Americans Cared Twice as Much About Janet Jackson’s Nipple as They Do About Net Neutrality

Public interest in the FCC’s new Internet rules is surging, but it has a ways to go before it catches up with “nipplegate.”

Host Justin Timberlake stands onstage in front of a video of himself and Janet Jackson from Super Bowl XXXVIII onstage at the 2008 ESPY Awards held at NOKIA Theatre L.A. LIVE on July 16, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. The 2008 ESPYs will air on Sunday, July 20 at 9PM ET on ESPN.
National Journal
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Laura Ryan
July 14, 2014, 12:02 p.m.

Amer­ic­ans are up in arms over net neut­ral­ity, but their protest pales when com­pared with last dec­ade’s out­cry over a Su­per Bowl nipple.

After Janet Jack­son’s nipple was re­vealed for a split second dur­ing the game’s 2004 half­time show, 1.4 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans com­plained to the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion, ac­cord­ing to num­bers provided by the agency. That’s twice as many as the 677,000 Amer­ic­ans who have thus far filed com­ments with the agency about its pro­posed new In­ter­net rules.

There’s still time, however: Tues­day is the dead­line for com­ments on the agency’s con­tro­ver­sial net-neut­ral­ity pro­ceed­ing. The agency has pro­posed rules that would al­low In­ter­net ser­vice pro­viders to charge eb­sites for “fast lanes. So far, about half as many people have com­men­ted on the rules as the num­ber of those who wrote the FCC after “nip­pleg­ate.”

In­terest in the rules surged when comedi­an John Oliv­er, host of HBO’s satir­ic­al news hour Last Week To­night, pushed the FCC in­to the spot­light last month with a seg­ment on net neut­ral­ity. Dur­ing the epis­ode, Oliv­er urged Amer­ic­ans to file com­ments with the FCC and com­pared FCC Chair­man Tom Wheel­er to a “dingo.”

Oliv­er’s call to ac­tion was so ef­fect­ive that the FCC’s fil­ing sys­tem re­portedly crashed the fol­low­ing day un­der un­der the flood of com­ments and forced Wheel­er to “state for the re­cord that I am not a dingo.”

Then-Chair­man Mi­chael Pow­ell seemed slightly more pre­pared for the tor­rent of fury that poured in­to the agency’s in­box after Jack­son bared all. Ac­cord­ing to ES­PN, as soon as he saw the half­time show, he told his friend, “‘My day is go­ing to suck to­mor­row.’ And it did.”

Jack­son’s nipple promp­ted an FCC in­vest­ig­a­tion and res­ul­ted in a re­cord num­ber of com­ments to the FCC, whose day-to-day busi­ness gen­er­ally flies un­der the radar. The agency slapped Vi­ac­om with a $550,000 in­de­cency fine, the largest im­posed on any broad­caster at that time.

“Like mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans, my fam­ily and I gathered around the tele­vi­sion for a cel­eb­ra­tion,” Pow­ell said in a pub­lic state­ment after the Su­per Bowl cata­strophe. “In­stead, that cel­eb­ra­tion was tain­ted by a class­less, crass, and de­plor­able stunt.”


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