliated stations have their own rules, which are even more liberal than the national PBS standard. It's all about the Benjamins, natch...

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Rockville, Md.: I have recently discovered Internet radio by non-commercial stations. Some of the best stations are based right here in the Washington, D.C. area. My favorite is called Rockland U.S.A. which is similar to WWZZ 104, WRQX 107.3, and others but with no commercials. Why doesn't the post talk about these in the radio column? Thank you for your time - great work!

Paul Farhi: Thanks for the input. The Post doesn't have a radio column, but we do cover the biz and personalities and issues as events warrant.

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New Market, Md.: If Clear Channel understands money, why has their stock dropped in value over 20 percent since making the move to remove Stern?

Paul Farhi: Hard to imagine that their stock dropped 20 percent as a result of the Stern thing. They dropped Stern from six stations--out of 1,200-plus they own. The market is over-reacting just a bit, don't you think?

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Berkeley, Calif..: Paul,
I've been listening to one of these newfangled "classic alternative" stations. Will this format last, or is it a flash in the pan?

Paul Farhi: It's a great development, I think. Lot of new-wavey stuff you remember fondly from the 80s (say, "Walkin' in L.A.") that you'd never hear on the classic classic rock stations. I say bring it on.

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Washington, D.C.: Paul,

Can you provide any insight as to why traffic reports on Washington, DC radio stations (WTOP in particular) focus on the same areas every day, some of which are not even in the Washington, DC metro area? We never (unless there's a guy on a tractor in the Reflecting Pool) hear about the West End's traffic; the Whitehurst Freeway may as well not exist, the Key Bridge is a card game and a back-up on the George Washington Pkwy is announced as frequently as a George Bush sighting at NARAL convention. But every day Bob Marburg is on top of the Shirley Highway, Suitland Parkway, Inner Loop in Prince George's County, 95 South in Stafford or Rt. 2 near Prince Frederick. But the one that really got me was when he spent an entire traffic report talking about an accident near Breezewood, Pennsylvania on I-70. Last time I drove there it was over 100 miles from Washington! What "local" stations do a good job with traffic or are we consigned to this because they all get information from the same source? I can't wait until I hear about Harmon, WVA's traffic this afternoon....

Paul Farhi: Metro Traffic, which supplies most of the traffic reports to local stations, has pretty wide reporting ability--they have access to all the government-owned traffic cameras, plus they have their own deployed around the region. My guess is they're concentrating on/biased toward a) the usual hot spots; and b) the most heavily travelled routes. Overall, not a bad strategy, but maybe it needs some amending...

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Washington, D.C.: The instrument Sting was playing was a hurdy-gurdy.

Did you notice that the Oscar commercials were much better than the Super Bowl commercials?

Paul Farhi: Thanks. He looked mighty serious playing it, too. If by "better" you mean that the Oscar spots were "less offensive" and "less juvenile" than the Super Bowl ones, then yes, I agree with you.

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Downtown Washington, D.C.: I think Larry Michael is an easier target this week. If WJFK has decided to replace Frank Herzog with someone who can be considered an upgrade, then the move is less mystifying. However, what they did was curious at best, and totally disrespectful at worst. I'm not a Redskins fan, but I think I understand the connection between broadcaster and fan that is at play here.

Paul Farhi: Yeah, but...Where is WJFK's sense of continuity and tradition? When I was growing up in L.A. (warning: grandpa anecdote coming) we had great continuity among local announcers: Chick Hearn was a legend on the Lakers; ditto Vin Scully (still!) on the Dodger. Dick Enberg did UCLA basketball. Nothing lasts forever, but Sonny-Sam-Frank surely could have run a few more years.

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Washington, D.C.: This might be slightly off topic, but I got a check for $13 as part of the settlement with for the music industry overcharging for CD's in the 90's. Did you get yours? Maybe I'll go buy another overpriced CD...

Paul Farhi: 13? THIRTEEN dollars? Two questions: 1) How much are the lawyers who cooked up this suit getting? (answer: more than $13); 2) how much of their windfall, price-fixing profits were the record companies allowed to keep? (answer: see first answer).

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Somewhere, USA: Latest Bad Trend in Radio: The overabundance of product endorsements by the same announcer/host. Chris Core, who does a great show, is the worst offender. Customer mattresses, diet plans, dog food, house painters...he or somebody in his family or at the station has used it and, man, is this product great. When you have four or five of them every hour, it doesn't exactly seem very sincere.

Paul Farhi: I always thought that was pretty shady. The host is selling his credibility (if any) to the highest bidder. I guess it's a free country, but those are so transparently phony, and seemed designed to blur the lines between advertising and programming.

