FCC can't stop Diane Keaton's TV F-bomb

A court ruling from last year has prevented the government from fining broadcasters that air "fleeting instances" of profanity.


Farhad Manjoo
January 18, 2008 3:10AM (UTC)

In an appearance on "Good Morning America" the other day, the lovely and talented Diane Keaton emphatically and memorably praised host Diane Sawyer's lips (which, this writer can assure from first-hand experience, are quite plump[1]). If Keaton had lips like Sawyer's, she said, "then I wouldn't have worked on my fucking personality!"

As you can see in the video above, Sawyer was more amused than aghast by the expletive. Keaton quickly apologized.

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It was a nothing moment, tamer than a lot of what one sees on TV -- and, of course, in real life -- and actually pretty charming and fun. Look, Diane Keaton's a human being, and Diane Sawyer's not a square! In later broadcasts of the show, ABC News bleeped out the offending word.

The Parents Television Council is, nevertheless, concerned. In a statement, Tim Winter, the group's president, called on parents across the nation to complain to the Federal Communications Commission.

"Diane Keaton's 'F-word' on national television and the lack of remorse by ABC that accompanied it cannot go unnoticed. In fact both Ms. Keaton and Ms. Sawyer appeared to be amused by the profanity, making no sincere effort to apologize to the viewers whom they sucker-punched," Winter said.

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Really? Hearing the word "fuck" is like getting "sucker-punched"? If so, Pat Leahy should be entitled to kick the shit -- oh man, I just bitch-slapped you with that word; I'm sorry, I meant kick the bejesus -- out of Dick Cheney then, no?

But anyway here's some awesome news: Despite stabbing their viewers in the jugular with the word "fuck," ABC News is unlikely to be fined, thanks to a federal court decision handed down last year that I knew would come in handy sometime.

In June, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on behalf of broadcasters -- led by Fox -- that an FCC policy that penalized TV stations for accidently airing expletives was "arbitrary and capricious." The FCC adopted the policy after the 2003 Golden Globe awards, when U2's Bono remarked that winning an award for the song "The Hands that Built America" was "fucking brilliant," an utterance that was akin to hurling feces at innocent babies across the nation.

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The court said that the FCC's policy violated the broadcasters' First Amendment rights.

Today reporters asked Kevin Martin, the FCC's commissioner, whether his agency would take action against "GMA" for allowing Keaton to drop-kick Americans in the balls with the F-word.

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The court decision, Martin said, prevented the FCC from acting, however much Keaton deserves to be punished for her verbal violence.

Which means, school's out! Celebrities, you're now free to say whatever you want on TV! Just you watch, once they hear about this, Barry Obama and Hillary "Sheeeeeeeeeeit" Clinton are really going to unleash.

[1] Obviously that was a joke; I've not really made out with D.S. I only fucking wish.

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Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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