While doing research for my upcoming book, tentatively titled Programming America (Harper Collins, due 2011), the inside story of the politically-motivated evolution of television from The Dick Van Dyke Show to Sex and the City and the very real bias of the industry against conservative content and creators, I interviewed Doug Herzog, President of MTV Networks Entertainment Group. He oversees Comedy Central, and he was kind enough to grant me some time and consent to taping our conversation on June 22, 2009.
During the course of that conversation, I asked Mr. Herzog about the network’s decision to censor South Park in April 2006 – in particular, the network shut down a segment that featured a cartoon image of Mohammed.
Here’s the audio:
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SHAPIRO: I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the controversy that surrounded the South Park/Mohammed controversy. How did that come about and what was the real story there?
HERZOG: The real story was the story you know, which is that the guys wanted to depict Mohammed and the network wouldn’t let them. And that was the whole story. And while I think if we had to do it all over again we would do it differently, that was the decision we made at the time. And I regret it somewhat but I’ve made worse decisions in my life.
SHAPIRO: Why did the network make that decision in the first place?
HERZOG: You know, there was concern that it might not be the most prudent thing to do at that time, and people were kind of losing their heads over it, I think wrongly so.
SHAPIRO: Prudent commercially or prudent politically?
HERZOG: I think combination.
In other words, the heads of Comedy Central freaked over the cartoon image of Mohammed because they were worried they would offend radical Muslims, pulled it, and Herzog told me they’d do it differently next time.
Except they didn’t.
This week, Comedy Central again censored South Park – again because they were afraid that a cartoon image of Mohammed would fire up Muslim radicals. Instead of showing Mohammed or lines about Mohammed, Comedy Central bleeped all of it out. “After we delivered the show, and prior to broadcast, Comedy Central placed numerous additional audio bleeps throughout the episode,” said a message on Trey Parker and Matt Stone website. “We do not have network approval to stream our original version of the show.”
So what about Herzog’s statement that Comedy Central had changed its ways?
Yeah, not so much. The censorship and appeasement continue unabated. So much for Comedy Central’s claims as champions of free speech and speaking truth to power.