Radley Balko is covering the coverage of senate hearings on broadcast indecency. Executive summary: social conservatives are pushing for an option to order cable channels a la carte, instead of in bundles (e.g. basic + HBO, basic + Showtime, stripped down basic, whatever), so that the Concerned Scolds for America can sit their kids in front of the TV and neglect them without worrying that little Joseph, Mary, or Butters might stumble onto a Madonna video or a Janet Jackson tit. The logic, phrased memorably by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin (who apparently makes Colin Powell Jr. look like a friend of freedom of expression) is this:
"You can always turn the television off and, of course, block the channels you don't want, "but why should you have to?"The appeal of the proposal is that it seems, prima facie, to increase freedom of choice, and after all, why should anybody else care if somebody wants to watch all EWTN, all the time.
There are two arguments here: 1) The bundling of cable channels disseminates potentially vicious content to children (snooze, but some people care), therefore cable should be unbundled.
Balko shows how the argument is self-refuting:
Niche programing gives kids kid-friendly shows to watch. And as previously discussed here, bundling is what makes niche programing possible. More to the point, if Graham can limit his own kids' viewing habits to kid-friendly programing, why does he assume no one else can?In other words, since niche programming exists because of bundling, bundling creates its own regulatory mechanism. I get accused of being a libertine, but in all seriousness, if and when I have kids, I probably wouldn't want them to watch Skinemax (except that they will discover pornography eventually, and good parenting involves accepting that reality rather than installing v-chips). Fortunately, they get to have Nickelodeon. When I was six years old, I would much rather have watched Looney Toons (which is pretty damn violent, btw) than some daddy hurting some mommy and making her yell. When I was twelve, it was a different story---which is an indication that my content boundaries shifted naturally, and positively.
Argument 2) Unbundling cable increases freedom of choice, freedom of choice is good (never mind the rich doublethink coming from the puritans), therefore cable should be unbundled.
Balko doesn't really get to this one; Nick Gillespie says that given the fact that Martin "also favors extending federal content regulation to cable and satellite," we should recognize the unbundling proposal as "an attempt to limit what consumers can watch and listen to." I'm not sure this follows, though Martin's support for extending content regulation is good reason to be suspicious of his motives when he claims to be extending choice.
The real fallacy in argument (2) is the notion of choice the unbundling advocates are pushing: the freedom of a consumer to choose something that isn't up for sale. Cable companies are private entities; they have a right to sell whatever goods and services they want to sell. Suppose you want the proprietor of some store to sell you the individual components of some article that comes bundled together. You can haggle, cajole, persuade, but you can't compel him. Nor can the government. It's called a free market, jackasses.
UPDATE: On the subject of cringe-making things Radley Balko linked to, take a glance at the latest drug-war justified lie.