Super Bowl XXXVIII – which was broadcast live on February 1, 2004 from Houston, Texas on the CBS television network in the United States – was noted for a controversial halftime show in which Janet Jackson's breast, adorned with a nipple shield, was exposed by Justin Timberlake for about half a second, in what was later referred to as a "wardrobe malfunction". The incident, sometimes referred to as Nipplegate, was widely discussed. Along with the rest of the halftime show, it led to an immediate crackdown and widespread debate on perceived indecency in broadcasting. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined CBS a record US$550,000 which was fought in the Supreme Court, but that fine was appealed and ultimately voided by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2011 ruling, and a case to reinstate the fine was refused in 2012.
The incident was ridiculed both within the United States and abroad, with a number of commentators considering the incident a planned publicity stunt, and American commentators in particular viewing it as a sign of decreasing morality in American culture, while others considered the incident harmless and argued that it received an undue amount of attention and backlash. The increased regulation of broadcasting raised concerns regarding censorship and free speech in the United States, and the FCC increased the fine per indecency violation from US$27,500 to US$325,000 shortly after the event. The halftime show that year was produced by MTV and was themed around the network's Choose or Lose campaign due to the event occurring during a presidential election year. Following the wardrobe incident, the National Football League (NFL) announced that MTV, which also produced the halftime show for Super Bowl XXXV, would not be involved in any halftime shows in the future. The MTV Chief Executive stated in an interview with Reuters that Jackson engineered the stunt, while Timberlake was informed of it just moments before he took the stage. The exposure was broadcast to a total audience of 143.6 million viewers.
YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim claims that this incident was what led to the creation of the video sharing website. The incident also made "Janet Jackson" the most searched term, event and image in internet history, as well as the most searched person and term of 2004 and 2005. The incident also broke the record for "most searched event over one day". Jackson was later listed in the 2007 edition of Guinness World Records as "Most Searched in Internet History" and the "Most Searched for News Item". It became the most watched, recorded and replayed television moment in TiVo history and "enticed an estimated 35,000 new [TiVo] subscribers to sign up". The incident also coined the phrase "wardrobe malfunction", which was later added to the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.
Following the incident, media conglomerates involved with the broadcast who were fined by the FCC, including Viacom and CBS, their co-owned subsidiaries MTV and Infinity Broadcasting, and Clear Channel Communications, enforced a blacklist of Jackson's singles and music videos on many radio formats and music channels worldwide. As of 2018, neither Jackson nor Timberlake are banned from the halftime show. Timberlake later performed at Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018.
In 2002, Entertainment Weekly reported that Jackson was the original choice to perform at the halftime show for Super Bowl XXXVI, however the NFL ultimately decided to select U2 to headline it after a group of NFL owners and officials attended the band's concert in New York City shortly after the September 11 attacks. In September 2003, the NFL announced that Jackson would be the headline performer of the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show. Because the event was occurring during an election year, MTV decided that the show's theme would heavily focus on the network's "Choose or Lose" campaign, which encouraged younger viewers to be politically active and register to vote.
Prior to the incident, Timberlake had attended Jackson's Rhythm Nation Tour as an adolescent, and Jackson's energetic dance routines and daring performing style made a deep impression on him. While Timberlake was a member of pop group 'N Sync, Jackson selected the boy band as the opening act for many dates of her blockbuster Velvet Rope World Tour, which helped promote and introduce the then-relatively unknown group and Timberlake to the public worldwide. Timberlake said he was "psyched" and later described the experience as "fulfilling". While on the tour, Jackson further promoted the group by performing with 'N Sync on several dates, including joining the group for a live a cappella duet of Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed", which a biography stated was a "highlight" moment for Timberlake which "gave Justin a chance to show his family and friends how far he had come". Following the tour, Timberlake and Jackson became "good friends", with Jackson also praising Timberlake. Timberlake recreated Jackson's "That's the Way Love Goes" video with 'N Sync and was inspired by Jackson's performing style.
Timberlake had frequently mentioned admiring Jackson in many interviews during this time and throughout the following few years preceding the incident. When asked who he thought was "the sexiest woman on the planet", Timberlake had said "I've thought Janet Jackson has nothing but sex appeal, so I'd probably say her."
Timberlake later asked Jackson to sing backing vocals on "(And She Said) Take Me Now", a song from his debut solo album Justified which was initially planned to be released as a single, commenting "I wrote the chorus from a girl's perspective, and I just thought we should get a female on the part. Her name was the first that popped up in my head just because I love her voice. It sounds like feathers. I mean, she sounds like an angel."
