CBS television executives may have gotten off the financial hook for Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction," but they still deserve to be condemned in the court of public opinion.
Most Americans are familiar with what happened during the halftime show of the 2004 Super Bowl, televised live by CBS. The show featured a performance by Justin Timberlake, in which he sang, "Gonna have you naked by the end of this song." After he sang, Timberlake grabbed the top of Jackson's costume, exposing her right breast. The nipple was covered, barely, by a silver sunburst shield.
A substantial number of viewers, many of them with children who also were watching, were outraged. The Federal Communications Commission then fined CBS $550,000 for breaking FCC broadcast indecency rules.
A federal appeals court in Philadelphia overruled the fine. It stated that the FCC acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" in penalizing CBS.
The court's ruling was, in essence, based on judges' belief that the FCC deviated from its own rules in levying the fine against CBS.
We agree that the justice system needs to be exceedingly cautious in permitting any type of censorship. And certainly, government should not make up the rules as it goes. The court was right in ruling in CBS' favor.
But that does not change the facts of the case - about which CBS executives should, but probably will not, be ashamed.
You may recall that all involved blamed the incident on an error, a "wardrobe malfunction."
But as the FCC looked into it, it was learned that the breast exposure was planned all along. Jackson herself admitted the decision to expose her was made during the final rehearsal for the halftime show.
Those involved behaved like teenagers who, condemned for a juvenile prank, tried to claim it was all a mistake. That may not be illegal - but it is disgusting.