- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell yesterday ordered an investigation of the Super Bowl halftime show, in which Justin Timberlake tore off part of fellow singer Janet Jackson’s costume, exposing her breast.

“I am outraged at what I saw during the halftime show,” Mr. Powell said. “Like millions of Americans, my family and I gathered around the television for a celebration. Instead, that celebration was tainted by a classless, crass and deplorable stunt.”

Outrage at the incident grew nationwide, with the NFL, the White House, pro-family groups and talk radio denouncing the display as “offensive,” “tasteless” and “profane.”

Officials at MTV, which produced Sunday night’s halftime show, and CBS, which broadcast it, said they did not know that the performance would include such a display.

Miss Jackson and Mr. Timberlake simulated intercourse during a performance of “Rock Your Body,” which included the lyrics, “I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song.” Mr. Timberlake ripped off a piece of Miss Jackson’s costume, exposing her right breast.

Mr. Timberlake said it was an accident, which he blamed on a “wardrobe malfunction.”

In a statement released last night, Miss Jackson said it was a last-minute stunt that went awry.

“The decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my halftime-show performance was made after final rehearsals. MTV was completely unaware of it,” she said. “It was not my intention that it go as far as it did. I apologize to anyone offended — including the audience, MTV, CBS and the NFL.”

National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue also criticized the display yesterday, although he declined to answer questions or discuss what changes are being considered.

The show was “offensive and embarrassing to us and our fans,” Mr. Tagliabue said yesterday.

“We will change our planning, people and our processes before the next Super Bowl to ensure that the entertainment is more effectively dealt with and is far more appropriate in quality for the Super Bowl game.”

During months of planning and extensive rehearsals attended by CBS executives and members of the NFL’s special-events department, MTV repeatedly said the show would be family-friendly, league sources said.

“There was no indication any such thing would happen,” said CBS spokeswoman Leslie Anne Wade.

However, Miss Jackson’s choreographer guaranteed “shocking moments” at halftime in a Jan. 28 interview with MTV.

MTV and the NFL jointly selected the performers, which also included Kid Rock and rappers Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and Nelly. MTV handled the details of putting together the 12-minute show. League officials would not say how much of the show they had seen before Sunday’s performance.

CBS apologized on Sunday night for the incident, and MTV released a statement calling the display “unrehearsed, unplanned, completely unintentional.” Both networks declined to comment further yesterday.

League officials said they likely will not hire MTV again, as happened this year on the insistence of CBS, both of which are owned by Viacom.

The display caused a stir among the show’s estimated 89 million U.S. viewers, with pro-family and journalism-watchdog groups leading the charge.

FCC spokesman David Fiske said the agency’s call centers were going “nonstop” and had logged “an incredible outpouring of outrage about this, just a ton of complaints.”Jennifer Holiner, a spokeswoman for Miss Jackson, said the singer’s official Web site was bombarded with posts from angry viewers.

“Tasteless. It’s a sad day when parents cannot even let their children watch the Super Bowl without having to worry about nudity,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, whose District-based group is calling for the FCC to fine CBS for indecency.

FCC officials declined to speculate on any penalties that could be levied on CBS and MTV. The current FCC fine for broadcasting indecent material is $27,500 per incident.

“The MTV-ization on the NFL is a mistake,” said Robert Peters, president of New York-based Morality in Media, who called the performance “a national disgrace.”

Colorado-based Focus on the Family also condemned “sexualizing sports,” calling the show “profane and indecent … it was nothing more than a high-tech striptease foisted on millions,” according to spokesman Daniel Weiss.

The group has organized a letter-writing campaign against CBS and Viacom, as has Concerned Women for America and Stand True, a religious group which advocates teen abstinence.

The show didn’t, however, cause a stir in one prominent place: the White House.

“Saw the first half, did not see the halftime — I was preparing for the day and fell asleep,” the habitually early-to-bed President Bush told reporters yesterday after a Cabinet meeting.

His spokesman was more pointed.

“It’s important for families to be able to expect a high standard when it comes to programming,” Scott McClellan said yesterday after reporters queried him about the now-infamous moment.

The incident was viewed with satisfaction by at least one party. TiVo, which allows digital recording of live TV, announced yesterday that it had measured a viewership spike of 180 percent immediately after the incident.

Critics cited the hypocrisy of broadcasters who wallowed in apologies, even though MTV jauntily referred to Miss Jackson’s breast as a “surprise guest” yesterday.

“There was real outrage among talk-radio listeners who believe an all-American showcase was disgraced. Some felt the halftime show fuels Islamic extremists’ claims that America is a completely indecent culture,” said Michael Harrison of Talkers Magazine, which monitors the nation’s 1,500 talk-radio stations.

The Super Bowl was broadcast to 222 countries worldwide.

Super Bowl halftime was not always raunchy. Early versions consisted of university marching bands, military drill teams, the singing group “Up with People,” and old-school stars such as Carol Channing.

Various press reports yesterday called the Super Bowl and its halftime show “The Toilet Bowl,” and “the X-rated games.” In a replay of the incident, CNN masked over Miss Jackson’s breast.

Some think that Americans are ready for a return to the family-viewing hour.

“There is a huge market out there for clean entertainment, and there is a silent majority across the nation who want it. Fun is not a four-letter word,” said Adam Christing, president of California-based Clean Comedians, an entertainment agency that bans off-color language and still books more than 500 “clean” events a year to corporate clients such as Coca-Cola and Ford.

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