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Posted on Sat, Jun. 05, 2004


ARTISTS, intellectuals and other social radicals have been quick to defend Howard Stern against the assault by the FCC.

"I disapprove of what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it." So Voltaire lives on in tepid op-ed columns.

These writers will not die for his sins - they're not Jesus, just Voltaire. In fact, they are just as quick to distance themselves from his show as they are to mention his filth and on-air flatulent sounds. What better way to prove their argument - and intellectual honesty - than to divorce their refined personal taste from his fundamental civil rights?

But rather than dwell on Stern's supposedly "revolting" humor, the commentary should focus on the hypocrisy of the FCC and broadcasting companies.

Consistency is as integral to moral argument as it is to regulatory enforcement; otherwise the system falters. The FCC was no doubt swamped with mail about Oprah's recent show featuring imaginative sex and advanced techniques for creative fellatio, but surely they could find the time to turn off Stern and listen to other radio personalities who aren't getting the attention their inflammatory and malicious speech begs for.

Howard Stern has been attacked for indecency and immorality, but our airwaves are filled with voices far more destructive than Stern's.

If Stern is dangerous, surely Fox News pundit Sean Hannity is, too. Author of two best-selling books, co-host of Fox News' "Hannity & Colmes" and host of his own afternoon radio program, Hannity hits the audience from all angles, including falsehoods and distortions.

One of Hannity's more compassionate moves was dubbing Abner Louima, Haitian immigrant and victim of horrific NYPD brutality, "Lying Louima." Hannity informed his radio audience that Louima's severe injury was the product not of police brutality but of a homosexual act. To be fair, Hannity has a point: If the parameters of a "homosexual act" include being tortured and raped with an assortment of cleaning objects, then he's dead-on accurate.

When not selflessly volunteering his time and effort at local HIV clinics, radio host Michael Savage displayed unparalleled levels of homophobia on his short-lived

MSNBC show "Savage Nation."

Savage was quickly fired in what a spokesman dubbed "an easy decision." Why? Labeling an on-air caller a "sodomite" and then requesting that he "get AIDS and die."

MSNBC wisely got rid of him, but his radio show is still pumped to over 300 stations nationwide. And on whose outlets is his questionable and even dangerous judgment heard? Clear Channel Broadcasting, the same network bullied by heavy FCC fines into dropping Stern. There's hypocrisy in action.

If only Savage had harmlessly joked about diseases or homosexuality - like Stern - instead of delivering hysterical invective, the FCC might have acted.

And who can forget Rush Limbaugh's drug confession? We omit the word "prescription" since prescription drugs are drugs, too. After years of demanding tougher punishment for drug users, including those who smoked marijuana, Limbaugh qualified his own behavior to his listeners with tear-jerking stories of addiction and pain relief.

So, are we really to believe that Stern's innocuous morning banter is on par with Hannity's lying, Rush's hypocrisy or Savage's savagery?

What sort of perverse moral lesson suggests that unrepentant lying in the name of ideology is acceptable, but joking in the name of entertainment is forbidden?

To Stern's credit, he never asked for this sort of publicity. He is certainly no stranger to celebrity, having pulled a few stunts over the years to garner attention and enhance his notoriety.

But it wasn't Stern who wanted to be dragged into this debate over rights, freedom and government-sanctioned forms of entertainment.

The three horsemen of the conservative apocalypse, on the other hand, are hounds of publicity who relish the opportunity to battle government and stir up tabloid-type controversy.

Unfortunately, the inconvenient reality is that their administration controls the government. So at least until November, the FCC's blatant abuse of power is operating well within the confines of "legitimate" government action.

Luke Thomas and Som Kharazmi are comedians and writers in New York City. They can be reached at

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