During the halftime show, Jackson performed a medley of hits, beginning with "All for You", "Rhythm Nation" and a brief excerpt of "The Knowledge" before surprise guest Timberlake appeared to perform a duet version of his song "Rock Your Body". The performance featured several suggestive dance moves by both singers, and as Timberlake reached his final line of "Rock Your Body", "I'm gonna have you naked by the end of this song", Timberlake pulled off a part of Jackson's costume, revealing her right breast, partially covered by a piece of nipple jewelry, for less than a second. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the CBS broadcast cut to an aerial view of Reliant Stadium (now known as NRG Stadium), the host venue for Super Bowl XXXVIII, but was unable to do so before the picture was sent to the television sets of an estimated 143 million viewers. The incident has been referred to as "Nipplegate" and "the boob seen 'round the world" in the media.
The incident led to a five-second broadcast delay being implemented for all future performances on live television to ensure that any potentially indecent material is not broadcast in full, and a protracted legal battle over FCC censorship which lasted until 2012 and nearly went to the Supreme Court. Jackson's publicist stated the performance ending was only supposed to reveal Jackson's red lace bra, though the lace undergarment was accidentally removed along with the outer layer.
On June 29, 2012, the Supreme Court declined an FCC appeal. The FCC was attempting to reinstate the government's fine of US$550,000 which was overturned by the lower court based on FCC rules that were in place at the time of the broadcast, which were later changed. Chief Justice John Roberts said "It is now clear that the brevity of an indecent broadcast – be it word or image – cannot immunize it from FCC censure...Any future 'wardrobe malfunctions' will not be protected on the ground relied on by the court below."
MTV stated, "The tearing of Janet Jackson's costume was unrehearsed, unplanned, completely unintentional and was inconsistent with assurances we had about the content of the performance. MTV regrets this incident occurred and we apologize to anyone who was offended by it." The network also said, "Our goal with the Super Bowl Halftime show was to produce an entertaining stage experience with a positive message about empowerment and voting. We are disappointed that this message has been overshadowed by the unfortunate incident". A statement from CBS read, "We attended all rehearsals throughout the week and there was no indication that any such thing would happen. The moment did not conform to CBS broadcast standards and we would like to apologize to anyone who was offended." Viacom President Mel Karmazin said that while the company can be proud of 99% of what people saw on the broadcast, it understands "what a difference one percent can make". NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said the show produced by MTV, which like CBS, was owned by Viacom at the time (before the two networks were respectively separated into Viacom and CBS Corporation, both controlled by National Amusements, in December 2005), fell far short of the "tasteful, first-class entertainment" the league expected. FCC Chairman Michael Powell, appearing before a Senate panel, called the Super Bowl incident "a new low for prime time television". Joe Browne, Executive Vice President of the NFL, said, "We were extremely disappointed by elements of the MTV-produced Halftime show. They were totally inconsistent with assurances our office was given about the show. It's unlikely that MTV will produce another Super Bowl halftime." An hour-long MTV documentary titled "Making the Super Bowl Halftime Show" was scheduled to premiere the following week but was canceled before it ever aired and has never been broadcast subsequently.
Salli Frattini, the executive producer for MTV who had planned the entire performance, recalled a phone call from the officiating booth that was her first indication something had gone wrong. Frattini was in a truck outside of Reliant Stadium celebrating the end of the 12-minute halftime performance, which they initially thought was a success. "We were like, 'Uh, we’re playing that back right now'", Frattini said. "There was lots of chaos in the truck, and we played it back and we were like, 'Oh, s[hit]. What just happened?'" Alex Coletti, another MTV producer, said he could not find Jackson after the performance. "I tried to get in touch to make sure she was okay", he said. "Her entire camp stopped answering the phones. I finally got to her tour manager, and they were already at the airport." Coletti assumed the singer was so mortified that she fled immediately, though later assumed the incident was a possible "set up", adding it was the last time he had spoken to her. Coletti's assumption is potentially another reason for Jackson's blacklisting on MTV in addition to other music channels and radio formats. An MTV representative confirmed the costume tear was conceptualized by the MTV staff, in which the show's producers mockingly ripped their clothing in response to Timberlake's closing lyric during rehearsals. This led to Jackson and Timberlake improvising the move, in which Timberlake tore off Jackson's kilt. Frattini stated, "When we did the original rehearsal, there was conversation about a fake skirt she would wear, and that Justin would actually pull open the skirt and take off the skirt. In rehearsal, they actually tried to rip open the skirt, which kind of went with the lyrics of the song". The production team then discussed another option, which led to the costume tearing, although the outfit was intended to stay in place.
