A listener offended by a National Public Radio broadcast of repeated cursing by John Gotti can’t challenge a federal agency’s refusal to act against the radio network, a court ruled Tuesday.
The case stems from a news report aired on NPR’s “All Things Considered” Feb. 28, 1989, on the reputed organized crime leader’s New York trial.
NPR excerpted a passage from a wiretapped phone conversation between Gotti and an associate in which Gotti “used variations of ‘the f— word’ 10 times,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit noted in its decision.
“He used it to modify virtually every noun and in one instance even a verb (‘I’ll f—ing kill you’),” the panel wrote. “NPR made no effort, such as substituting bleeps for any or all of these references, to render the passage less offensive to persons of ordinary sensibility.”
Peter Branton, a Lookout Mountain, Tenn., businessman, was offended by the broadcast and filed a complaint with the Mass Media Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission.
But the bureau took no action against NPR, saying “the tape was part of a ‘bona fide’ news story” that had in fact been introduced as evidence in the Gotti criminal trial.
For Branton to have legal “standing” to challenge the FCC’s decision, he had to allege that he was injured by NPR’s conduct and that the relief he sought — the FCC taking action against NPR — would redress that injury, the panel wrote.
The court said it is “speculative” whether reversing the FCC’s decision would help “protect the petitioner from future exposure to broadcast indecency.”
The decision, written by Circuit Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg on behalf of himself and Judges James L. Buckley and Stephen F. Williams, focused on procedure — whether Branton could challenge the FCC decision, rather than on the indecency rules.