FCC failure

I imagine everyone has seen the video already. If not, here it is.

In it, David Ortiz expressed his thanks to the mayor of Boston, the governor of Massachusetts and the city police department for their efforts in the wake of the April 15 bombing. All well said, and I—and everyone else around the country—agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment.

However, it seems somebody somewhere ought to point out that Ortiz’s dropping of the F-bomb a few seconds later to a stadium full of people and to a television audience of millions was in error, even if it was heartfelt. (To his credit, Ortiz did apologize afterward, saying, “It just came out. If I offended anyone, I apologize.”)

Instead, the Federal Communications Commission implictly endorsed Ortiz’s choice of words with the following Tweet:

David Ortiz spoke from the heart at today’s Red Sox game. I stand with Big Papi and the people of Boston – Julius

The Julius credited with this message is Julius Genachowski, the chairman of the FCC. As a Harvard grad—and, again, as an American—his personal feelings on this issue are completely understandable.

However, as the head of the organization charged with preventing indecency on the airwaves, Genachowski should have tempered his approval of Ortiz’s language. I don’t know if he has a personal Twitter account, but that would have been a better platform for such a statement. Sure, rules are made to be broken, but the rule-makers shouldn’t be supporting their breaking.

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  1. Todd said...

    Alternatively, we could not worry about things that are of no consequence whatsoever, as Julius apparently had the sense to do. It’s not like Ortiz insulted anyone or said anything offensive. There’s no difference in meaning or intent between sentences like “This is our blasted city”, “This is our bloody city”, “This is our damn city”, and “This is our fucking city”- so why bother to draw lines between them?

  2. Brad Johnson said...


    I don’t want to start a political argument, but this strikes me as a potentially specious argument. There are two elements here to consider, is the censure of the F-word obsolete and does an executive body have the right to not enforce obsolete laws.

    The first point is hardly worth discussing, it will only sow further argument and to no end. Let’s just say that there is a strong case for either condition.

    And the second point is open and shut. The executive frequently decides to not enforce the rules if they are believed to be harmfully arbitrary. Obama has thus far chosen to ignore several state laws allowing the use of marijuana despite that federal law is very clear on the topic. More ridiculously, Trentonians are not fined for eating pickles on a Sunday, despite that doing so is banned.

  3. Greg Simons said...

    Todd – Right or wrong, our society and government have chosen where to draw the line.  In this case, the FCC is selectively choosing not to enforce the rules, which makes the rules arbitrary.  Either enforce them or change them, but the rules need to be known and applied consistently.

  4. Greg Simons said...

    Brad – Yes, this could become too political very quickly, so I’ll try to make this bipartisan.

    To your first point, the standard at this time is that the F-word is inappropriate.

    To your second, this isn’t a decision not to enforce a rule, but to selectively enforce it – and to support it’s breaking.

  5. Todd said...

    Dumb rules are dumb. Change them, and don’t enforce them in the meantime. Brad put it better than I did.

  6. hopbitters said...

    Sorry, I’m with Greg here. There are reasons to censor, whether you agree with them or not, and Genachowski should not be flouting his own organization’s mission, particularly while in official capacity.

  7. Maverick Squad said...

    I don’t think the problem here is necessarily the lack of censorship. I understand that the FCC may let this slide- it was a live event in the aftermath of an emotionally jarring incident.
    The real problem is the approval given by the chairman of the FCC. Rather than just ignoring it and letting slide, he is endorsing the use of swearing. It’s like with the police, they may choose not to charge someone (discretion)- eg. maybe someone getting into a scuffle when they arrive at the scene of an accident where their child has been seriously injured – but then the police coming out in the press and saying that the getting into a push and shove with the police is a perfectly acceptable thing to do.

  8. Jack Weiland said...

    It’s pretty silly to think this in any way reflects the FCCs actual position on saying f*ck on television, and anyone taking this as a license to do so is either dumb or immature or both, and will likely be fined. I’m fine with that.

    I don’t think I buy the analogy above as being pertinent to this situation.

