WASHINGTON -- Last night I dreamed that I had an exclusive interview with Janet Jackson's bra:
Q: Thank you for agreeing to open up to our audience.
A: You're welcome. I need the exposure.
A: Justin Timberlake? Talk about boobs ...
Nevertheless, Ms. Jackson claims she and Mr. Timberlake planned what she called the "costume reveal" without telling CBS or MTV, which produced the halftime show, and that Mr. Timberlake was only to expose her bra -- not her anatomy.
Q: So was it really a "costume malfunction," as Mr. Timberlake says, or do you have a built-in, breakaway cup?
A: Sorry. I don't mean to titillate you, but my clips are sealed.
Q: Whatever the cause, CBS apologized, saying, "The moment did not conform to CBS broadcast standards." Do you feel at all responsible?
A: Oh? They did, did they? And what did "conform" to their "standards" during the Super Bowl mean? The Bud Lite ad with the crotch-biting dog? The ad for Chevy's new pickup with the swearing schoolchildren? How about that other Bud Lite ad, the one that featured a horse breaking wind in a young woman's face? Sweet.
And if you're looking for something to hide from the kids, how about the commercial for Cialis, the potency drug with its warnings about four-hour erections? What do you say when your child asks, "Daddy, what's 'erectile dysfunction'?"
Q: Nevertheless, Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, was apoplectic after he saw the program. He launched an investigation of your, uh, coming out and of the rest of the halftime show to determine if the show violated federal indecency standards.
A: What if it did? What are the penalties?
Q: Well, each of the 200 stations owned or affiliated with Viacom, which owns MTV and CBS, could face up to $27,500 in fines.
A: That much? And how much does one 30-second commercial on the Super Bowl cost?
Q: About $2.3 million.
A: Right. Somehow I don't think I hear the network executives quaking in their Guccis.
Q: Well, networks don't want to push the FCC, especially over a breast. The FCC giveth licenses and the FCC taketh away, when it really gets upset. President Bush already has endorsed a bill to increase the maximum fine to $275,000.
Anyway, the FCC says it may fine broadcasters per incident, not per program. That could expose the Super Bowl show to multiple penalties. So far, the largest cumulative media fine was $1.7 million, which Infinity Broadcasting paid in 1995 for various violations by Howard Stern.
A: Ah, yes, Howard. Doing what he can to discourage underwear on radio and cable TV. The grown-ups there in Washington may not know it, but there wasn't anything in the rest of that halftime show that couldn't be seen on MTV or on the regular broadcast networks any night of the week.
Q: Are you concerned at all about political repercussions from this episode?
A: The government has bigger bloopers to worry about. But this is an election year. To a lot of people, especially in Mr. Bush's conservative base, there is no issue bigger than what they see as the collapse of America's moral underpinnings.
Q: But surely you don't think that conservatives are the only people who object to seeing bare breasts on prime-time TV, do you?
A: Absolutely not. All decent people do. That's why I call on everyone to wear nice and appropriate underwear.
Q: What do you think broadcasters should do now?
A: Trust, but keep a sturdy hand on the 10-second delay switch when they have publicity-hungry pop stars on the air. Better yet, a 20-second delay. Or maybe a half-hour delay. Now that we have crossed the breast barrier, who knows what somebody will try to reveal next?
Q: Thank you for your time.
A: You're welcome. I hope I was uplifting.
Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. His column appears Thursdays in The Sun.