CBS Censors No Age’s Obama Shirt

By brandon / October 8, 2008

Last night — after watching the debates, coincidentally — we received an email from No Age guitarist Randy Randall, who wanted talk about something that happened to him when he showed up to tape a performance for Craig Late Late Night With Craig Ferguson wearing an Obama shirt. Randy explains:

After the rehearsals, the people from CBS said I couldn’t wear the shirt. I threatened to walk off the set and not do the show. They would not budge. They said that it was because they had to give equal time. I told them to put up a Mccain t-shirt, or anything else they wanted, but they wouldn’t do anything. Dean and I talked and we came to the conclusion that it was better to do the show and make a statement on national TV than just walk away. So I turned the shirt inside out and wrote free healthcare on it.

CBS told No Age that allowing Randy to wear the shirt violated the Fairness Doctrine. It’s strange then that Regina Spektor displayed her Obama Belt during her performance with Ben Folds on Conan. Strange, too — we’re told the Fairness Doctrine was repealed years ago. We have more on that, as well as photos Randy sent us from when he was still sporting his tee.

He explains: “The photos of Dean and I were taken in front of a backdrop before the rehearsals (before I knew anything was wrong with the shirt). Actually all the photos I am attaching were taken before the bullshit happened, which explains the smiles.”

Speaking of explanations, Arthur‘s Jay Babcock explained the finer points of the Fairness Doctrine in an editorial about this No Obama No Age situation. It’s titled “Who Cares What Musicians Think About Politics?” and subtitled “They’re not experts, they’re artists — which is exactly why we should listen.” An excerpt:

This wasn’t because CBS wanted No Age to go topless. They’re keeping that for the spring break special. No, this was because, the CBS person said, the Obama shirt was on-air editorializing — a possible violation of some FCC edict which this person claimed called for equal time to be given to opposing political viewpoints.

One problem: the last remnant of the so-called Fairness Doctine was repealed in 1987; the repeal was upheld by court ruling in 1989. Since then, corollary rules of the Fairness Doctrine — the “personal attack” rule and the “political editorial” rule — have also been struck down in the courts, with the last court ruling (and subsequent FCC order) coming in 2000.

In short, there is no fairness rule. Randy’s Obama shirt was perfectly broadcastable under every existing law.

But neither No Age nor their people at Sub Pop were aware of the Fairness Doctrine’s long-ago demise.

CBS took advantage of this to push No Age into a corner: either cover up the word “Obama” or don’t appear on the show.

You can read the rest here. In case you were curious, the show’s scheduled to appear 10/27, eight days before the election. Randy mentioned that No Age will be in Europe on the day of the election, but that both he and Dean are registered as absentee voters and will mail out their ballots before they head overseas. He added, “We are living through a seriously oppressive time when basic needs like health care and freedom of speech are up for consideration as though they were extravagant options and not necessities.”

UPDATE: Watch the performance and Craig’s response to the controversy.