Powell condemns breast-baring incident

This article was updated at 9:36 p.m.

WASHINGTON — CBS has exposed itself to a heap of trouble from the feds, who are already asking: How much did they know and when did they know it?

Federal Communication Commission topper Michael Powell Monday launched an investigation into the baring of Janet Jackson’s breast during the Super Bowl halftime show.

In a statement released Monday night, Jackson said, “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. 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.”

Powell acted quickly to condemn the incident and promised a “thorough and swift” investigation into exactly how and why the partial nudity made it onto the air when more than 100 million people were glued to the tube.

The incident in question occurred when Jackson and Justin Timberlake were singing a flirty duet at the end of the halftime show. When the song finished, Timberlake reached over and ripped off a part of Jackson’s costume, exposing her breast.

MTV and CBS both denied any prior knowledge or plans to expose Jackson’s breast, but that did not stop debate in Washington and on the Internet Monday.

On Monday, MTV issued the following statement: “MTV was as surprised and shocked as anyone last night. Janet Jackson acknowledged that we had no prior knowledge of her plans. We will continue to investigate the circumstances. Our goal with the Super Bowl halftime show was to produce an entertaining stage experience with a positive message about empowerment and voting. We are disappointed that this message has been overshadowed by the unfortunate incident. MTV apologizes again to anyone who was offended.”

Outraged at show

“I am outraged at what I saw during the halftime show of the Super Bowl,” Powell said in a statement. “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. Our nation’s children, parents and citizens deserve better.”

CBS spokesman Dana McClintock called any suggestion of prior knowledge by the network “ludicrous.”

“CBS deeply regrets the incident that occurred during the Super Bowl halftime show … ,” net said in a statement. “The moment did not conform to CBS broadcast standards and we would like to apologize to anyone who was offended.”

The apology will likely do little to placate FCC commissioners, who were inundated with viewer complaints Sunday and Monday, and all roundly decried the halftime show. Some officials at the commission were urging Powell to take immediate action and impose the maximum fine of $27,500 on all CBS stations around the country that aired the halftime show, sources within the FCC said. There are 210 markets in the U.S. with at least 1 CBS station in each market so the overall cost to CBS stations could exceed $5.7 million.

NFL execs were disappointed the incident occurred and predicted MTV would not produce another Super Bowl. Whatever MTV’s role in halftime nudity, CBS, which allowed MTV to produce the halftime show, will end up holding the bag if the FCC decides to penalize the net.

Bad time for bodice-rip

The bodice-ripping couldn’t have come at a worse time for CBS, which has suffered several high-profile controversies in recent months, including the ill-fated Ronald Reagan miniseries. Also, with indecency once again a hot topic of conversation in Washington, CBS has overnight become the whipping boy for anti-smut groups.

The partial nudity would appear to fly in the face of federal indecency standards, which prohibit the airing of indecent material from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The rules apply only to the TV and radio broadcasters who use the public airwaves — ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, WB and UPN — and not to cablers such as MTV and HBO.

Recently, some broadcast nets have taken action to implement a time delay, or increase the one they already use, to allow a chance for stations to bleep out profanity or indecent language.

Time delays no use

McClintock said CBS had a five-second time delay in place for the halftime show, but it was of no use, because the delays are intended to give stations time to bleep out words. There is not enough time to blur nudity or an obscene gesture, he said. The net had no delay during the game itself, when a streaker — seen only in a long shot quickly cut away from — took to the field.

“The time delay was designed for audio not visual,” McClintock said.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who is pushing a bill increasing indecency fines tenfold, said he’s not buying the net’s excuses that Jackson’s nudity was an accident. The legislation has the White House seal of approval and is expected to sail through Congress.

“Obviously, if this was deliberate, then the folks at CBS and MTV thought they could get away with it,” he said. “With my bill multiplying FCC fines for indecency tenfold, networks will do more than just apologize for airing such brazen material, they will be paying big bucks for their offenses.  This is a sad commentary, as the race to the bottom continues.  How low can we go?”

Timberlake blamed the display on a “wardrobe malfunction.” “It was not intentional and is regrettable,” he said.

Jackson’s agent Stephen Huvane also described the incident as an unintentional wardrobe-related problem. “The garment collapsed,” he said.

Huvane explained that Timberlake had intended to tear off a portion of the costume to reveal a red lacy bra underneath. Instead, the costume piece — red bra and all — was torn away to reveal Jackson’s breast.

An official CBS statement said eye net reps had attended all rehearsals through the week and “there was no indication that any such thing would happen.”

Those who saw the incident and the countless photos floating on the Internet Monday wondered why Jackson would wear a large solar nipple ring if she did not intend to reveal it during the show.

Huvane said Jackson has had a nipple ring since 1996 and was not wearing it as part of the show. Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps has repeatedly called for stronger FCC action for indecency violations, arguing for license revocation hearings for repeat offenders and egregious violations.

Monday Copps urged the agency to address the complaints promptly, and took a swipe at Powell for what he characterized as a poor track record on indecency.

“I will review the facts of this case, but I can say that the Commission’s tepid action in this area has not accomplished anything to slow down Big Media’s race to the bottom,” he said.

Most-replayed moment

Jackson’s revealing moment stole the show. TiVo announced the “wardrobe malfunction” is the most replayed moment it has ever measured, attracting almost twice as many viewers as the most thrilling plays on the field.

According to TiVo’s analysis of aggregated data from an anonymous sample of 20,000 households, viewership of the game’s halftime spectacle increased by 12% compared with last year’s halftime show, second only to the commercials.

(Pamela McClintock in New York contributed to this report.)

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