Axios national political reporter Jonathan Swan took quite a leap on MSNBC this week while appearing on a manel (a panel with all males). Swan’s TV hit was Wednesday night.
During a discussion about the testimony of Timothy Morrison, the now former White House senior director for Europe and Russia affairs, Swan swam in dangerous shark-infested FCC waters when he made a point by flashing both his middle fingers at the host. He wasn’t telling the host to “fuck off.” He was saying that this was what the White House counsel was saying, in so many words, or, er, fingers.
Morrison resigned ahead of his testimony before Congress, which was part of the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
“He has information that Bill Taylor doesn’t have,” Swan said, explaining that former U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine Bill Taylor mentioned Morrison 15 times during his testimony. “… The reason there is so much suspense inside the White House about his testimony is people are trying to parcel out, OK, what’s he doing here? The White House counsel put out this direction to basically to tell everyone to do that [the double bird] to Congress.”
“Apologies to the FCC,” the host cracked.
“Is that illegal?” Swan asked innocently, looking totally bewildered. “OK, sorry.”
The host laughed, as did the other men on the manel.
“A lot of them have taken that direction,” Swan continued. “…The question is how damaging is his testimony. Does it support Bill Taylor’s version of events? So…this is the one to watch.”
It’s possible that the Axios reporter has gotten too comfy on TV as he appears regularly on cable news several times a week.
Or maybe in Australia giving a double middle finger is no big thing.
The FCC may not think it’s so funny. According to the Obscene, Indecent and Profane Broadcast Guide issued by the Federal Communications Commission, using obscenities are prohibited on cable TV and is not protected by the First Amendment. There is a catch: “The same rules for indecency and profanity do not apply to cable, satellite TV and satellite radio because they are subscription services.”
Which brings us to enforcing the rules. Complaints to the FCC may come from the public, which the FCC then reviews. If the agency finds that the network has violated the rules, it can be fined, have its license revoked or be issued a warning.
So for now, shhhhhh. Let’s give Swan and MSNBC a break.
The double middle finger, while obscene, is obviously not the end of the world.