The Fog of Clear Channel
When Clear Channel decided Feb 26, 2004, to suspend Howard Stern from
six of their radio stations, they may have been doing a disservice for
their closest friend in the White House.
Howard Stern has come under fire since the 1990s, when his raunchy program,
produced by Infinity Broadcasting, caught the attention of the Federal
Communications Commission. While Stern has always caused a lot of controversy,
he had not been fined and his program’s content has largely been
consistent, except for his attempt to limit the language his guests use
on the show.
When Clear Channel suspended the jock, calling his show "vulgar,
offensive and insulting," they exercised their new zero tolerance
policy toward indecency, which was conceived just one day before they
were scheduled to testify in front of Congress on the issue.
The Congressional hearings came in the wake of the firestorm surrounding
the Super Bowl halftime show. On Feb. 1, 2004, Justin Timberlake pulled
off Janet Jackson’s top at the Super Bowl, exposing her breast and
its creative piercing, to the largest television audience in the world.
Jackson later called the stunt a “wardrobe malfunction” and
received a considerable amount of backlash from the county, and also
the entertainment industry, who punished the artist by withdrawing roles,
appearing to be shocked at Jackson’s brazen show of sexuality.
Later, the Oscars announced there would be a 5-second tape delay in fear
someone would imitate the act, because in Hollywood, sometimes no press
is worse than bad press.
The FCC received 200,000 complaints
for the Super Bowl stunt, and Congress promptly called for an indecency
hearing on Feb. 27, with Clear Channel being called to testify. By removing
Stern from their stations on the eve of those hearings, Clear Channel
wanted to appear to be taking the moral high ground on the issue, although
it had never voiced any objections with Stern’s show in the past.
The only thing about Stern’s show that changed was his stance on
Stern, who is only on in six of Clear Channel’s major markets, took
a small hit in listeners, with Clear Channel gaining a lot of ground in
their reputation on the indecency matter. Not only did Clear Channel fire
Stern, they also canned Bubba the Love Sponge, the controversial Tampa-based
jock who got attention for stunts such as castrating a pig on air. The
FCC fined Bubba $755,000 after Congress gave them the go-ahead to increase
fines levied for obscenity at the Feb. 27 hearings. (Boehlert)
Immediately after being fired, Stern supporters, Clear Channel opponents
and Bush opponents called fowl play. Stern had been bashing Bush on his
show, even though when the war on Iraq began, Stern was a major supporter.
And with 8 million listeners weekly, Stern has a very influential voice
and has used it for and against politicians in the past. Stern read Al
Franken’s anti-Bush book, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell
Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right,” and said on his Feb.
23 show, just three days before being fired, "If you read this book,
you will never vote for George W. Bush. I think this guy is a religious
fanatic and a Jesus freak, and he is just hell-bent on getting some sort
of bizzaro agenda through -- like a country-club agenda -- so that his
father will finally be proud of him ... I don't know much about Kerry,
but I think I'm one of those 'Anybody but Bush' guys now. I don't think
G.W. is going to win. What do you think about that?" (Boehlert)