  9. Maverick Squad said...

    Yes, I don’t think his comments will be used as a precedent next time the FCC goes after swearing on TV.
    It’s rather that it’s inappropriate for the head of the FCC to come out with this comment. There was no need for him to comment on this and he did.

  10. Maverick Squad said...

    Maybe a better analogy is an umpire letting something slide- maybe if a player swears to the ump after a call, but maybe the umpire lets it slide since he though the play was close and the ump maybe thinks he got the call wrong.
    But the umpire isn’t gonna say to the press after the game that it’s it’s perfectly okay to talk smack to the umpire.

  11. Greg Simons said...

    Jack, the Chairman of the FCC used the commission’s official Twitter feed to make a statement that basically said they have no problem with what Ortiz said.  That seems like “the FCC’s actual position” to me.

    Yes, it was an emotionally charged moment, but Ortiz had five days to reflect on the situation, and he knew who was listening and watching.

    How about this for an official FCC statement:

    “The Federal Communications Commission understands the unique circumstances of David Ortiz’s comments before Saturday’s baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston.  However, the FCC code regarding inappropriate language was violated, and so the New England Sports Network will be fined as a result.”

    I’m not 100% sure it was NESN that carried the game, and I don’t know what the dollar amount of the fine would be, but something like this seems about right.

  12. Jack Weiland said...

    Well, I disagree. And I know my thoughts on the subject are colored by the fact that I live in Boston, but man … it meant a lot to me to read those comments. So you may see no value, but it’s there.

    You’re not wrong for thinking he should have just kept his mouth shut (it is the easiest way to avoid trouble, after all) but I also think analyzing it at this level is a bit over the top.

    Sometimes people are people. Sometimes even bureaucrats are people. I think there is virtually no harm in what Genachowski said, and it helped comfort a city during a time when lots of things make no sense at all. I’m cool with all of that.

  13. Jack Weiland said...


    He certainly did not have five days … Ortiz said this the day after the entire city, and a large portion of the metro area, were locked down for like 14 hours. If you think things ended Monday at 2:50, then you don’t really understand “who was listening and watching.”

    If you really think the FCC now condones saying the f-word on TV … I mean … you’re completely detached from reality. This was an absolutely unique situation. The game was broadcast on a regional television network in which virtually every single person watching it saw way worse things all week long leading up to that point. Anyone who takes THIS as “The FCC says you can say #### on TV now, guys” is out of their mind.

    And, as I’ve said, the statement the FCC meant a lot to me, a Boston resident.

    I’m fine living in a world that is not black and white. I’m fine living in a world where humans are allowed to be human, even if they have an official capacity every other day of the year. I also think analyzing it at this level is completely over the top.

  14. Jack Weiland said...

    @Maverick Squad – I appreciate the point I think you’re trying to make, which seems to be: let it slide, fine, I can deal with that, but there’s no point in going the extra mile to point out you’re letting it slide.

    I disagree; I saw value in his comment. Reasonable people can differ on this.

  15. Maverick Squad said...

    It’s obviously an emotional and fairly unique situation and while the chairman’s comment were in my mind unnecessary it’s unlikely they did any real harm to the FCC and it’s mission.
    While swearing isn’t nice, but swearing doesn’t kill or maim people.

  16. Greg Simons said...


    You’re right about Ortiz not having five days, so I apologize for that.  The lockdown obviously ended much sooner than that, and the situation was very raw.

    I didn’t mean the FCC now condones saying the f-word on TV, though I can see how my comments could be read that way.  I was referring to this specific incident, and I’m saying the FCC commissioner, given his and his commission’s role, made a mistake with his Tweet.

    Silence would have been better, or even something like, “Though we don’t condone the use of this language on TV, given the situation, we’re not going to levy a fine.”

  17. Jim said...

    How did you people get anything specific out of Julian’s gobbledygook?

    You people are on a witch hunt.

  18. languedoctor said...

    Could part of the reason behind Julius’s decision be that the FCC doesn’t have jurisdiction over the cable network (NESN) that televised the game?

    Just sayin’…

  19. No ma'am we're musicians said...

    Wow, this is why they put juries in trials.  Choosing to act or not act is what executives are supposed to do, otherwise we’d use computers/robots.

