Actress Diane Keaton let loose an f-bomb in an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC’s Tuesday 1/15/08 edition of Good Morning America. The network was able to bleep it out for network feeds to other time zones, but it went over the air unedited in the East, its time zone of origin.
The Parents Television Council immediately called for punitive action against this and another incident it cited — raised middle fingers during a segment of CBS’s 60 Minutes which aired 12/20/07 — and has called on its membership to file complaints with the FCC.
The FCC’s old rule generally let broadcasters off the hook for inadvertent, fleeting indecency infractions. That policy was cited by the Enforcement Bureau when ruling on slip-ups during live broadcasts of certain awards shows, but the EB was overruled by former Chairman Michael Powell, who stated that use of certain words would be punished regardless of intent or duration. The unilateral abandonment of the fleeting standard, which Powell himself had earlier instructed the FCC to detail in lengthy FCC explanations of its indecency policies led to a lawsuit over the issue which was won at the circuit court level by Fox Television. The Supreme Court is currently deciding if it will hear an appeal from the government.
In the absence a Supreme Court ruling overturning the earlier court decision, it would seem the FCC would not have anything upon which to hang a finding of actionable indecency. PTC, along with mounting its latest complaint campaign, urged the Supreme Court to hear the FCC/DoJ appeal, and urged Congress to act on a bill from Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) that would make fleeting indecent utterances actionable by law.
TVBR/RBR observation: Wow. Diane Keaton. Who would’ve suspected? That’s the thing about this — you just never know who the next miscreant is going to be. The last celebrity to go blue in this manner, to the best of our recollection, was another unlikely candidate: Chris Matthews. It’s not like some antisocial grunge star with an attitude and a face full of metal took advantage of an open mic.
The simple fact remains that such incidents are extremely rare, given the massive total of broadcast hours each and every day. These incidents do not lead to rampant copycat incidents — you will not be reading about Susan Sarandon, Jodi Foster and Michelle Pfeiffer charging onto America’s morning shows tomorrow to follow suit. And we defy anybody to point to a single minor example of societal decay that is directly attributable to Diane Keaton’s quote.
PTC is free to wring their hands and read the end of civilization as we know it into this. And we’re free to ignore them. PTC can get bent out of shape over a word; we have more important issues to consider.