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Say What?

Pardon me for doing a double take when I heard the following from former FCC Chairman Michael Powell, but wasn’t he the same chairman whose commission started coming down harder on broadcast content for the sake of the children?

Perhaps it was just Powell coming full circle, since he was a big First Amendment guy as a commissioner, drawing much praise from this magazine’s own editorial page, which I remember well because I wrote the editorial after a stirring Powell speech to First Amendment think tank,The Media Institute in Washington.

“We should be awful honest and realistic about the explosion of media. It is coming out of the pores of my children,” Powell said at a Federalist Society debate this week, where he was weighing in on what to expect from a McCain administration (he is an advisor). But Powell went out of his way to point out that the following was his vew, not the Senator’s.

He took issue with the idea that “we are going to be able to bottle [kids] up and prevent them from seeing anything and everything that you think they shouldn’t see and hear. First of all, the Constitution is not going to let you do that. You can say ‘on broadcast, you can’t do this,’ but my children get every single show they would ever want on YouTube ten minutes after it runs. As a parent, I am not going to be able to control the values that I raise my children with by trying to cabin them off from particular sources of media, or worse, have the government try to do it for me [emphasis mine]It is just too porous. The system has become too overwhelming.”

I say full circle because before he became a poster-regulator for government content crackdowns—at least pre-Kevin Martin—Powell once had this to say to conclude that passionate Media Institute argument for why the scarcity rationale was a bogus justification for regulating broadcasters:

“[A]ll of this is not to say that we citizens should not be outraged by violent, sexually explicit, or other offensive sights and sounds. Or, that we have to necessarily endure a barrage of insulting, shameless images in deference to the almighty advertising dollar. We are the customers, it is our preferences that the media must ultimately serve, and thus we must be willing as a society to exercise that power to get what we want. We certainly should turn off, tune out, walk away, and raise our voices when disturbed by what is peddled to us. But, we should think twice before allowing the government the discretion to filter information to us as they see fit, for the King always takes his ransom.”

Sadly, in the case of Janet Jackson and the FCC’s Super Bowl fine, the ransom was something like $550,000.