Janet Jackson ‘Wardrobe Malfunction’ Update

You all remember the Janet Jackson 2004 Super Bowl “Wardrobe Malfunction“, I’m sure. The Federal Communications Commission slapped CBS television with a $550,000 fine over that, but today a federal appeals court threw out the forfeiture, ruling the FCC “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” in fining the network.


“The Commission’s determination that CBS’s broadcast of a nine-sixteenths of one second glimpse of a bare female breast was actionably indecent evidenced the agency’s departure from its prior policy,” the judges said. “Its orders constituted the announcement of a policy change — that fleeting images would no longer be excluded from the scope of actionable indecency.”

“This is an important win for the entire broadcasting industry because it recognizes that there are rare instances, particularly during live programming,” CBS said in a statement, “when it may not be possible to block unfortunate fleeting material, despite best efforts.”

Clearly Planned

Clear evidence.

My Janet Jackson Flash mini-site proves that the “malfunction” was nothing of the sort, but rather planned — but note the exposure there isn’t limited to 9/16 seconds, and is thus “not safe for work.”

The page also has my story about the stunt, written on the day it happened. I didn’t believe it was accidental that day, and I certainly don’t now.

The court noted that the singers were “independent contractors” (vs. CBS employees) and that CBS shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions. The decision sounds like (dare I say it?) common sense to me, and I applaud it.

I think Jackson did it as a publicity stunt, but it backfired. If anyone should be liable for a fine it’s her, and it appears to me her career has suffered from the stunt, rather than getting a boost.

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16 Comments on “Janet Jackson ‘Wardrobe Malfunction’ Update

  1. I still can hardly believe that there was (and, apparently, still is) so much hullabaloo about seeing a woman’s breast. Especially an exposure of such a short time. I guess the U.S. is still under the influence of the 16th century Puritans.

    We better be sure not to allow American tourists to watch TV in Europe where bared breasts are common, especially in advertisements.

  2. OMG! A breast! On TV. This is the end of society and morals as we know them!

    Let’s go back to murder, explosions, assassinations and other stuff that doesn’t cause society to deteriorate like it is in AMEERICA!

    WAR- NOT LOVE!!!

    (Sarcasm, I hope you notice!)

  3. Those things, for which CBS was given a huge fine for showing, are nothing more than milk glands, with outlets for the milk to be excreted. It’s not as if we were watching sex organs. Sheesh.

  4. For someone as reasonable, honest and fair as you, I’m surprised at the tragic logic error in the fourth paragraph of this article. The end of the paragraph explains that you don’t “believe” it was accidental, but earlier in the paragraph you claim that your mini-site “proved” it was planned. No, it didn’t prove any such thing, it made an intelligent reasonable arguement based on available evidence, but the available evidence still leaves the possibility, however slight, that it was indeed an accident. I won’t use this space to go into a detail-by-detail debate with you, mainly because I’m not saying that your belief is “wrong”, but I am saying that it needs to be treated as a belief, not fact.

    I should have said: The prosecution rests. -rc

  5. The reaction in the UK to this unimportant and grossly over-hyped event has been one of bemusement. Obviously this reaction is partly due to the fact that naked breasts are a common sight in our media, with our “red-tops” containing at least one image of a naked woman every day.

    But in truth the impression here seems to be, “Typical American overreaction! What’s the big deal about a bare boob when the US media is full of far more shocking images (as Jou from San Leandro so accurately points out)?

    Of course, I suppose we should never forget that the Pilgrim Fathers were, of course, Puritans…

  6. Reminds me of the time Bugs Bunny suffered an electric shock and there was an ensuing montage showed Bugs in all sorts of positions of agony. One of the fleeting images was that of (a drawing of) a naked woman, which, to my 9-year old eyes, was hilarious. It lasted one frame. If you blinked, you missed it.

