Everyone knows there are some words that can’t be said on TV, if you could reach the late George Carlin, he would list them for you. It seems, even though they know they shouldn’t drop the f-bomb or flash the camera during a live broadcast, celebrities do it anyway, and at a remarkable frequency. This is where the FCC steps in.
The Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, is an independent agency of the United States Government. The agency serves many purposes including homeland security and to regulate media services so that they are accessible all citizens. Through this media regulation, they also regulate what is broadcasted on television and radio programs.
Broadcast programs that show obscene, profane, and/or indecent material can be reported through their website. Each time someone utters a forbidden four-letter word on air, the FCC hears about it, sometimes at an astonishing rate. After the Super Bowl controversy of 2003, an estimated 540,000 complaints were filed with the FCC. After receiving the complaint, the agency can issue the offending broadcasting organization, and sometimes the offending speaker, with either a scornful letter, a hefty fine, or both.
After much ado and a litany of issued fines, the Supreme Court eventually heard many of the cases regarding the agency and various broadcasting companies in June 2012. They ruled unanimously that the FCC’s indecency policy was too vague to be enforced. This resulted in the waving of most of their previously issued fines.
The prevalence of on-air cursing has predictably not subsided since the court hearing. With the most recent offense happening this week on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2013 when the Baltimore Raven’s quarterback, Joe Flacco, was accidentally recorded on live television during a conversation with a teammate, in which he said a bad word (a very bad word) and a lot of parents were upset about it. The FCC will certainly receive complaints, how they will proceed remains untold.
Flacco is clearly not the first person to drop the f-bomb on air, nor will he be the last, check out our list of the most memorable offenders, to learn who was fined, who got a slap on the wrist, and who got away scot free.
In the most recent offense after Super Bowl XLVII, a CBS cameraman recorded a conversation between the the Baltimore Ravens Quarterback Joe Flacco and lineman Marshal Yanda.
The two were presumably discussing their 34-31 point vistory over the San Francisco 49ers. In the exchange, Yanda muttered, “ Holy Sh– huh?” to which Flacco replied, “F—ing awesome!” The jury is still out on whether this will result in a fine from the FCC.
During the 2012 Super Bowl halftime show, British singer M.I.A flipped off the camera while performing with Madonna and Nicki Minaj. M.I.A’s gesture was supposedly seen by 110 million viewers. “The obscene gesture in the performance was completely inappropriate, very disappointing and we apologize to our fans,” said Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the NFL.
Later, co-performer Madonna commented on the fiasco stating, “It’s one of the those things, it’s such a teenager, irrelevant thing to do … what was the point? It was just out of place.”
Neither M.I.A, NBC nor the NFL were charged with FCC fines.
On Dec. 2002, singer Cher used the phrase “F— ’em” during the Billboard Music Awards show on the Fox television network. The FCC cited Cher and Fox for indecency spiking a heated debate on first amendment rights and the FCCs ability to regulate what is shown on air. The case was heard in the supreme court, resulting in neither Cher nor Fox TV paying the fines.
Race Car driving is an incredibly dangerous job. It therefore comes as no surprise that more than a few expletives have been muttered in the heat of the moment when a driver is trying to maintain their speed and safety.
These moments aren’t usually caught on air, however, during a NASCAR race on August 20, 2012, that is exactly what happened to Danica Patrick. The camera cut to a shot of the driver in her race car just as she ran over a shoe and uttered the curse word.
George Carlin was one of the earliest and most well-known violators of the FCC regulations. In 1973 a father complained to the FCC when his son heard George Carlin’s “Filthy Words” stand-up routine on a NYC FM radio station. The station received a letter from the FCC reprimanding them for violating regulations which prohibit public stations from airing indecent material.
The most notorious FCC offense was Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. Jackson and Justin Timberlake were performing Timberlake’s song “Rock Your Body,” when Timberlake suddenly pulled off a part of Jackson’s costume, revealing her right breast and a very large nipple ring.
Approximately 540,000 Americans filed complaints with the FCC in regards to the incident. Justin Timberlake claimed that the incident was unintentional and regrettable. The FCC fined CBS for $550,000, but in 2012 the Supreme Court dropped the case.
Self-proclaimed “Shock-Jock” Howard Stern has had a long and expensive battle with the FCC, between the years of 1990-2004 the DJ was fined a total of $2.5 million for airing indecent material.
In 2004 the FCC announced stricter guidelines and enforcement for broadcasting indecent content. This was, of course in response to Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl scandal. After this, Stern announced his retirement from regular radio and signed on to satellite radio, which has no broadcasting regulations.
On Jan. 28, 2013 comedian Joan Rivers let the f-word slip during the recording of her television show, ‘Fashion Police’. Given that the show is pre-recorded, only the studio audience should have witnessed her foul mouth. Somehow it managed to slip through the editing process, however, and was played on cable TV.
Rivers responded to the buzz by Tweeting:
“Somehow, the word “f##king” slipped through on @e_FashionPolice. It shouldn’t have happened, but whoopee! That’s how the joke was written.”
No fines were issued for the slip.
At the 2003 Billboard Music Awards, Nicole Richie said “Have you ever tried to get cow s— out of a Prada purse? It’s not so f——simple,” in reference to her reality show with costar Paris Hilton.
Richie and Fox were cited for indecency. The Supreme Court ruled against the FCC in this case, stating that the indecency rules were unconstitutional and that the policy enacted without sufficient prior warning.
In 2003, ABC’s ‘NYPD Blue’ aired an episode which displayed profanity and nudity, including the broadcast of a woman’s buttocks. In Jan. 2008, the FCC fined ABC for $1.4 million due to the scenes of “adult sexual nudity.”
The fine was eventually dropped by the Supreme Court in Jan. 2011.
Samuel L. Jackson
In 2012, during a live taping of “Saturday Night Live”, Samuel L. Jackson dropped the f-bomb while partaking in a skit with Kenan Thompson. Jackson said the drop of the bomb was Thompson’s fault and that he didn’t truly say the entire word. Jackson was not charged with any FCC fines.
Shortly thereafter, Jackson responded to the accusations on Twitter with:
“I only said FUH not F**K! K was sposed [sic] to cut off da BULL****, blew it!!”
Steven Tyler screamed the f-word on live television on the morning of November 22, 2012 while performing with the rest of Aerosmith for the “Today Show”. After Aerosmith finished their set, the camera switched to Al Roker for the weather report. In the background Tyler yelled, “Thanks for coming out, you crazy f**ks!” loud enough for the camera to record. The look of shock on horror on Roker’s face made the moment all the more scandalous.
This isn’t Tyler’s first offense as a few years earlier he praised “American Idol” contestant Casey Abram’s performance on live television stating. “You’re so f—ing great!” Lucky for him, no fines have been issued for his infractions.
The producers of ‘Good Morning America’ didn’t anticipate any trouble when they scheduled an interview with angelic actor, Tom Hanks, on the morning of Oct 29, 2012 but perhaps they should have as he muttered a very well enunciated f-bomb.
The actor showed immediate remorse by covering his mouth and stammered this apology. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I slipped into a brand of acting. I have never done that before; I apologize to the kids in America that are watching this right now, and let me say that the next time I’m on the show there will be a seven-second delay.”
In 2003, U2’s frontman Bono uttered the phrase “f—— brilliant” during NBC’s broadcast of the Golden Globes Awards show. He was cited for indecency and profanity but was not issued a fine.
The enforcement bureau said that Bono’s comment was not indecent or obscene because he did not use the word to describe a sexual act.