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Somewhere, USA: Future Home Without TV or Radio?: Am I the only one who agrees with the FCC and hopes that they try to clean up some of the airwaves during prime-time? I have 3 children under the age of 12 and I understand that it is my responsibility to monitor what they watch and listen to on the radio, however, that means that I can never leave the room when they are listening to the radio or watching television (it also means that we all have to watch the same show). I am not saying that everything should be rated G or PG, but how about everything before 9:00pm (excluding cable)? The come back from most people is that if it is not appropriate for my children, don't let them watch it. But this is not realistic since it is impossible to monitor everything all the time. A little bit help from the government would be nice.

washingtonpost.com: Get Tough on TV Indecency, Lawmakers Urge (Post, Feb. 12)

Paul Farhi: Totally understand your point of view here, and it's the reason the indecency rules exist in the first place (protecting children from the offensive). But let's face the world we live in for a moment. The rules apply only to broadcast programs. There's no indency standard for cable or satellite-originated programming because the FCC doesn't hand out licenses to cable and satellite networks. So, with such balkanization, the government is shoveling against a very strong tide.

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Rockville, Md.: I am starting to get the feeling that this chat is similar to Clear Channel -- you only post what you want to post regarding questions.

Paul Farhi: Yes. You ought to see the backlog of flaming left-wing rants that I've censored. Hoo boy!

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Marital Bliss: My husband listens to Don and Mike on the way home from picking me up from work, too. I usually talk anyway, just to talk, and if it is something important I make him turn it down so he can hear me. Is that an ok compromise?

Paul Farhi: But what if Don & Mike are doing a good bit? Does he have to turn down the radio then?

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Alexandria, Va.: I almost threw something at the TV when the Average Joe surprise was the Fabio bit. I was expecting either a child or that she had a twin. But then, I guess I'm bitter about the show anyway since a cashier at a pet store told me I looked "like that Average Joe guy who lost on the finale last season." Gee, thanks, pal.

Paul Farhi: I thought it might have been an undisclosed career in porn films, although I guess that's no longer shocking (I mean, haven't we all appeared in porn films at some time or other?).

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Washigton, D.C.: Favorite Oscar Moment: Adrian Brody with the mouth spray.

Also liked the Tripletes of Bellville song.

Worst part: Bob Hope part since they only showed him hosting the show and not any of his movies or war trips.

Paul Farhi: Agree on Brody and Bellville song, but there were many more worst moments than the very nice Bob Hope thing. Here's my question: Why isn't anyone upset that Leni Reifenstahl, a Nazi propagandist, was included in the tribute to movie greats who died last year? Good gawd...

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The Airless Cubicle: Hi, Paul.

Just a couple of quick notes: WCTN-950-Potomac has flipped from English-language Christian programming to Korean-language Christian programming, ending 30 years on the air. They will be missed in the Christian community.

For those who are interested in international programming on the radio, WUST-1120-Fairfax broadcasts international programming, including Radio France Internationale in French M-Sa 7 to 9 a.m, and China Radio International from 9 to 10 a.m.

For those with a deeper interest and no desire to stay awake past midnight, shortwave radio receivers are getting cheaper every day. I bought one directly from China; no bigger than a paperback book, it performs magnificently. I enjoy listening to Radio Australia on it in the mornings at 9850 kHz, or Radio Nederlands on 5965 kHz.

Thanks.

The Original Dubya

Paul Farhi: Thanks for the programming notes, Airless!

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Washigton, D.C.: Will Sonny and Sam leave as well? Sonny does a lot for channel 4 dring the year, so he doesn't need the money. Sam should just retire. Put Riggins in the booth.

Paul Farhi: I have to agree with George Solomon's comment on this in the Post last week: I think it's sorta classless that Sonny and Sam didn't stand up for Frank (at least publically). Apparently, 20-odd years together is not enough for them to raise a peep about WJFK's shameless decision...

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Paul Farhi: And, yes, putting Riggins in the booth would be a very good thing. He's a riot, and darn good in the analysis department.

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Tenleytown, Washington, D.C.: Paul: Now that 24 is off the air until the end of the month, will we be forced to watch the movie starring Elisha Cuthbert in the interim?

Paul Farhi: "Forced"? You have to be forced?

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Anonymous: Any news on Randi from "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance"?

Paul Farhi: I believe she has slunk back into the obscurity from whence she came. The guy who played the BFOF, on the other hand, has a shot at a career...

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Rockville, Md.: Okay, so the FCC or infinity or whomever has put the screws to Don and Mike. It's about time. They finally were told they are little fish in a big pond, that they can't compete with some of the other radio personalities and that maybe they should tone down their act. What has been their response other than the on air comments?

Paul Farhi: They will continue to push the envelope, of course. That's why they're called "shock jocks." Doesn't really matter where the line is; they will find ways to come right up to it, and rarely step over it.

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Fairfax, Va.: I'm hoping this is the final year for "24" the novelty is long gone and the extended storyline is tedious. Plus, doesn't anyone yawn or pee after being awake for so long?

Paul Farhi: I still like the show, but it has become far less "must-see" for me, for the reasons you state. The plot absurdities are becoming intolerable. Nina has a severed carotid artery and she STILL is able to kill five heavily armed guards and sabotage CTU? I don't know, I guess I just like some realism in my realistic TV dramas.

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Rebateland, USA: Forget buying a CD with that $13. Go buy a spindle of blanks instead.

Paul Farhi: Good idea!

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Alexandria, Va: Because Reifenstahl WAS a movie great -- Triumph of the Will and Olumpia are still stunning after all these years.

