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Austin Cline

High Price for Naughty Words

By March 28, 2004

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It is a mistake to judge the actions of the Bush administration in complete isolation. To understand the administrations policies, premises, and ideology is necessary to juxtapose different things and see what their simultaneous defense tells us. For example, what does it tell us when the administration wants to increase the fines for naughty words far above what they think that noneconomic damages in tort cases should be?

In the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Dennis Mulvihill writes:

Consider that the Bush administration wants to increase FCC fines for indecency up to $500,000 per violation per station, yet at the same time, it wants to restrict noneconomic damages in tort cases to $250,000 or $350,000. So if a DJ says a four-letter word on the radio, the harm is so appalling that a fine of $500,000 per word, per station is justified. But if someone is paralyzed, killed or otherwise catastrophically injured, the most the family could get for the (noneconomic) loss would be up to $350,000.

Frankly, I'm not really sure what that tells us about the administration - but I'm not sure that it's an especially positive message. Even if you agree that the fines for indecency should be raised and also that there should be some sort of cap on noneconomic damages in tort cases, doesn't this discrepancy bother you a bit? Should a company who paralyzes a worker through negligence have to pay more than a company that allows a single "indecent" word to be broadcast on the air? Which of the two should we really consider a greater threat to the community?

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