  20. Jack Weiland said...

    @Greg – Fair enough. I can see that take, although I don’t agree. And honestly it’s impossible for me to tell how I would feel if I weren’t so emotionally invested. But I am fine living in a world where things aren’t so black and white, especially when it comes to something as harmless (in my view) as this.

    @languagedoctor – Good point, it’s one I considered as well, although it’s possible the game was carried by Fox in some markets, no? Also, I think this debate is about the larger issues at play, even if they weren’t technically at play. If you catch my drift.

    @No m’am – Great name, first of all. Secondly, yes, agreed, but the question is about whether this executive made the right decision or not.

  21. Jack Weiland said...

    There are reasons to sensor, yes, just as in extraordinary circumstances the statement made by not censoring is worth a million times more than whatever statement would have been made by censoring.

    I’m okay living in a world that is not merely black and white. Sometimes it’s okay for humans to just be human.

  22. Randy Sutton said...

    Wow. I honestly can’t believe that this is being made into an issue. What would you have the FCC do? Fine Ortiz? Perfect example of ‘mountain out of a molehill’.

  23. Randy Sutton said...

    I think the fact that someone is actually sitting around worrying about David Ortiz saying f*** would be comical if it weren’t so silly, and it probably says a lot more about that person than it does Ortiz.

  24. Greg Simons said...

    Randy, if this is within the FCC’s jurisdiction, then yes, they should fine whomever is supposed to be fined – Ortiz, the network, the team, whatever.

    What would you have the FCC do?  Do its job or not?  If not, then why are the rules in place?

    And as I said earlier, given the circumstances, I could understand a statement such as, “Though we don’t condone the use of this language on TV, given the situation, we’re not going to levy a fine.”  It maintains their standards while being understanding of the specifics circumstances.  What they said undermined themselves, if even a little.

  25. Randy Sutton said...

    Thankfully, common sense won out in this instance. I think you have to look at context. If this had taken place before, say, a Red Sox-Yankees game, or any game under normal circumstances, I would probably agree with you. However, this was a special case, and should be treated as such.

  26. Randy Sutton said...

    I probably was a little harsh in my response, and that wasn’t my intention. It just seems that there are entire groups of people just looking around for something to be offended by ( and I’m not accusing you of that, of course, but that is probably why I have such a strong reaction to things like this).

  27. Greg Simons said...

    Randy, I’m thankful that while people have been expressing strongly held opinions, the level of discourse has remained civil.  I can only imagine the commentary if this were being discussed on some other sites.

  28. mcsnide said...

    I feel a bit like this guy: http://xkcd.com/386/, but I had to respond to this, even if I am late to the party.

    First, from the FCC’s website:

    “With respect to cable and satellite services, Congress has charged the Commission with enforcing the statutory prohibition against airing indecent programming “by means of radio communications.” The Commission has historically interpreted this restriction to apply to radio and television broadcasters, and has never extended it to cover cable operators. In addition, because cable and satellite services are subscription-based, viewers of these services have greater control over the programming content that comes into their homes, whereas broadcast content traditionally has been available to any member of the public with a radio or television.”

    The banner in the linked video clearly indicates this was on NESN. The radio broadcast was on time-delay, and was bleeped. Thus, the FCC had no jurisdiction here. My guess is that Genachowski knew that in our post-wardrobe-malfunction world, people would speculate about FCC reaction and decided to put it to bed immediately. Obviously, that was a miscalculation, as it drew politico articles and articles like this.

    Second, I watched this with my 7-year-old and my 9-year-old. I spent a long time earlier in the week talking to them about why people might want to hurt other people. They were especially worried because this happened only a few blocks from where we’d happily spent the previous weekend. THAT was a painful conversation. As for Ortiz’s speech, they either didn’t notice the obscenity or simply didn’t care – all they cared about was that their favorite baseball player was telling them that everything is all right and that the good guys win in the end.

    Finally, if you view Ortiz’s word as an “error,” fine, change the channel. Or at least don’t link to it in your article bashing him and Genachowski.

