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Here’s to you, Janet Jackson

Terri Carlin of Knoxville, Tenn., who recently dismissed a lawsuit against Viacom/CBS and Justin Timberlake/Janet Jackson, is not the only American who got smacked between the eyes with a boob during this year’s Super Bowl halftime show. The hubbub about Jackson’s limited exposure – three-quarters of one second – sparked a firestorm that has awakened our elected leaders from their stupor. Capitol Hill has finally, it seems, received the message: The media, its deregulation and its continuing consolidation – not a breast – is to blame for the content that we see, hear and read.

Jackson’s pasty pointed Capitol Hill in the direction it should have headed all along: against the bigness of Viacom, which owns CBS and controls MTV; Comcast, which is trying to swallow Disney; General Electric’s NBC; Clear Channel Communications, which owns more than 1,200 radio stations; and AOL/Time Warner, News Corporation and AT&T. The list goes on.

Last week, the U.S. House and Senate held joint meetings to demand something be done. They even invited the Federal Communications Commission and the large media corporations; only the FCC and Viacom showed up. Both organizations had to answer hard questions from both Democrats and Republicans.

During the hearings, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said, “We have this toxic entertainment media environment now in this country where you can’t afford to let your children watch television for all the violent and sexual material.”

Rep. Karen McCarthy, D-Mo., said, “I am really concerned about the abdication by the broadcasting industry and what it has meant for viewers.”

Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., said, “Viacom’s support of shock jocks and allowing tasteless Super Bowl programming is a nationwide entertainment industry scandal.”

At one point, Wilson lashed out, “You knew what you were doing. You knew what kind of entertainment you’re selling. And you wanted us all to be abuzz here in this room and on the playground in my kid’s school, because it improves your ratings, it improves your market share and it lines your pockets.”

But the criticisms concerned not only the Super Bowl stunt. Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., cited a scene from CBS’s freshman sitcom “Two and a Half Men” – winner of the People’s Choice Award for favorite new television comedy series – in which a woman wearing only a T-shirt “exposes her entire back end to an 8-year-old boy. And that’s in prime time, supposed to be family-hour sitcom,” Pickering said.

Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, concurred, citing unfaithfulness and greed on Fox’s “Temptation Island” and “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?”

So far, only the two Democrats on the FCC have made the connection between ratings, money and lewdness. Commissioner Michael Copps said, “I pleaded

before we voted on media consolidation last June. Ö Let’s look to see if there’s a connection between the rising tide of consolidation and the rising tide of media indecency. And we did not do that, and I think it was a disservice to our kids.”

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said, “If it takes pandering, if it takes crassness, if it takes making people eat worms on TV, if it means having people dance in lewd ways – whatever it takes – apparently these broadcasters are willing to do it. So, there may well be a connection there.”

If Disney accepts a future offer from Comcast, Comcast would have power over cable distribution in eight of the top 10 markets, control ABC-TV and news, and own sports channel ESPN and oodles of digital channels. What member of the FCC, what Republican, what free-market wizard can explain how such consolidation in the hands of so few media corporations allows more diversity in programming, more options in a weekly lineup and more competition in the marketplace – realities promised for years by deregulation campaigners?

Congressional leaders are finally working together. Democrats are demonstrating they have “values,” while conservative market-force weenies are realizing big media is dangerous. Both suddenly understand that there is, indeed, a connection between the concentration of ownership in the hands of a few and the content of what we see, hear and read. Thank Janet Jackson – more specifically, her right breast – for this sudden turn of events.

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