The ABCs of Entertainment News

A quick quiz: Which category of celebrities is most likely to slip up and utter an obscenity on a TV talk show?

Could it be Hollywood film stars?

So why was Good Morning America unprepared when Diane Keaton dropped the f-bomb during her interview Tuesday with Diane Sawyer, who giggled and suggested that Keaton's mother might want to use a bar of soap on her mouth (wink, wink).

It can't be that the network is incapable of intercepting obscenities. In the digital age, blaming a lack of technology is a non-starter. It's probably not because ABC executives, while cruising in the Dumbo ride at the parent company's Walt Disney World, got the idea to “let one through and see what happens.”

However, it could also be that ABC was blasé about such things because a federal appeals court last year decided to bar the FCC from enforcing the rule against obscenities in cases of “fleeting” use. The decision left FCC officials scratching their heads.  So far, they have not announced whether they will pursue any action against ABC.  If they don't, will any rationale still exist for pursuing future “fleeting” f-words uttered by guests?  This isn't a problem that can be safely ignored.  Public vulgarity is like kudzu. If you don't deal with it quickly and completely, it spreads out of control.

GMA spokeswoman Bridgette Maney told the Washington Post that GMA does not use a delay on the morning shows and that the obscenity was bleeped out in all but the East Coast broadcasts. And ABC News Senior Vice President Jeffrey Schneider said, “It was obviously unfortunate, and we were quick to correct it for subsequent feeds.” 

But why not have a delay?  How hard could that be when they do it for news talk shows?

It could be that the folks at ABC, like the rest of the New York/Hollywood axis, hear so much of this stuff on a daily basis in their own world that they fail to see how offensive it could be to others.  After all, they had no problem with Joy Behar and the girls on The View on Monday discussing “three-ways” and Behar's own taste for viewing porn.    

More clues to ABC's worldview and overall character in providing information to the public can be found on the ABC Television Web site.

The entertainment section is a veritable bazaar of soft porn masquerading as news items. You can find out, for instance, exactly when 13 leading actors lost their virginity in “Leading Lads Who Lost It Early.” The late performer and wife beater Ike Turner shares with us that he lost his virginity at age 6, “with a middle-aged next-door neighbor named Miss Boozie.” No word from Miss Boozie about how it went.

If you get bored with the men's stories, you can click on the video “Porn Stars Defend Non-Use of Condoms,” which features vital, breaking news from the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas. Performers and male pimps, er, entrepreneurs from Hustler and other “adult” businesses, matter of factly relate that condoms cramp their style. 

ABC helpfully perpetuates the myth that smut is art by identifying the performers as “actors” and “actresses.”  Several of the “actresses” inform us that their trade is “safe” because performers are tested every 30 days by a private foundation, so, not to worry.

ABC does not bother asking them embarrassing questions about the efficacy of this approach, although Eric Strauss's fairly comprehensive accompanying article discusses an HIV epidemic in 2004, after which the “industry” briefly adopted STD testing and condom requirements. The article duly notes that health officials are concerned that the system is voluntary and compliance is iffy.  Strauss cites several STDs that are common but treatable, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, and notes that, “These painful diseases are treatable by drugs and are not life threatening, but are extremely painful and if untreated can lead to serious complications.”

There is no mention of the most common STD, human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer and kills more than 4,000 American women annually.  Some might call that life threatening.  

Well, enough downer topics. Bored with all of this, the jaded ABC News Web site viewer can turn to another health-oriented feature, “Lingerie Model's 'Secret.'” It's about model Alessandra Ambrosio, whose boyfriend has gotten her pregnant. To help viewers understand this situation, ABC links to a runway slide show of other Victoria's Secret models in various stages of undress.

I just thought of a credible excuse for ABC's inability to intercept Diane Keaton's f-bomb:  The 14-year-old boy that ABC hired to pick stuff for their Web site and who doubles as the quality monitor on GMA was grooving on the ABC News entertainment pages at the time.

Well, it's not a good reason, but it's a reason. 

Robert Knight is director of the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.