By a vote of 391 to 22, the House has passed legislation that increases fines for broadcast indecency (search) to $500,000 maximum per incident, but here's the really tough part. The government might now be able to fine individual shock jocks half a million bucks. That's new and some say that's a violation of free speech.
Talking Points doesn't see it that way. Broadcast radio and TV use the airwaves owned by you and me, the folks. And the government has an obligation to supervise what goes over those airwaves. It's not like cable or satellite radio, which you have to pay for. Thus, the FCC has an obligation to set standards and rules for broadcasters.
The problem is those rules haven't been enforced for decades. And now you have a verbal free for all that's offensive to some adults and can be harmful to some kids.
The Janet Jackson (search) deal awakened the sleeping giant, that is the American public, and now the public is demanding government clean up the airwaves. So that's why Congress finally did something.
Enter Howard Stern (search), whose program has been raunchy for more than 20 years. He lost six affiliates because his screeners failed to stop a caller from using a racial slur against blacks and for Mr. Stern's Q&A about anal sex with the guy who sold out Paris Hilton.
Stern is indignant about the situation, and has even accused me of some kind of duplicity I don't quite understand. Now I'm on the record as saying that Howard Stern's direct style and no B.S. approach made it possible for me to do what I do. But I've also told him face to face he often goes over the line and doesn't have to. He's plenty smart enough to put on an entertaining program without grossing everybody out.
Personally, I could not care less what Howard does on his program. That's up to him. He's not a gangster rapper encouraging people to sell and use narcotics and commit violence.
Stern is simply a comedian who traffics in sex and bodily functions. But the government has a right to set standards and enforce them over the public airwaves. That's not a violation of anybody's freedom of speech.
However, the government must define what is acceptable and what is not. Holding Stern and others accountable for what they've gotten away with for years is not fair.
Summing up, Talking Points supports fining broadcasters who abuse the public, but the rules must be clear. Otherwise, it's a selective prosecution. And that's not what this country is all about.
And that's the Memo.
The Most Ridiculous Item of the Day
A former journalist has been arrested on charges she would spy for Saddam Hussein. In a bizarre situation, Susan Lindauer (search) was picked up in Maryland and accused of conspiring to help the Iraqi Intelligence Service. She said this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN LINDAUER, ACCUSED OF CONSPIRACY: I'm an anti-war activist, and I'm innocent. I did more to try to stop terrorism in this country than I've worked -- than anybody else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Our question is: What does Saddam want to know about Baltimore? The Orioles? How good they are this year? Could be ridiculous. But could be real serious for Ms. Lindauer.