A fleeting expletive is a non-scripted verbal profanity or obscenity expressed and broadcast during a live television broadcast or radio broadcast. The term appears primarily in discussions of United States broadcasting law.
In chronological order:
- While accepting her Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2002 Billboard Music Awards, Cher said "fuck 'em" regarding those she felt had criticized her throughout her career.
- During the January 2003 Golden Globe Awards, Bono accepted an award exclaiming, "This is really, really, fucking brilliant."
- At the December 2003 Billboard Music Awards, Nicole Richie said, "Have you ever tried to get cowshit out of a Prada purse? It's not so fucking simple."
- On an episode of Big Brother 10 (2008), there was a heated argument with lots of muted expletives; however, one went through when someone said, "Memphis was in the fucking room."
- Jenny Slate said "and I fucking love you for that" during a parody of a talk show by biker women. It was her first appearance as a player on Saturday Night Live.
- On March 23, 2010, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, commenting on the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act during a live press conference, said to U.S. President Barack Obama, "This is a big fucking deal." The comment was picked up by CNN news microphones.
- On November 19, 2011, during a live taping of ESPN's College GameDay at the University of Houston, college football analyst Lee Corso said, "Ah, fuck it" before he put on the headwear of Shasta, the University of Houston Cougars' mascot, demonstrating his prediction that the Cougars would beat the Mustangs of Southern Methodist University. Corso's co-hosts Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler and their guest speaker Carl Lewis laughed hysterically in response to his use of the expletive, for which Corso later apologized.
- On December 18, 2011, during a CBS broadcast of the Cincinnati Bengals at the St. Louis Rams, St. Louis guard Harvey Dahl protested referee Jerome Boger's holding call against him by saying, "I know you didn't just call me for holding. That's not fuckin' holding!" It was heard over the stadium PA system through Boger's open microphone, and aired. CBS commentator Dan Dierdorf apologized for the slip, and Dahl was assessed a second penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
- On November 4, 2012, during the Dolphins-Colts game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, referee Tony Corrente loudly said, "God damn it!" CBS play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan apologized on-air because Corrente's illegal language slipped past the censors. Corrente himself would apologize, but not before the National Football League fined him a game check.
- On April 20, 2013, during a passionate pre-game speech dedicated to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, Boston Red Sox player David Ortiz said, "This is our fucking city." FCC chairman Julius Genachowski later tweeted from the official page of the organization, saying "David Ortiz spoke from the heart at today's Red Sox game. I stand with Big Papi and the people of Boston." Although 25 complaints were lodged with the FCC, no action was taken and neither Ortiz nor the Boston Red Sox were fined for using the expletive.
- On October 28, 2017, during Game 4 of the 2017 World Series matchup between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Astros player Brian McCann used "Fuck" after being struck-out by Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood. The word was picked up on a FOX camera.
- On November 6, 2018, during his concession speech, Beto O'Rourke said, "I'm so fucking proud of you guys!" after losing Senate to Ted Cruz. It was aired on live television, and MSNBC later apologized for this occurrence. “Sorry for the F-bomb,” said Brian Williams, a new anchor.
U.S. Supreme Court case
On March 17, 2008, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear, in September 2008, a case on whether the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is allowed to regulate the use of fleeting expletives on television broadcasts. The parties in the case are the Fox Broadcasting Company (supported by other television networks including ABC, CBS, and NBC) and the FCC. A federal appeals court had ruled in the favor of the networks; the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the FCC's appeal.
In a ruling issued April 28, 2009, the United States Supreme Court ruled to uphold the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fleeting expletive rule. The court reversed a lower court ruling in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York which found in favor of Fox Television that the FCC had not properly followed procedures in creating the rule. In the 5-4 ruling by Justice Antonin Scalia, "the court did not definitively settle the First Amendment implications of allowing a federal agency to censor broadcasts." Instead the court suggested the First Amendment issue should be raised in a Federal Appeals Court.
