In Search of Values....

James Randi --- Wizard (JREFInfo@ssr.com)
Sat, 24 Jan 1998 13:30:20 -0800 (PST)

I've just noted that the Federal Communications Commission
(FCC) have downgraded the sin of uttering any one of the "Seven Words
You Can't Say on Radio or TV" to lesser crimes. Rather than a fine of
$12,500 for each event, it's now only $7,000, a saving of $5,500 for
each reference to human body parts or functions that are located below
the waist, though there is one exception to that feature -- which
shall remain undiscussed here. Howard Stern or Neil Rogers might well
benefit enough from this ruling to be able to afford 80% more naughty
words, and not notice the penalties at all!
Such a sweeping and invigorating legal reform might normally
escape my notice, but it gives rise to a question. There was a time
when the FCC was a potent force for fairness and equal opportunity in
U.S. communications. Then it began to lose its reason to exist and
is now a panel of ineffective officials who are more concerned with
form than substance, and do much teeth-tapping and fidgeting when a
poo-poo word is brought to their attention. I ask: if it's such a
crime to say "bad" words that may offend but do nothing else -- except
to show the inability of the speaker to find an expressive vocabulary
-- cannot the FCC pundits assign as much importance and sanctions to
the blatant misrepresentations of quackery and pseudoscience, and the
outright swindles that are advertised every hour via "infomercials"
and 30-second commercials on leading shows such as "Jeopardy" and
"Wheel of Fortune"?
We were presented with an electronic pain zapper that Lee
Merriweather endorsed along with minor golfing figures, and the FCC and
consumer agencies in Washington allowed it to be peddled to athritics
and others who believed -- falsely -- that they were being protected
by those agencies. Yes, the product was eventually removed from the
market, but not before the sellers had made tens of millions on it,
and couldn't care less.
The victims will never get their money back, of course. Yet the
device was an obvious fraud from the first moment the commercial
aired, and nothing was done about it. Had a swear word been used in
extolling it, however, there would have been hell (oops!) to pay.
Now, that's a REAL crime!
Laundry balls/disks, homeopathic pills, memory aids, pest
repellers, rust removers, water softeners, the list of fraudulent
devices being sold via TV, the Internet, radio, and print media, is
never-ending. Even Sharper Image got into the act recently selling a
useless "magic" laundry device. DAK Industries and several other
catalog companies have been at it for years, and GNC shops feature
useless products proudly. Tool catalogs and shops sell fake "pipe
locators" to trusting buyers. The 1-900 "psychic" phone lines have
been exposed as cruel frauds, but they're still making more money than
they can count, with the cooperation of the phone companies, who also
reap the rewards of the fakery. The TV evangelists still promise
healing they can't and don't deliver, and no one stops them; they know
that inertia and fear in high places protects them. But don't swear
while you're in the shop, on the phone, or writing out the order, or
someone'll get you!
The swindlers will flourish, and the suckers will be the
bottom of that food-chain. And there isn't an agency in the
U.S. government that can -- or will -- act quickly or bravely enough
to protect the consumers.
And we're more concerned with a White House intern or two that
might have been cosy with Bill Clinton, and the Pope telling Cubans
what they want to hear and what we all knew he would come up with,
anyway? Can we get real at some point in time, folks?
James Randi.

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General questions: randi@randi.org

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