FCC Is Investigating Super Bowl Show Halftime Performance Faces Indecency Standards Test By Frank Ahrens and Lisa de Moraes Washington Post Staff Writers Tuesday, February 3, 2004; Page A01 The Federal Communications Commission launched an investigation into Sunday's controversial Super Bowl halftime show yesterday and FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell telephoned Mel Karmazin, president of CBS parent Viacom Inc., to express his outrage, saying the entertainment giant should have known what was going to transpire during the show. The FCC probe will encompass the entire halftime program -- including the brief exposure of singer Janet Jackson's breast and the sexualized dance routine precipitating it -- to determine if it violates indecency standards set in law and enforced by the FCC. If indecency violations are found, each of Viacom's 200 owned and affiliate stations could face a penalty of up to $27,500. FCC officials said the agency may also pursue penalties against CBS and the individual performers, Jackson and Justin Timberlake. The FCC announced its probe as NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue promised that the league would change its policies to ensure that future halftime shows are "of far more appropriate quality for the Super Bowl game." Powell said the investigation will be "thorough and swift." "I am outraged at what I saw during the halftime show of the Super Bowl," the FCC chairman 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." The other FCC commissioners issued similar statements. In addition to the racy halftime show, some of the commercials shown during the game featured previews for violent movies and jokes employing scatological humor. The controversy surrounding the halftime show for Super Bowl XXXVIII -- which was watched by an estimated 99 million viewers in the United States and around the world -- stung the NFL. In addition to its U.S. audience, this year's game was telecast to 229 countries and territories, including China for the first time. Joe Browne, the NFL's vice president of communications and government affairs, said the league had expressed its concerns to MTV, a Viacom subsidiary, which produced the show for CBS. "We expressed our concerns to MTV all during the preparations for the game and we had assurances that the entertainment would be appropriate to all aspects of our audience," Browne said. "We are extremely disappointed and feel consistently let down in that we believe the show was inappropriate for our audience and embarrassing to us and to our fans. . . . "We applaud the FCC's investigation into the MTV-produced halftime. We and our fans were embarrassed by the entire show." In a statement Sunday night, Browne said it was unlikely MTV would be asked to produce halftime shows for future Super Bowls. "We were asked very early in the planning stages by CBS officials to give some serious consideration to have MTV produce the [halftime] show," Browne said. "At this point, I'm not sure it was a wise decision." Jackson and Timberlake's number -- the final act of the 12-minute halftime show at Reliant Stadium in Houston -- saw the two of them dancing and grinding suggestively to Timberlake's tune "Rock Your Body," which includes the lyric, "I'll have you naked by the end of this song." As the routine ended, Timberlake reached across Jackson's chest and pulled off the right breast cup of her black leather bodice, revealing her breast, which was adorned with a piece of jewelry that looked like a silver sunburst. After a dramatic pause, Jackson clasped her arms over her breast. CBS and MTV maintained yesterday that they had been unaware of the stunt beforehand. A CBS source said that there was never any choreography during the rehearsals last week that hinted Timberlake would get that close to Jackson to pull at her top. "We feel like we were duped by the whole thing," the source said. "Could it have been an accident? Who knows? . . . The only people who would were Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake." A statement issued by CBS said: "The moment did not conform to CBS broadcast standards and we would like to apologize to anyone who was offended." Jackson issued a statement late yesterday that said the bodice-ripping incident was a stunt gone bad. "The decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my halftime show performance was made after final rehearsals," she said. "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." Timberlake expressed regret in a statement Sunday night that attributed the incident to a "wardrobe malfunction." But assurances made by Jackson's choreographer to MTV.com before the halftime show that viewers would see "some shocking moments" in her performance left some questioning their sincerity. MTV boasted "Janet Gets Nasty!" on its Web site Sunday night shortly after the halftime show. "Jaws across the country hit the carpet at exactly the same time," the story read. "You know what we're talking about, Justin Timberlake and a kinky finale that rocked the Super Bowl to its core." MTV Networks President Judy McGrath said the finale of the Jackson-Timberlake act caught the network by surprise. "I'm mostly horrified as what I think would have been an entertaining, exciting great halftime show that ended so badly in five seconds none of us knew anything about," she said. Powell said his unhappiness with the halftime show went beyond Jackson's exposure. It "wasn't even the most offensive part," the FCC chief said in an interview. "It was the finale of something that was offensive. The whole performance was onstage copulation." He added, "This really crossed a heinous line." The FCC has defined broadcast indecency as "language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community broadcast standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities." The halftime show was noteworthy in light of recent events surrounding broadcast indecency, said Jonathan Cody, Powell's legal adviser. Radio giant Clear Channel Communications was fined $755,000 last week for several sexually explicit broadcasts. Two weeks ago, a bill was introduced in Congress that would increase FCC fines for indecency tenfold. Actress Diane Keaton uttered a profanity on a recent awards show and the FCC said it is considering tougher sanctions against indecency, such as broadcast license revocation. Also, Powell has asked his fellow commissioners to overturn a ruling by the FCC's enforcement bureau that determined a profanity uttered by rock singer Bono during an NBC awards broadcast in January 2003 was not indecent. "These guys have been put on clear notice," Cody said. "We are all questioning with great wonder what exactly CBS was thinking. [The FCC] is going after them for this." Cody said FCC lawyers were studying statutes to ascertain how far the agency's authority extends to investigate. "There's not a stone that's going to be left unturned as to what our abilities are," he said. Staff writer Leonard Shapiro contributed to this report from Houston.