Singer Janet Jackson masterminded the Super Bowl halftime stunt that left her right breast exposed and prompted a federal probe into television indecency, the head of MTV said Tuesday.
“Janet Jackson engineered it,” MTV Chief Executive Tom Freston told Reuters in an interview.
The blame on Jackson comes on a second day of fallout after pop idol Justin Timberlake tore off half of Jackson’s black leather bustier while the pair were singing a duet, exposing her right breast at the conclusion of Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime show.
Freston, whose company produced the halftime show for CBS, said Timberlake was informed of the stunt just moments before he took the stage with Jackson.
MTV and CBS are both owned by Viacom.
The Super Bowl is the highest-rated U.S. television event, watched by almost 90 million people.
The stunt, which Timberlake said was due to a “wardrobe malfunction,” sparked widespread viewer complaints.
Federal Communications Commission regulators launched an investigation amid calls for the government to take a tougher stance on regulating indecency on television.
“There’s now going to be an FCC investigation into the nipple,” Freston told reporters at a news conference.
Jackson took the blame but said Monday her stunt went further than she intended: “The decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my half-time show performance was made after final rehearsals. MTV was completely unaware of it. It was not my intention that it go as far as it did.”
Freston said neither CBS nor the National Football League has rescinded or demanded a refund of MTV’s production fees. But sources familiar with the situation said the incident could possibly cost CBS and the NFL millions of dollars.
The sources told Reuters that Time Warner Inc. unit America Online may now seek a partial refund of the estimated $10 million it paid as a major Super Bowl advertiser and exclusive halftime show sponsor.
“While AOL was the sponsor of the Super Bowl Halftime Show, we did not produce it,” the company said in a statement. “Like the NFL, we were surprised and disappointed with certain elements of the show.”
The company said the exposure of Jackson’s breast means it cannot now broadcast the halftime extravaganza on its web site for 25 million AOL members and visitors.
“In deference to our membership and the fans, AOL and AOL.com will not be presenting the Halftime Show online as originally planned,” the company said.
McDonald’s Corp., which uses Timberlake as a pitch man, said it found the incident was inappropriate but that it will stand by the singer.
An NFL spokesman said it is unlikely that MTV will be asked to produce future halftime shows. MTV is no stranger to producing shows with shock value, most recently making headlines when it broadcast a performance by Madonna and Britney Spears ending with the pair kissing.