This morning FCC Chair Michael Powell was the guest on San Francisco radio station KGO’s morning program when Howard Stern made a surprise call-in to grill Powell over his many indecency fines.
I listened to the call, and while Stern took Powell to task for likely being appointed chair due to nepotism, I think his bleating over the indecency issue missed the mark by and large.
Powell is notorious for avoiding dealing directly with the public or any kind of critical questioning. Apparently he was reticent to even let KGO have him take phone calls, so it’s only fitting that Stern managed to get through and have his digs.
However, Stern was too personal in singling out Powell on indecency, and Powell rightly responded that the whole commission votes on indecency and that the FCC Democrats are probably more insistent on the indecency issue.
Stern claimed that the FCC is keeping his parent company, Viacom, from challenging the fines in court, which Powell denied outright, and which I also have trouble believing. The FCC has no role in the judicial process and has to appear in court when challenged, no matter who brings the suit. Now, whether the suit goes forward is the decision of a federal judge, but that first hearing in court is all but guaranteed.
Although he didn’t explain himself well, Stern accused the FCC of keeping Viacom from buying more stations unless it pays its fines. I believe that, since outstanding fines can certainly get in the way of business, whether at the FCC or the DMV. Stern tried to make that out to be some kind of blackmail, but, honestly, regulation would be competely ineffective altogether if the FCC couldn’t hold up the business of tardy fine payers.
It seems to me that the decision not to go to court over Stern’s fines is Viacom’s, not Powell’s. I’m guessing that the Viacom bosses don’t see challenging Stern’s fines as a sufficiently sure case to be worth holding up the acquisition of more stations. It’s a strategic choice on the part of Viacom, not some sort of FCC racket.
That said, it’s nice to hear the FCC chair challenged by anyone willing not to pull punches, and it’s fitting that it came from someone who so continuously draws regulatory punishment. Of course, I find it hard to cry for multi-millionaire Stern, and even more difficult to pity Viacom being forced to pay fines in order to move forward in buying even more stations.
It’s funny that Stern would choose to highlight the FCC threatening to block Viacom station purchases as such a great infraction. Of all people. Powell would be more than glad to hand over stations to Viacom on a silver platter if he could.
For all the bluster and hot air, the argument between Stern and Powell didn’t really amount to much. It wasn’t a debate about principle. Rather, it was petty bickering about Powell’s credentials for the job of FCC Chair and Stern’s FCC fines.
As anyone who reads this blog should know, I’m no fan of the FCC, and even moreso, I’m not a fan of Michael Powell. Back when I lived in New Jersey in the 1980s, I was a pretty frequent Howard Stern listener. But, no matter how entertaining Stern can be at times, at other times he’s just a panderer diplaying some ugly misogynistic tendencies.
One thing Stern is not is a valiant warrior for civil liberties and free speech. His battles are purely for his own narrow self-interest, and he’d just as easily take the other side if he thought it would make him some money.
Frankly, if Stern is so damn certain that his indecency fines are unfounded, or that indecency regulations are fundamentally flawed, then he should take a few million of his own stash to pursue the FCC in courst himself, rather than expecting Viacom to do his bidding. When Stern puts his own money up to fight for civil liberties and free speech, then maybe I’ll cut him a little more slack.
Until then, Stern’s more like a spoiled brat throwing a tantrum. But, at least Powell is an equally spoiled brat who needs a good spanking now and then.
You can listen to the show with these links to streams from the KGO website: