Legally, it's known as a "fleeting expletive." But it's better known as an F-bomb, or the brief deployment of America's most famous swear word on live TV. The Supreme Court gave the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) a slap on the wrist in 2012 for fining Fox for live broadcasts — including U2's Bono declaring an award "fucking brilliant" — but allowed the federal agency to continue policing the public airwaves for nudity and profanity.
On Saturday, the FCC had its chance to test out its new profanity regime, when Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz gave an emotional pre-game speech at Fenway Park to thank Boston police and elected leaders for their tireless work tracking down alleged Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. At the end, Ortiz expressed the thoughts of many in Red Sox Nation, and around the country: "This is our fucking city. And nobody's going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong." Watch the (uncensored) speech:
Ortiz later told The Associated Press that the f-bomb was an unplanned outburst.
Boston went on to win the game, after a dramatic comeback against the Kansas City Royals. And FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski gave a small win to the people — many networks included — who want a loosening of the linguistic bonds that tie up networks but not cable channels like HBO and AMC:
David Ortiz spoke from the heart at today's Red Sox game. I stand with Big Papi and the people of Boston - Julius
— The FCC (@FCC) April 20, 2013
A tweet isn't an official statement, of course, and Genachowski has already announced his retirement. But it will be hard for a future FCC chairman to reverse this public statement of support. Oh great, says Noel Sheppard at NewsBusters. "So is one allowed to curse on television if it's 'from the heart?'"
This actually doesn't tells us much about the FCC, says Sean Newell at Deadspin. The game was broadcast nationally on cable network MLBN and regionally on NESN, and those stations are "outside its jurisdiction." But the game was also aired on local radio stations WEEI and WUFC, and "the FCC also regulates the radio." So Brookline, Mass., native Genachowski could have levied a fine if he'd wanted to. "Luckily for everyone involved, Genochowski still has not made good on his recent resignation" announcement.
Maybe Genochowski gave the Red Sox a pass because of his ties to Boston — he was a Harvard Law classmate to President Obama — or because he is on his way out and feels free of political pressure. But it's also true that the policing of our public airwaves is largely driven by politics, and it's unlikely that censoring Big Papi would be a politically popular thing to do. As Aaron Couch says at The Hollywood Reporter: "If ever there were an excuse for on-air F-bomb, this is it."