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For KCRW, I'm Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

It's amazing how determined the people at Fox are to paint a rosy picture of the Iraq war.

It's bad enough that most of their so-called news shows are skewed to support the Bush Administration's ever-changing rationales for embarking on the war and sticking with it.

But what's truly reprehensible is Fox's effort to toss out free speech in entertainment shows. Remember free speech? You know, that quaint notion that's written up in the Constitution.

On Sunday night, during the broadcast of the Emmy Awards, the censors at Fox apparently decided that the delicate ears of American viewers could not stand heavy-duty topics and cut Sally Field off when she referred to "god-damned wars."

Field, who had just won an award for her role as the matriarch in Brothers and Sisters, was saying that there would be no war if women ruled the world.

Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post's media columnist, said in an online chat that he didn't object to Fox "bleeping the expletive, given the FCC's penchant for big fines."

But, he said, "I have a big problem with Fox not letting Sally Field complete her thought, that she was making a statement against the war. Award shows may or may not be the appropriate venue for political statements, but she said it at a live news event, so in a way Fox was censoring the news."

Yes indeed.

Canadian viewers, however, got to hear the remark uncensored, and the world north of the border did not come to an end.

In any event, as the L.A. Times's Insider blog noted, the censored word was not obscene. So said the FCC in a ruling that dealt severely with Bono's somewhat harsher expletive at the Golden Globes in 2003.

"The irony is stunning," someone commented on HuffingtonPost. "It is OK for us to view death and destruction every day in Iraq on the TV, but to hear one utter the term 'god-damned' on the TV or radio and we are at risk of losing our moral fabric." As it turned out, there was plenty of censorship to go around.

Kathy Griffin, who makes a living by being cheerfully offensive, was censored during an acceptance speech in which she mocked award winners who thank God.

Looking at her own Emmy, Griffin said, "No one had less to do with this award than Jesus."

She then held up her Emmy, asked Jesus to perform a sexual act on it, and announced, "This award is my god now!"

Later, Griffin told reporters, "I hope I offended some people. I didn't want to win the Emmy for nothing."

Fox and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences kept her comments off the air.

Now there was clearly a difference between the two incidents. Sally Field was expressing what appeared to be a heartfelt tribute to mothers, and seemed to have gotten carried away with her language when she veered into the topic of war.

Griffin, on the other hand, was trying to be offensive, if only for a laugh.

You could argue that there was a case for keeping her remarks off the air merely for reasons of good taste.

But in both instances, you had adults speaking to a largely adult audience, using the kind of language all of us hear every day.

Ed Wyatt wrote in yesterday's New York Times that when a federal appeals court ruled last summer that broadcast networks were not responsible for censoring "fleeting expletives" uttered on television, Fox hailed it as a victory for viewers, saying they could decide themselves "what is appropriate viewing for their home."

So, Fox, what made you change your mind?

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.

Photo: by Vince Bucci/Getty Images



Nick Madigan