Should we also make Jane Fonda, Elia Kazan, and Tim Robbins give back THEIR Oscars? Judge the work.

Paul Farhi: Have you lost your mind? Leni was a craven apologist for a murdering degenerate gang that caused the deaths of millions and the destruction of hundreds of years of European civilization. You want to honor that? I'll reserve comment on Fonda, et al, but they don't approach Reifenstahl's politics, "great" movie or not.

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Washigton, D.C.: I was disturbed about the Nazi woman in the list of dead people. But since she was in the Academy, they put her up there.

Paul Farhi: What madness. If Goerring or Goebbels had a SAG card, I guess they'd get retirement benefits, too.

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Arlington, Va.: Re: Leni R., hey they included Elia Kazan. And I know, I know, when you look at the bigger picture. I think they made a choice to make it apolitical, and even Lucas referenced Triumph of the Will in Star Wars. It's a part of film history, like it or not.

Paul Farhi: Where's your sense of proportion, people? Great, it's part of film history. So is "Birth of a Nation." Don't make it right.

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Northwest Washington, D.C.: I don't completely understand all the hubbub with the FCC trying to crack down on indecency. Gimme a break! They've let things run amuck for so long on radio and TV that trying to reign them back in now would be like trying to get the chickens back in the chicken coop after they've been let out. Besides, we live in a an era where there are so many choices and channels that if you don't like or approve of something change the channel or better yet turn the fricken tv and radio off. Even though I've never listened to Stern I know what I'll get even if I do so I choose not to listen. That goes for all the other crap on tv and radio these days.

Paul Farhi: Right. Stern is the least of the problem; he is a totally known quantity, who, though he crosses the line, does not violate his audience's expectations. This is exactly the problem with Janet Jackson's exposed breast: it totally violated what audiences have come to expect from that sort of program.

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Re: Reifenstahl : What about Roman Polanski? If I were head of the Academy, I would allow him to be nominated--provided that if he wins, he has to come to the US to accept his Oscar in person.

Paul Farhi: He should not be nominated. He should be deported to stand trial.

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Southern Maryland: I'm a parent too, and I believe it's my job to control what my kids watch, not the government's. For one thing, I would be abdicating my parental responsibility if I demanded that every broadcast be sanitized. For another, the FCC or politicians could target specific broadcasters for political reasons while claiming indecency.

Paul Farhi: The indecency policy, as is, is extremely liberal and in any case rarely enforced. If the government wanted to get serious about the "problem," raising the fines is a good place to start. Hitting broadcasters in their pocketbooks always gets their attention.

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Bethesda, Md.: Don't know much about TV or radio, but want to give my two cents on this whole thing. Consistent, above board rules that everyone has to follow at all times including medical shows. I tend to side with the talent who is bearing the brunt of this. Bono did not use an adjective (or adverb as Weingarten states.) Although, I must admit, this would be an overwhelming piece of legislation to write. And of course, someone would find a loop hole almost immediately. I think it was J Paul Getty who said "I never broke the law but I did cause a lot of them to be written."

Paul Farhi: Yes, a rule broad enough to cover all of radio and TV programming would be impossible to write. It would be struck down as unconstitutional in about 28 seconds.

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Shaw, Washington, D.C.: Anyone notice that the applause throughout the "dead" list tapered off in a hurry after Riefenstahl's slide went up? Another ill-considered move in an Oscar ceremony that was full of them.

Paul Farhi: Didn't really notice that. But I'm surprised that there was no pre- or post-Oscar commentary on this, unlike the big hoo-ha over Kazan getting a lifetime achievement Oscar a few years ago. What Kazan did was dicey (he handed over names to the commie-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s), but nothing compared to Riefenstahl's career.

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Washington, D.C.: Why should Roman Polanski stand trial... he already was convicted and fled the country before sentencing!

Paul Farhi: Ah, thanks for the correction. Sorry: He should go to prison.

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Arlington, Va.: Lucas referenced Triumph of the Will for STYLE, not for Substance. It was a propaganda film for the NAZI's! It is only being shown today for film school students (for teaching) and Neo-Nazi (because they're idiots). If this movie came out now about the Taliban, she would be sitting in Cuba in the prison.

Paul Farhi: 'Zactly!

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Re: Polanski: Didn't Polanski win last year for Best Director? If I remember correctly, Harrison Ford who presented the award had to say that academy accepted it on his behalf.

Paul Farhi: I'm fuzzy on this. You might be right. Didn't hear or read much commentary on that, either.

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Convergence, USA: The new Elisha Cuthbert/Kim Bauer movie?

She plays an ex-pornstar.

Meanwhile, R.I.P Nina.

Do you think Michelle's toast as well?

Paul Farhi: Possibly, but most likely no. They can't keep killing off regular series characters.

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Paul Farhi: Folks, once again it's been swell. Gotta get back to the old grindstone for more typing. Let's try this again in two weeks, when they'll be so much more to be irritated by. And now, Johnny Gilbert, please ask the Station Breakdancers to dance us out of here...Peace, y'all.

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