Commentary: Fleeting Expletives

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, June 8, 2007

Thank goodness we have a courts system in this country or there’d be no free speech at all.

I’m referring, of course, to a ruling this week by a federal appeals court that the government cannot punish television stations for broadcasting “fleeting expletives,” such as the f(bleep) that slipped from the rock star Bono’s lips during the Golden Globe Awards in 2003, or the f(bleep) that the singer Cher uttered at the Billboard Music Awards a year earlier.

The Federal Communications Commission wanted to fine networks for allowing the public to hear these kinds of fleeting profanities. The networks sued, and an appeals court ruled that the FCC hadn’t provided a reasoned analysis to justify its crackdown, citing the fact that President Bush was once caught on video uttering a (bleep) and that Vice President Dick Cheney was also caught saying f(bleep) yourself on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Let’s face it: In the heat of battle, or in a moment of excitement, people sometimes use bad words. Those of us in the media need to recognize that these words can be offensive. But the government shouldn’t be fining broadcast stations for failing to hit the bleep button at the right moment. Especially when our elected leaders continue to utter such (bleep, bleep, bleep).


Stuart Leavenworth writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.