NEW YORK — CBS, MTV, the NFL, Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake all say they’re sorry — but none of that is deterring the federal government from looking into the Super Bowl’s too-revealing halftime show.
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Federal Communications Commission chief Michael Powell on Monday promised an investigation into whether CBS violated decency laws, with potential fines of up to $27,500. If applied to each CBS station, the fine could reach into the millions.
“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,” Powell said in a statement.
He added in interviews Tuesday that other aspects of the racy halftime show, which also featured such performers as Nelly and Kid Rock, also bothered him.
“I think everybody’s focusing on the finale, but a lot of what we’ve heard in terms of complaints and the breadth of the investigation is a little broader than just that incident,” Powell said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I personally was offended by the entire production.”
The controversy erupted Sunday when Timberlake snatched off part of Jackson’s bustier on stage, revealing a breast clad only in a sun-shaped “nipple shield” in front of some 89 million viewers.
“This was done completely without our knowledge,” said Chris Ender, entertainment spokesman for CBS, which was deluged with angry calls. “It wasn’t rehearsed. It wasn’t discussed. It wasn’t even hinted at. ... This is something we would have never approved. We are angry and embarrassed.”
Jackson’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Holiner, said a red lace garment was supposed to remain when Timberlake tore off the outer covering.
The NFL said it was “extremely disappointed.” Several members of Congress, the Parents Television Council and the Traditional Values Coalition expressed outrage.
Even halftime producer and CBS corporate Viacom cousin MTV — the network that broadcast Madonna kissing Britney Spears at last August’s MTV Awards — was contrite.
“Unrehearsed, unplanned, completely unintentional,” said MTV.
Although Timberlake issued a statement shortly after the show apologizing and blaming the debacle on a “wardrobe malfunction,” he didn’t seem too sorry in comments to the syndicated show “Access Hollywood.”
“Hey, man, we love giving you all something to talk about,” he said, laughing.
Jackson’s official Web site was bombarded with angry postings.
In a statement released Monday night, Jackson said it was a last-minute stunt that went awry.
“The decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my halftime show performance was made after final rehearsals. MTV was completely unaware of it,” she said. “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.”
Said the FCC’s Powell on NBC’s “Today”: “I’m glad everybody is sorry. I’m sorry, too; it was a sorry incident. But if the standard were that you could do whatever you wanted to and if you apologized the next day that ends all further inquiry, we’d have a really poor enforcement program.”
Holiner said she was not sure whether Jackson’s medieval-looking nipple decoration was meant to be seen, but added that the singer does wear such jewelry.
But the display still raised questions such as: If it was an accident, why did a choreographer promise “shocking moments” in an interview with the Web site MTV.com prior to the show?
And how could it have been a coincidence when it was timed to the words of Timberlake’s song “Rock Your Body” — “I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song”?
MTV Networks Group President Judy McGrath says the shocker was supposed to be Timberlake’s appearance — and not what he did afterward. McGrath was sitting in the audience and didn’t see the flash, but said the pair “looked upset” afterward.
While she praised Jackson and Timberlake as artists, she said: “I don’t appreciate someone who doesn’t communicate what their plans are. I think it was a misguided move on their parts.”
According to the FCC, non-cable TV channels cannot air “obscene” material at any time and cannot air “indecent” material between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. The FCC defines obscene as describing sexual conduct “in a patently offensive way” and lacking “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” Indecent material is not as offensive but still contains references to sex or excretions.
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