A reporter from noncommercial newser WHYY-FM Philadelphia caught up with former President Bill Clinton (D-AR) Monday, and asked a question about controversial remarks made earlier in the election cycle in South Carolina. Clinton was subsequently caught using a word you’re not supposed to say over the air. This puts him in good company with the current president, and once again shines a spotlight on FCC fleeting expletive policies.
For broadcasters, the substance of Clinton’s on-air chat with reporter Susan Phillips isn’t of long-standing interest. It’s what happened after Clinton thought the interview was over. "I don’t think I should take any s*** from anybody on that, do you?" he asked somebody in a voice that was fading as he moved away from the mic, but was nonetheless still audible.
The incident is illustrative of what happens when someone is near a mic that is thought to be turned off but is in fact still hot. President Bush was caught using the same word several years ago.
RBR/TVBR observation: This is yet another perfect example of why the fleeting expletive exception has long been enshrined in the FCC rulebook, and illustrates why its rash removal after Janet Jackson’s split-second indiscretion was ridiculous. Nobody was trying to pander or titillate in this instance, nor was the offensive language repeated. If the FCC decides to hit WHYY-FM with a fine, and especially if they go for the full 350K, then the chilling effect on live broadcast newsgathering will be patently obvious.
The FCC is contending that every single utterance of certain expletives is highly objectionable and must be punished, even though it came to this conclusion unilaterally and without public comment. But if it lets Bill Clinton and WHYY off the hook, it undermines its own case. Let’s hope the Supremes use some good old common sense and ratify the decision of a lower court when they get the fleeting expletive appeal this fall.