Before a crowd that stretched as far as the eye could see, Pearl Jam closed out Lollapalooza on Sunday night with a galvanizing two-hour set that also featured a guest spot from Ben Harper, appearances from an anti-war Iraq veteran and former NBA star Dennis Rodman — and lyrics from Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2″ slipped into “Daughter,” during which singer Eddie Vedder altered the lyrics to, “George Bush: Leave this world alone!” (See “Pearl Jam Electrify; Amy Winehouse, Lupe Fiasco, Kings Of Leon Also Help Cap Lollapalooza.” )
Oh, wait, you didn’t hear that part?
Maybe you were watching the live “Blue Room” webcast of Lollapalooza beamed out by main Lollapalooza sponsor AT&T. According to the band and a number of its fans, PJ were informed after the show that some segments of their performance were missing from the AT&T broadcast — namely the anti-Bush statements, which led them to suspect that the broadcast may have been censored by AT&T.
“We responded on the site to our fans because they sent in multiple inquiries asking about the webcast being cut,” longtime PJ spokesperson Nicole Vandenberg said about the post on PJ’s official Web site on Wednesday responding to the controversy. “We were told via Lollapalooza, who spoke to AT&T, that it was the result of an overzealous content engineer who made a mistake. But … I think the bigger question here is this: What is AT&T doing to ensure that ‘mistakes’ like this don’t happen in the future?
“We aren’t talking about them editing the word ‘f—’ out,” Vandenberg continued, after acknowledging that mistakes often happen during such high-pressure, live events. “We’re talking about them editing out content in a song that referenced the president. I’m curious as to why this content monitor thought that might concern them? I’m interested in knowing whether AT&T thinks this is the only ‘content monitor’ who will ever make a mistake of this nature?”
The other line cut from the webcast was, “George Bush: Find yourself another home.”
Steve Schwadron, a spokesperson for AT&T, told MTV News on Thursday that the editing of the performance was not intentional and was “a mistake by one of our webcast vendors.” Adam Smith — executive vice president of the vendor, music-consulting firm Davey Brown Entertainment, which produced the webcast for AT&T — also said the edit was an unintended error. “It was a mistake,” Smith said. “Our policy is not to edit any performance at all — never, ever. We take responsibility for the mistake.”
Though nothing else was edited out of the broadcast, Smith said he was not able to explain why the only edits happened to be the two anti-Bush statements. Brown Entertainment was in control of the standard two-minute delay AT&T requires for the non-age-restricted Blue Room broadcasts.
“We completely regret this mistake by an individual who was subcontracted by AT&T,” Schwadron said. “It is not part of our policy and I can’t tell you what that person was thinking. This was not a censorship issue — it was a mistake that is completely against our policy and it was a solitary incident not tied to any larger theme. We completely disagree with what took place.”
Schwadron said AT&T is working with PJ to post the song in its entirety soon.
Fans responding on the group’s message boards were angry and confused. “I thought it was a glitch on the webcast (which is common), not censorship,” wrote a user named Marie Curie. “Scott” wrote that he unplugged his speakers to fix the problem, which he thought had to do with his virus-riddled computer.
However, it was no surprise to “Mr Bungle,” who wrote that, “My wife and I called it right away, as soon as Ed started bashing Bush, the audio cut out. It was so obvious it was being censored.”
In their post on the controversy, the band wrote, “AT&T’s actions strike at the heart of the public’s concerns over the power that corporations have when it comes to determining what the public sees and hears through communications media.
“If a company that is controlling a webcast is cutting out bits of our performance — not based on laws, but on their own preferences and interpretations — fans have little choice but to watch the censored version,” the post continues. “What happened to us this weekend was a wake-up call, and it’s about something much bigger than the censorship of a rock band.”
A report on the controversy on the left-leaning Huffington Post blog took a harsher view of the incident, tying the subcontractor error to a larger theme of what it claimed was AT&T’s history of bad faith with its customers when it comes to issues like handing over private phone records and speaking out against the concept of Net neutrality, which proponents say will guarantee the freedom of Internet content from manipulation by the large companies that supply Internet connections.
Pearl Jam has promised to post the complete, unedited Lollapalooza version of “Daughter” on their Web site soon and has promised to work harder in the future to ensure that their live broadcasts/webcasts are free from “arbitrary” edits.
“I don’t see this as a fight,” said Vandenberg. “I see it as an opportunity for AT&T to take steps to ensure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen, and for the public to see how easily it can happen … it’s really just an unfortunate incident that occurred, that happens to reflect the issues at the heart of the debate around Net neutrality and media consolidation in general.”
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