  29. Total said...

    Uh, it would be wise to know the actual law/regulation which you’re invoking.  The FCC has *never* held that just the use of the word “f#$@#$” is indecent.  Instead, it has always said that context is important.  A single, fleeting use of the word in a live broadcast has long been seen as unproblematic, as have extreme circumstances.  From the FCC FAQ:

    “Are there certain words that are always unlawful? No. Offensive words may be profane and/or indecent depending on the context. In the Golden Globe Awards Order, the FCC stated that it would address the legality of broadcast language on a case-by-case basis. Depending on the context presented, use of the F-Word or other words as highly offensive as the F-Word may be both indecent and profane, if aired between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. “

    Get the law right before you criticize it.

  30. Randy Sutton said...

    I very much agree. I come here to get away from the ‘discussions’ on certain other sites.

  31. Greg Simons said...

    Total – I did say above that “given the circumstances, I could understand a statement such as, ‘Though we don’t condone the use of this language on TV, given the situation, we’re not going to levy a fine.’”

    I’ve softened my stance somewhat, but I’m not ready to say Ortiz’s usage was *not* indecent or profane.  I know we’ll each have opinions on that, especially those who are particularly close to the situation.

    I still think the FCC’s response could have been stated better than it was.

  32. Total said...

    My point remains:  you don’t actually understand the law you’re invoking.  What you are invoking is your imagining of that law, and that perception differs substantially from what it actually is.  If you want to criticize the FCC, you need to at least understand what their charge is.

  33. Greg Simons said...

    I do understand the FCC’s charge, and when the law says, “Depending on the context presented,” that leaves lots of room for subjectivity.  Your imagining and perception of that law differ from mine.

    Given this subjectivity, it’s incongruous you’re telling me I’m misinterpreting the law but that you’re interpretation is correct.

  34. Total said...

    and when the law says, “Depending on the context presented,” that leaves lots of room for subjectivity. 

    It *does* leave a lot of room for subjectivity, a subjectivity that you’re not allowing for in your post.  If it is within the FCC’s ability to say that Ortiz’s words were *not* punishable because of the context presented then it’s not an “FCC Failure” not to punish him or the broadcasters.  You’re criticizing them for failing to do their job when you’re conceding that doing what they did is perfectly within the allowed responses of the law.

  35. Greg Simons said...

    The failure wasn’t in not punishing anyone, but in choosing to issue the statement they did.  I’m criticizing the way they did their job.

  36. Jim said...

    Greg, if that is your whole purpose in starting this thread, you should have written your Congressman/woman and complained to that person that your Government was not doing their job to your expectations and what you are paying them to do.  Then you wouldn’t have had to stir up this hornets nest.  Contrary to what you think, this august body can do absolutely nothing to help you and your complaint.

    You must have been absent from school when they went through this.  Too bad, it would have come in handy last week.

  37. Greg Simons said...

    Jim, some people disagreed with me and/or misunderstood my intent, so I tried multiple times in varying words to explain my stance, and apparently for some the only satisfactory reply is a full capitulation.  Sorry, I’m not going to do that.
    I think both Oritz and Genachowski made mistakes.  Nothing earth-shattering, but something I thought was worth addressing.

    Reasonable people can disagree – and do so without insults.

  38. Jim said...

    Capitulate?  NO!!  But you did find out you presented this in the wrong forum. 

    Did I insult with the presumption you went to school?  Sorry, didn’t mean to.

  39. Jim said...

    mcsnide, well put.  Wish I had thought it up like that.  It must have been extremely hard to explain the happenings to your children.  You are a saint with those two.

  40. Greg Simons said...

    mcsnide – I don’t think I was “bashing” Ortiz or Genachowski, but our definitions of the word may differ.

    If the FCC has no jurisdiction over this incident, okay.

    I think Genachowski’s use of the FCC’s official Twitter account to express what may or many not have been a personal opinion was an incorrect decision.

    I think Ortiz’s statement would have been just as potent without the f-word.  “This is OUR city!” would have worked just as well.

    I’m not bashing Ortiz’s sentiment or Genachowski’s feelings, and I sympathize with everyone who has suffered as a result of this event.

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