Brent Bozell and the PTC: Can the FCC Declare Them Obscene?

A couple of weeks ago, Bozo the Clown died. But Bozell the Clown still lives among us, defaming the good name of clowns everywhere by tormenting children and families around our country.

Brent Bozell's name may not be recognizable to you, but he masterfully put himself out as the conservative who was not afraid to take on Hollywood when he formed and became Chairman of the Parents Television Council in 1995. The PTC is an organization of angry people who send emails to the FCC demanding that they do something about shows such as the critically acclaimed Gossip Girl, which the PTC called "mind-blowingly inappropriate." The joke's on the PTC, however; Gossip Girl is using the PTC's comment as a blurb in their ads.

Founded in 1995, the PTC seems really to have been a vehicle that garnered a lot of attention for both Bozell and Janet Jackson. When Jackson flashed America during the Super Bowl halftime show, Bozell went to work, encouraging angry parents -- and there were many -- to write to the FCC and demand that they take action.

The letter-writing campaign seemed to work until the CBS fine was overturned by a Court Appeals. Now the PTC is upset with activist judges. On their Web site, Bozell has just written an op-ed of sorts. Bozell says that now that the CBS fine was overturned, "nothing is sacred on television -- except the profane."

What seems sacred to Bozell is self-promotion. The guy is a master at getting his name out there. What I always wonder about, when I see the nutty right-wing anger of a guy like Bozell printed on the Internet for all to read, is how is the PTC a 501(c)(3).

Now, I'm no CPA, but I do know, from my experience in politics and government, that a 501(c) (3), "provides for the exemption from federal income tax of organizations organized and operated exclusively for charitable or educational purposes, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation."

But I'm pretty sure that the PTC carries on what I'd define as propaganda, and attempts to influence legislation. For example, the House of Representatives recently passed legislation that would dramatically influence fines for cursing, nudity, and the like. It was the PTC that lobbied for the fines. The Los Angeles Times said that the Janet Jackson nipple flash would have cost CBS $35 million. That's some nipple. Matter of fact, Howard Stern switched to satellite radio because he wanted to get out from under the threat of punitive fines.

I just have to ask this question: if a 501(c) (3) is trying to influence legislation, when is no longer tax exempt?

Of course, the PTC has had an ear in Washington because the FCC (I'm sorry for all these acronyms) is led by Republicans. If/when Barack Obama becomes President, he has the right to name the FCC Commissioners. Of the five, a maximum of three can be from the same party.

The PTC has had an ear at the FCC during the Bush years, but an Obama Administration is likely to see that the PTC will be ignored more than not.

However, do you know any Republicans who believe the government should be so involved in what we watch on network TV? Most Republicans I know agree with Democrats that the government should not do the job of parents. The PTC is Big Mother, hovering over us to decide what we should watch, and I don't know a single soul who believes that Big Mother and the FCC should take our TV viewing options out of our hands.

Besides, the idea of attacking the networks seems just plain stupid. I mean, of course Janet Jackson should not have flashed the world. We as parents should not have to hide our kids from the Super Bowl halftime show. But you know what? We as parents have plenty of discretion over what our kids watch. And besides, if you want to rail against television, I can find plenty of shows that are offensive (they're on cable, so they're not under the FCC's jurisdiction). We have a daughter -- we have already made a rule that she can't watch reality TV until she's, say, 21. I mean, can you imagine a more frightening sentence than this -- "Dad, I saw the Tila Tequila show -- she's my role model!"

The truth is, though, that not only have cable -- and the Internet -- rendered the PTC's silly complaints about network TV irrelevant, but the real truth is that parents are already doing a fine job with their kids. By almost all standards, kids are doing better today than they did, say, when I was a kid (the '70's and '80's). Where's the PTC's message about that?

Of course, it's hard to get on TV when you say, "You know what, there's a lot of good stuff on TV." Or, "You know what, kids are drinking less, doing less drugs, and having less unprotected sex than they used to -- wow, something's going right."

But if Bozo Bozell did that, he would not get so much attention for himself. And isn't that what this is all about? You know, I guess it's a good thing I'm not an FCC Commissioner, because if it were up to me, we would fine Bozell himself. Seeing him on TV, and knowing that his organization is tax-exempt, is what I find to be the definition of obscene.