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“Crime Must Not Go Unpunished” — Or Was That “Unpaid”?

Some things are better left unspoken. Jeffrey Richards of Michigan learned this the hard way. The Associated Press reported that, on November 2, 2000, Richards was arrested and charged with assault, disturbing the peace, and breaking the then 102-year-old state law prohibiting the utterance of indecent language in the presence of women and children. His crime: cursing out the driver of a school bus loaded with children. His sentence: 90 days on ice — plenty of time to figure out a more civilized way to articulate his emotions.

Some things are better left unspoken. This used to be an unwritten rule in TV broadcasting. But on October 14, 1999, the “Seven [Remaining] Dirty Words You Can’t Say on TV” became six. That night, actor Mark Harmon, on an episode of the hospital melodrama Chicago Hope on CBS, uttered the invective, “S — happens,” in front of a national television audience. The show’s executive producer, Michael Pressman, urged the network not to censor the line, and CBS agreed, citing “artistic truthfulness.” Pressman explained: “It comes down to a phrase that embodies the feeling of the whole hour. There’s no other way to express it.” Apparently the “artists” at CBS just aren’t creative enough to come up with an alternative! Come to think of it, Harmon’s vile catchall applies to most TV programming — although we could certainly come up with more creative, more civilized, ways of expressing our disdain for the idiot box.

As the obscenity law applies in Michigan, shouldn’t Michael Pressman and Mark Harmon be sent to cool off in county jail for invading the living rooms of millions of women and children and subjecting them to scatologically indecent language? After all, they are guilty of the same crime as Jeffrey Richards, but on a massive scale. And shouldn’t their punishment be proportionate to their crime?

Unfortunately, Pressman and Harmon enjoy the security that corporate sponsorship supplies, and are paid handsomely for their lack of creativity. But what of Jeffrey Richards? Perhaps if he had concluded his outburst by stating, “These dirty words have been brought to you today by the Walt Disney Company,” he’d have been granted “artistic license” and been shielded from prosecution — and been paid rather than punished for his crime.

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