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February 25, 2004
Howard Stern Goes Silent After Racist Caller

Howard Stern, long the bad boy of radio, lost all of his Clear Channel outlets today after a caller asked Stern on the air if he had ever slept with a "n****r chick":

"Clear Channel drew a line in the sand today with regard to protecting our listeners from indecent content and Howard Stern's show blew right through it," said John Hogan, president and CEO of Clear Channel Radio. "It was vulgar, offensive, and insulting, not just to women and African Americans but to anyone with a sense of common decency. We will not air Howard Stern on Clear Channel stations until we are assured that his show will conform to acceptable standards of responsible broadcasting," Hogan said.

The Drudge Report's blurb on this story reads as follows:

The action comes after CC executives reviewed comment made on Stern's Tuesday broadcast, including an on-air caller's comments: 'Ever bang a famous n****r chick? What do they smell like? Watermelons?'

The incident could not have come at a worse time, as Hogan is scheduled to testify before a House telecommunications subcommittee about broadcast indecency. So far, no one knows how long Clear Channel intends on keeping Stern off of its outlets. It probably won't be long before CC claims a "new understanding" with Stern and puts him back on the air.

While it seems a bit harsh to punish Stern for the actions of a live caller, I suspect that Howard probably didn't express outrage at the sentiment and instead played off of it. If so, a suspension seems reasonable to me, especially since the stations belong to Clear Channel and they have the right to set boundaries for their use. It also seems a bit hypocritical to me at the same time, since everyone who's ever listened to or watched Howard Stern knows that offensive material is a staple of the show. If Clear Channel wants to dump Stern, then fine, but do it up front and honestly. Using this incident -- even as disgusting as it was -- sounds somewhat akin to Louis proclaiming himself shocked that gambling was going on at Rick's.

I intended on getting Stern's side of the issue and checked out his website. Unfortunately, the only item on the site is a Photoshopped image of Janet Jackson and Howard Dean, which under other circumstances would have been funny.

UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis is upset with Clear Channel's suspension of Howard Stern, and he's urging his readers to file protests with the FCC:

The more I think about this, the more enraged I get. One tit flopped out and the government -- the Bush administration -- can't wait to play to its far-right fringe and censor speech and intimidate speech and chill speech. How dare they? This is not the role we expect of our government. We don't need a nanny. ...

I don't give a damn whether you like or despise Howard Stern; that's beside the point. If you're American, you cherish free speech and you should be appalled at what is happening to it. This is not coming from media consolidation. This is coming from government intimidation.
F Michael Powell. F the FCC. F Clear Channel.
Defend Howard Stern. Or lose your own rights to say what you want where and when you want to say it.

This is nonsense. Howard Stern can say whatever he likes, whenever he likes -- but if he says it while broadcasting on Clear Channel's government-licensed stations, then Clear Channel has the right to take him off the air. And since broadcast licenses are public monopolies, the government does have the right to set conditions on those licenses regarding how they are used. The right to free speech does not mean that people are free from the consequences of exercising that speech.

Don't weep too much for Stern; Clear Channel will put him back on soon enough, and even if they don't, plenty of other people will want to contract his services.

UPDATE II: Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost sees this as a commercial, market-driven decision, which is a lot closer to reality than Jarvis' hysteria.

UPDATE III: Instapundit weighs in, with this comment: "And if Rush Limbaugh had been canned over the kind of racial comments Stern made, and allowed on the air, nobody would be crying "censorship." Instead they'd be saying that it showed the inherent racism of his show and his audience."

But Limbaugh was canned (from ESPN) over controversial remarks he made about Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb, opining that McNabb got an easy ride from the media because he's African-American. I note that a search of articles on Buzz Machine containing Rush and McNabb turn up nothing. Jarvis's outrage is pretty selective ...

UPDATE IV, EWOK'S REVENGE: Okay, I'm pretty sure Glenn was engaging in irony, and here I was with my irony detector turned off. Sorry, Glenn. In the immortal words of Emily Litella, "Never mind!"

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 25, 2004 7:35 PM

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