Politics & Policy

Petty Penny Persecution

Smut peddlers go after the FCC's newest adviser.

“Penny Nance frightens me,” D.C. shock jock Elliot of Elliot in the Morning declared.

Penny Nance has been frightening a lot of people lately, which is strange when you consider that she’s a beautiful young wife and mother with a charming Tennessee accent and no history of violent crime. But mention her name to certain people and they’ll suddenly begin to resemble Linda Blair in some of her more outlandish scenes in The Exorcist.

This reaction has to do with the fact that Nance has just been hired by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin to serve as an adviser on consumer and social issues related to the cable and broadcast industry. That’s bad news for those who make a living dumping untreated sewage into our homes via television and “shock jock” radio shows because when it comes to fighting filth, Nance is not afraid to get her hands dirty. She’s the founder of the Kids First Coalition, which vigorously lobbies against pornography. She’s served on the board of Concerned Women for America, which–among other things–lobbies against pornography. She has testified before Congress about the dangers to children of Internet porn, and was a signatory last spring on a letter to President Bush calling for stricter enforcement of indecency laws–including the use of “repeated and expanded” fines “until broadcasters understand they are not above the law.”

Nance wants to bring back television’s family hour, a mild move that would not eliminate the trashier programs but simply push them into later time slots. She’d also like to see pressure applied to currently unregulated cable channels which, she says, have a “huge indecency problem.”

Outraged smut merchants and their supporters find Nance’s views positively indecent. “Is the FCC headquartered in f***ing Peyton Place?” spluttered one angry blogger. Another accused Nance of wanting “to make her interpretation of the Bible the law of the land, a la the Taliban.” CNN, Reuters, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times have all weighed in on the qualifications of the woman they “outed” as a right-wing Christian conservative activist.

As news of Nance’s views became public, the nastier critics began a vicious campaign of harassment. One malevolent blogger posted Nance’s address and home telephone number on the Internet, forcing her to change her number; obscene calls and e-mails continue to arrive daily at her office. Howard Stern took some on-air shots at Nance; shock-jock Elliot called Nance a “bitch” on the air and threatened to send strippers to the Virginia home Nance shares with her husband and two small children. Many bloggers are urging people to contact the FCC to demand Nance’s firing.

None of this has dissuaded Nance from her determination to do everything she can to lesson the grip pornography has on our society. She points to the links between the consumption of pornography and sexual assaults on women and children. A few years ago Nance herself was the victim of an attempted rape by a man addicted to porn; which is why she takes a dim view of those who say–as one of her blogger critics put it, “Don’t like what’s on the channel? Change it!”

Nance plans to change the culture. She knows that when others produce or consume obscene or pornographic materials, we all have to live with the corrosive consequences. Today we’re no longer shocked to hear of twelve-year-old girls engaging in oral sex, or of even younger girls being kidnapped, raped, and murdered–victims of men addicted to violent sexual imagery.

This is unacceptable to Penny Nance, who sees herself as the representative of “the millions of American mothers who are sickened by the constant diet of cultural sewage that’s being fed to their children–despite their best efforts to the contrary.”

Hitting smut merchants hard is something Americans overwhelmingly support. In a poll last March, the Pew Research Center found that 75 percent of adults would like to see tighter enforcement of government rules on broadcast content, particularly when children are likely to be watching. Sixty percent want broadcast indecency standards extended to cable TV and 69 percent want higher fines for media companies.

The good news is that the attacks on Nance may backfire; the publicity they are generating is giving her a chance to remind Americans of how easy it is to go after those who pollute the airwaves. The FCC can only enforce the law by reacting to complaints. And in order for the FCC to do its job, Nance says, “People of conscience need to pay attention and complain when they see something that violates community standards. If you see something offensive on TV, or hear offensive language on the radio, all you have to do is visit the website of the FCC and fill out a form.”

Nance and her colleagues will evaluate these complaints—and maybe issue some serious fines. If that frightens cultural polluters, too bad. This American mother is among the cheering section.

Anne Morse is a freelance writer in Virginia.


The Latest