    I hadn’t heard that (though I have heard “charges” that Disney has done it in more recent toon movies), but sure enough I found a reference to the practice. -rc

  7. The thing that I found ironic about this was that Justin Timberlake didn’t receive any bad press or drop in popularity from this incident as, clearly, Janet Jackson did. Without his pulling off her clothes, there would have been no incident, yet he emerged unscathed.

    Seems to me he was just a tool toward her end. She was the one who had the break-away wardrobe. But yes, it IS interesting that he suffered no repercussions. -rc

  8. It’s obvious to any woman that she intended to expose her breast. She’s wearing a pasty. We usually wear bras under our clothes, not pasties. Pasties are for display.

  9. I do not believe that this actually comes up again. This is the sort of thing that makes America look ridiculous. Fined over a bare boob? Bad press? Come on! You cannot be serious. No wonder someone is going to challenge that in a stunt. How much has this cost by now? The lawyers are laughing all the way to the bank.

    It came up again because reason prevailed — by way of a court decision. Is it ridiculous? Yep: that’s part of the point. But it’s lovely that the court was so stern; it’s a clear “grow the hell up!” message. -rc

  10. I didn’t understand the logic of the fines in the first place. They were only imposed upon 20 CBS owned & operated stations, not the 200 CBS affiliates (source).

    Obviously it was a fine only against CBS itself, but since the fine was only against the network, why then was it multiplied 20 times? Wouldn’t that be the same as doubling an assault sentence because the attacker used both fists instead of just one?

  11. I agree with you this time, Randy — that Jackson did this to further her career seems, to me, almost certain. That saddens me, because I’ve enjoyed her work a lot.

    If it had been on a late night show or in a night club, it might have been appropriate. But the Super Bowl is a family event, and there are far too few times the whole family can sit through TV time together.

    I disagree that the fine is inappropriate for CBS, and to have it rescinded four years later was the wrong decision.

  12. Not too terribly long after the event and the “uproar” (see Berne, Eric, 1967, Games People Play), I happened upon a site reporting that the “vast public outrage” over this incident consisted of a half-dozen letters having suspiciously similar wording.

    Can anyone verify this?

    I can’t verify that you happened upon a site, but one of the things the Appeals court noted was that the vast majority of the complaints seemed to be the result of organized action, and that when those were disregarded, there were very few left. -rc

  13. I was watching that game and the half time show. I did not notice the modesty infraction noted by the FCC. I learned about it somewhat later and was treated to the slew of commentaries about it along with the repeats. After viewing the sequence “ad nauseum”, I still failed to spot the terrible crime. I have to assume that the FCC has the equipment and technology to stop, zoom-in and enhance but I am at a loss to figure out just why they would go to such great lengths to fine somebody on such a trivial point. My best guess is, that as a part of our money hungry government, the FCC was just salivating at the prospect of heavily fining anyone that they could. I can think of any number of shows I have seen lately which should the FCC examine, be a source of fines. I guess their budgets are not as enticing as CBS’s deep pockets. Surprisingly, the FCC did not wish to recommend “burning at the stake” as well…power corrupts and absolute power…?

  14. It’s o.k. to show naked nipples on corpses, but not on living people.

    New York City was forced by the courts a number of years ago to permit topless women in public because it discriminated by allowing men to go topless.

    Frankly, I never understood the nudity issue, it supposedly comes from Christianity, but didn’t Adam and Eve get in trouble because they were DRESSED?

    I wrote about New York way back in 1994 (Volume 1). Look for “All Aboard”. -rc

  15. Silliness… Discovery Medical Channel often shows breast and nipple reconstruction. To my knowledge, no one gets bent out of shape over that. And, what’s the big deal, anyway? More than half the population washes, admires, or examines a breast, daily. The rest wish they could….

  16. its sad she just couldn’t come out and say it was a misjudgment on their part and oops. but i don’t blame her for lying and saying ‘accident’ when it wasn’t because of the irrational overreactions in our bizarre zero tolerance no-humor politically correct society (that are very expensive as well- even for the rich).


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