Bono, Cher, and the Supremes: Supreme Court Takes Profanity Case

The Supreme Court has accepted a case that will explore the first amendment protections of certain types of profanity uttered on the air by Bono, Cher and Nicole Richie. The question is whether the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can punish broadcasters for “fleeting expletives” by such celebrities.

A “fleeting expletive” is an unplanned, one-time use of profanity of such things as the F-word. This is the first amendment counterpart to an “excited utterance” in evidentiary law. The question is whether the government can punish such slips by the stars. Fox Broadcasting Co., ABC, CBS and NBC are all challenging a new policy of such enforcement.

The new policy followed slips on entertainment awards shows in 2002 and 2003. The lower court found the policy to be violative of the first amendment. The 2-1 decision can be read here.

Bono used the F-word during the Golden Glodes in 2003. The other incidents involved slips during the “Billboard Music Awards.”

In the January 2003 broadcast of the Golden Globes awards Bono said something was “fucking brilliant.” During the Dec. 9, 2002, broadcast of the Billboard Music Awards, Cher used the phrase “Fuck ’em” and a Dec. 10, 2003, Billboard awards show Nicole Richie asked “Have you ever tried to get cow shit out of a Prada purse? It’s not so fucking simple.”

Carter G. Phillips of Sidley Austin LLP, Washington D.C., is representing Fox. The oral argument will present an interesting challenge for Phillips in deciding whether to use the actual words. By using references to the “f-word,” he reinforces the perception of the word is too horrible to utter — even among adults in a non-broadcast setting of the Supreme Court. Yet, to say “fuck” in the Court would raise some eyebrows.

For the full story, click here.

The court will decide the question in FCC v. Fox Television Stations, 07-582.

One thought on “Bono, Cher, and the Supremes: Supreme Court Takes Profanity Case

  1. “The question is whether the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can punish broadcasters for “fleeting expletives” by such celebrities.”
    J. Turley
    Personally, I think the question is whether the FCC SHOULD take this rather absurd step of punishing broadcasters for “fleeting expletives” by celebrities, be they Hollywood entertainers or anyone else. Even if they CAN, what sort of “punishment” would they be seeking? Jail time for the f-bomb, or s-word? Fines for being “guilty” of nothing more than bad taste, which again does NO harm or injury to anyone?

    We should all remember the wise and common-sense observation of Thomas Jefferson: “…but it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are many gods or no gods. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” I may not have the quote exactly, but it’s close enough. Jefferson’s observation applies to uttered expletives, that while raising an eyebrow or two, breaks no legs and picks no pockets. If the FCC is foolish enough to take this absurd case to the USSC, I hope they LOSE it. Talk about “frivolous use of the courts!” This definitely meets THAT criteria!

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