"This is a textbook example of the chilling effect," UCLA's Cole said. "It's exactly what everyone predicts is going to happen when the government acts in one case and makes broadcasters afraid. It makes a broadcaster ask, 'Why bother?' in the face of listener complaints, government intervention and endless legal fees."
And Tim Dyk, an attorney representing 21 broadcasters and media-related organizations in a U.S. District Court lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the FCC's indecency actions, sees Greater Media's editing efforts as a predictable outgrowth of the FCC's unclear policies on indecent broadcasting.
"Because the FCC is issuing preliminary and final decisions and establishing standards that they expect broadcasters to follow in their programming, and yet there is no way to get judicial review of these forfeiture proceedings, the result is that broadcasters have no choice other than to engage in self-censorship because they can't get a judicial determination as to what's permissible and what's impermissible," Dyk said.
For his part, Stern has been uncharacteristically subdued on the issue, even though in the past he has decried any attempts to edit his broadcasts. He has steadfastly refused to comment to The Times, but sources close to Stern say that his silence belies his very real anger in the matter and that he may leave KLSX for another station that would air his program intact.
"I'm surprised and disappointed that Stern hasn't taken a stronger stance about the censorship," listener Wielage said. "I think he knew about it all along and certainly for the last few months. He may be reluctant to discuss it on the air for fear of inspiring the practice on other stations that air him. But it's not like Howard Stern to stay away from a controversial subject. . . . It's as if he's actually afraid of it, and I think it kind of detracts from the show to see Howard afraid of anything. . . . It kind of makes him look like a coward for stepping away from the issue like he's doing."
Stern did briefly tackle the subject on the air Monday when asked by a caller about the editing practices.
"Yeah, I read about it too," Stern said of The Times article. "I'm plenty pissed off. I'll tell you one thing: I didn't know anything about it, to tell you the truth. But I'm checking into it. I might pull the whole damn show right out of Los Angeles."
Other listeners are angry at KLSX for initially telling people who called in about the shortened show last Wednesday that the station had experienced "technical difficulties," instead of acknowledging that the program had been edited.
"KLSX handled it totally wrong," said Larry Love, a die-hard Stern fan. " 'No comment' is what they should have said, but to lie to the public calling just doesn't sit right with me."