U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals
In a ruling announced July 13, 2010, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the FCC indecency policy on fleeting expletives. Calling it "unconstitutionally vague", the unanimous three judge panel found the policy could infringe upon the constitutionally protected First Amendment freedom of speech. According to the panel, the policy "created a chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here", in part due to a lack of guidance on what content is considered offensive.
Fox released a statement stating, "We have always felt that the government's position on fleeting expletives was unconstitutional," and, "While we will continue to strive to eliminate expletives from live broadcasts, the inherent challenges broadcasters face with live television, coupled with the human element required for monitoring, must allow for the unfortunate isolated instances where inappropriate language slips through."
U.S. Supreme Court ruling
In June 2012, the Supreme Court rescinded several fines issued by the FCC regarding indecent content, including the Fox case stemming from the 2002 Billboard Music Awards. The court ruled that the FCC's change in enforcement policy to target fleeting instances of profanities and nudity on television was too vague, thus violating their rights to due process. The court did not address the policies themselves.
- Wardrobe malfunction, for fleeting nudity
- "Cher nailed for F-word indecency » Cherworld.com - Cher Photos, Music, Tour & Tickets". Cherworld.com. Retrieved 2013-10-08.
- Itzkoff, Dave (September 27, 2009). "Newcomer Makes a Slip". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-09-28.
The utterance came in a sketch, which began about 12:42 a.m. on Sunday, in which Ms. Slate played the hard-living host of 'Biker Chick Chat' who interviews similarly tough-talking women.
- "Biden Drops the F-Bomb?". Talking Points Memo. 2010-03-23. Retrieved 2010-07-13.
- 11/19/11 12:11pm 11/19/11 12:11pm. "'"Ah Fuck It": Lee Corso Strikes Again', Deadspin". Deadspin.com. Retrieved 2013-10-08.
- ""Corso picks Cougars with F-Bomb, then Apologizes", ''Houston Chronicle'' blog". Blog.chron.com. 2011-11-19. Retrieved 2013-10-08.
- '"Ah Fuck It": Lee Corso Strikes Again', Deadspin
- "Corso picks Cougars with F-Bomb, then Apologizes" Image capturing co-hosts' reaction, Houston Chronicle blog
- http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=7254423 "Lee Corso Apologizes", ESPN Video
- "Potty-mouth ref gives Dolphins-Colts crowd an earful". National Football League. 2012-11-04. Retrieved 2012-11-04.
- "NFL fines referee for swearing on open mic". National Football League. 2012-11-16. Retrieved 2012-11-16.
- "US Court to Rule on TV Expletives". BBC News. 2008-03-17. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
- Mears, Bill (2008-03-17). "High Court to Review Penalties for TV Expletives". CNN. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
- Richey, Warren (2008-03-18). "FCC's Obscenity Rule to Get Supreme Court's Ear". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
- Savage, David G. (2008-03-18). "Supreme Court to Rule on Broadcast Indecency". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2008-05-13. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
- Bravin, Jess (2009-04-28). "Court Upholds FCC 'Fleeting Expletive' Rule". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2009-04-28.
- The FCC Doesn't Need to Be by Peter Suderman, Reason
- FCC Indecency Rules Struck Down by Julianne Pepitone, CNN Money
- F.C.C. Indecency Policy Rejected on Appeal by Edward Wyatt, New York Times
- Liptak, Adam. "Supreme Court Rejects F.C.C. Fines for Indecency". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-10-02.
- "Supreme Court cops out, again, on "fleeting expletives"". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2018-10-02.
- Chidester, Treasa (Fall 2004). "What the #$%& is Happening on Television? Indecency in Broadcasting" (PDF). CommLaw Conspectus. 13 (1): 135–67.
- Schneider, Matthew S. (November 2007). "Silenced: The Search for a Legally Accountable Censor and Why Sanitization of the Broadcast Airwaves Is Monopolization" (PDF). Cardozo Law Review. 29 (2): 891–925.