Howard Stern's Radio Program Qualifies as News Show

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:21 PM EDT

( - People have called radio host Howard Stern many things, but "journalist" hasn't been one of them - until Tuesday, when the Federal Communications Commission ruled that the Howard Stern Show is a "bona fide news interview" program.

The decision came in response to a request from New York-based Infinity Broadcasting Operations, Inc., which wanted a ruling that its widely syndicated Stern show is exempt from providing equal time for political candidates.

Infinity Broadcasting made the request after learning that Stern intends to interview California gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger without offering time to the more than 130 other candidates running in the Oct. 7 recall election.

Citing a 1984 decision that qualified Phil Donahue's talk show for the news exemption, the FCC said there should be room for "less conventional interview formats" to increase coverage of the political process.

"Since the 'Donahue' decision, other news interview programs or segments thereof with unique and innovative format elements, such as the Sally Jessy Raphael Show, Jerry Springer and Politically Incorrect, have qualified for the news interview exemption," the FCC said.

"We expected the commission to rule favorably, and we're pleased with the results," said Infinity spokesman Dana McClintock.

However, critics of Stern's show, which includes such regular segments as the "Wheel of Sex" and even cost Infinity Broadcasting a $1.7 million fine in 1995 to settle a number of indecency charges, were not as happy about the decision.

"Howard Stern isn't 'bona fide' anything," said Andrew Schwartzman, president of the the Media Access Project, a Washington-based media watchdog group.

"What this means is that every 'morning zoo' disc jockey whose brother-in-law is running for city council can put him on the air without worrying about giving equal time to anyone else," Schwartzman stated.

"They've removed the notion that a bona fide news interview show is supposed to apply to journalists," Schwartzman added. "If Howard Stern is a real journalist, real journalists should be upset."

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), responded to the decision by calling on FCC Chairman Michael Powell to explain it.

"The FCC has taken its abysmal record on enforcing indecency violations to a whole new low by giving Howard Stern's pornographic program the label 'news,'" Perkins said.

"Howard Stern's show is disgusting. From encouraging 12-year-old boys to engage in sex with older women to showcasing intoxicated strippers and ridiculing the mentally ill, this program is the worst that American entertainment has to offer," Perkins continued. "Does it really deserve to be equated with the nightly news and 20/20?"

E-mail a news tip to Randy Hall.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.