Apologies from NFL, NBC after M.I.A. flips bird

By David Bauder

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Feb. 6 2012 1:10 p.m. MST

For all the finger pointing over M.I.A.'s obscene gesture during the Super Bowl halftime show, it may have happened so quickly that many viewers didn't notice or think much of it if they did.

The gesture was the talk of Twitter for hours Sunday night and still was to some extent Monday. Still, the digital video recorder maker Tivo said there wasn't an appreciable bump in viewers who played back the moment where M.I.A. extended her middle finger during Madonna's performance of "Give Me All Your Luvin'" on Sunday night's show.

Tivo has 2 million customers in the U.S. Spokeswoman Tara Maitra said the company would check to see if more people play back the moment.

The NFL and NBC both apologized for the incident.

The NFL blamed NBC for being not quick enough to censor the gesture, while NBC noted that the NFL is responsible for the content of the halftime show on TV's most-watched annual show.

This was no wardrobe malfunction, nothing like that glimpse of Janet Jackson's nipple eight years ago that caused an uproar and government scrutiny. Instead, in front of some 110 million viewers on NBC and uncounted others online, she flipped the bird and appeared to sing, "I don't give a (expletive)" at one point, though it was hard to hear her clearly.

"The obscene gesture in the performance was completely inappropriate, very disappointing and we apologize to our fans," said Brian McCarthy, spokesman for the NFL, which produced the show. He said M.I.A. had not done anything similar during rehearsals and the league had no reason to believe she would pull something like that during the actual show.

The screen briefly went blurred after M.I.A.'s gesture in what was a late attempt — by less than a second — to cut out the camera shot.

"The NFL hired the talent and produced the halftime show," NBC spokesman Christopher McCloskey said. "Our system was late to obscure the inappropriate gesture and we apologize to our viewers."

Back in M.I.A.'s native Britain, the London Times noted Monday that while all eyes may have been on Madonna at halftime, "it was the extended middle finger of the British hip-hop star M.I.A. that caused the most controversy."

The Guardian wondered whether anyone would really be outraged.

"You'd be forgiven for not having a coronary over the fact M.I.A. gave Super Bowl viewers the finger during her halftime guest spot with Madonna," the newspaper wrote in its music blog. "For most fans, it was probably more shocking to see M.I.A. performing a rehearsed dance routine than flipping the bird."

Indeed, M.I.A. is provocative and an artist taking advantage of all those TV viewers might not be all that surprising. Still, host Gretchen Carlson on Fox News Channel's "Fox & Friends" urged M.I.A. to "get a life" and culture vulture Perez Hilton tweeted: "Think she'll ever be invited on live TV again?"

Jackson's infamous oops during the 2004 halftime show raised a storm of controversy and put CBS in hot water with the Federal Communications Commission amid questions about the responsibility of TV networks to police their airwaves.

Justin Timberlake ripped off Jackson's bustier, exposing her breast for nine-sixteenths of a second, a moment for which CBS was fined $550,000 by the FCC. The network challenged the fine and last fall, a federal appeals court ruled against the FCC despite an order from the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. The three-judge panel reviewed three decades of FCC rulings and concluded the agency was changing its policy, without warning, by fining CBS for fleeting nudity.

This year's game, in which the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots 21-17, had been expected to challenge last year's record of being the most-watched U.S. TV event ever.

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