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Stern challenges FCC chairman on air


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(CNN) -- Howard Stern got into a heated exchange with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell during a radio call-in show Tuesday, with the shock jock saying the only reason Powell is in his position is because of his father, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"Let's face it. You got to the head of the FCC, you got to the front of the class the way George W. Bush got out of the draft -- and it's completely fair for me to question," Stern said.

The FCC chairman defended his credentials and snapped, "I think it's a cheap shot to say just because my father's famous, I don't belong in my position."

The exchange occurred during the morning show on San Francisco's KGO radio. Host Ronn Owens was interviewing Powell and was taking phone calls when Stern called.

Stern said a friend told him the commissioner was going to be on the show and he decided to call because Powell "consistently avoids me and avoids answering my questions."

"Does it make you nervous for you to talk to me?" Stern asked.

"No, it does not," Powell replied.

Moments later, Stern called Powell "an enigma" and said, "You're the judge, you're the arbiter, you're the one who tells us what we can and can't say on the air. And yet I really don't even think you're qualified to be the head of the commission. Do you deny that your father got you this job?"

"I would deny it exceedingly. You can look at my resume if you want, Howard. I'm not ashamed of it and I think it justifies my existence," said Powell, adding that he served as the chief of staff of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division and was a private attorney.

"If you don't believe the commission should have any rights to draw limits, I think that's a respectable position but it doesn't happen to be the law," he said.

After Stern expressed outrage over fines levied by the FCC against his show, Powell said the panel works to enforce fines fairly "regardless of the notoriety of the personality involved."

"You personalize it as if you're answering to me," Powell said. "You're answering to the commission -- if you're answering to anybody. All of these fines are voted by five members, Republicans and Democrats alike."

He added, "I don't think we've made any particular crusade of the Howard Stern Show or you."

"Yeah, OK, Michael," Stern replied. "That's why I've received the largest fines in history."

Toward the end of the phone call, Stern noted he had been "respectful" throughout the conversation and he hoped "there's no sort of retribution as a result of my phone call, which I believe Michael is capable of."

"I don't take this personally," Stern said. "I don't think that you personally hate me. I think what you've been doing is dangerous to free speech. I don't think just against me, I think things have gotten way out of control."

Before Stern hung up, Powell told him, "Good to talk to you."

Over the years, Stern has repeatedly been in government cross hairs over a show known for its explicit and salacious discussions about, for example, rough sex, masturbation and the virtues of slavery.

Earlier this year, the FCC fined Clear Channel $495,000 for Stern comments that were deemed indecent. Clear Channel then pulled Stern from six of the stations it owns.

Just three weeks ago, Stern announced he will take his morning radio show to satellite radio in large part to avoid the strict rules of the FCC.

Powell was appointed to the FCC by President Clinton and promoted to chairman by President Bush.


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