Jackson's representative explained the incident, saying, "Justin was supposed to pull away the rubber bustier to reveal a red lace bra. The garment collapsed and her breast was accidentally revealed." CBS forced Jackson to release a video apology, and said "My decision to change the Super Bowl performance was made after the final rehearsal. MTV, CBS, [and] the NFL had no knowledge of this whatsoever and unfortunately, the whole thing went wrong in the end. I am really sorry if I offended anyone, that was truly not my intention". Jackson later commented, "Sometimes they cut out that I said it was an accident" when the statement was replayed in the media. A written statement read, "The decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my halftime show performance was made after final rehearsals. MTV was completely unaware of it. It was not my intention that it go as far as it did. I apologize to anyone offended – including the audience, MTV, CBS and the NFL." Due to the event being accidental and unintentional, Jackson refused to release another apology statement to media outlets following this. Speaking to USA Today, Jackson said, "It's truly embarrassing for me to know that 90 million [140 million] people saw my breast, and then to see it blown up on the Internet the size of a computer screen ... but there are much worse things in the world, and for this to be such a focus, I don't understand." Regarding continued backlash, she responded, "Who knows...Maybe they'll get mad at something that I do in my show, but at least it won't be new to me, since I've already gone through all of this. But I feel very positive that things are going to work out just fine. Everything happens for a reason."
Publicist Marvet Britto stated, "Jackson embodies grace, style and integrity...She has never been known as a bad person." Britto describes Jackson’s videotaped apology as "impersonal", saying, "She has never been an impersonal artist, so it made it seem like she was guilty of something, and she wasn't. I would have had her and Timberlake apologizing side by side right from the beginning, since they performed side by side. Otherwise, it made the whole apology seem calculated and contrived." Jackson said of the apology, "I probably should have done it live. But there was so much going on at the time that I needed to just get it done. It is what it is. And it will pass, and I'm fine with it." At one point Jackson was scheduled to be interviewed about the incident by Diane Sawyer on the ABC newsmagazine Primetime, however, the interview never came to fruition. Jackson later briefly discussed the incident on Good Morning America and the Late Show with David Letterman. Jackson's outfit was designed by famed designer Alexander McQueen, with Jackson later commenting "I don't blame him; he didn't rip it. Alexander is so great at what he does – he's a genius." In an interview with Australia's Herald Sun, Jackson commented on Timberlake (whom, as mentioned, Jackson had previously known personally and aided when she selected his former group 'N Sync to open for her Velvet Rope World Tour at the start of their career) distancing himself from the incident and seemingly changing with fame. "I really want to be honest about this, but I just feel that anything I say about him will be taken the wrong way", said Jackson. "I do think that Justin is very talented and that he has a very big career ahead of him. But he seems to have changed recently. He's gotten a bit cocky. You know, some people can handle success and some people can't. I'm starting to wonder if (the latter) is the case with Justin. And it hurts me to say that." Producer Jimmy Jam revealed Jackson considered writing a song about the incident for her Damita Jo album, saying, "I don't know whether it will or not. But I have a feeling it probably will, because kind of whatever's happening in her life tends to be what she writes about [...] It'd be kind of interesting to see what her feeling is about it."
Michael Musto of The Village Voice commented on the media's reaction to the incident, saying, "Janet became a symbolic Joan of Arc to burn at the stake. I actually do think her breast was used as a diversionary tactic – I'm not sure to distract from Iraq specifically – but it did distract from important issues, from things we actually should be appalled by. The story got an undue amount of attention when the fact is, nobody has proved how her breast harmed anyone." Speaking to Robert Tannenbaum of Blender Magazine, Jackson had strong, if guarded, views on the reactions, saying the furor "is hypocritical, with everything you see on TV. There are more important thing to focus on than a woman's body part, which is a beautiful thing. There's war, famine, homelessness, AIDS". The fact that it happened in an election year "did have a great deal to do with it. They needed something to focus on instead of the war, and I was the perfect vehicle for that. People are going to think what they want. It was an accident. It was not a stunt. That was embarrassing for me to have all those people see my breast. That's like having your penis hanging out in front of millions and millions of people." Janet declared the reaction to the accidental exposure as "contradictory", noting it to occur in an era where commercials for beer and Viagra are both "very sexual" and "practically omnipresent". Jackson also said the mishap was "not intentional" and a "costume accident", also commenting on some media outlets editing her taped apology, saying, "Sometimes they cut out that I said it was an accident...That's what the media does, that's the way they are because they want it to be told a different way." In Glamour Magazine, Janet exclaimed, "It's hard to believe that there's a war and famine going on in the world and yet people made such a big deal about a breast. People said that it was done intentionally to sell records. Do you know what? I have never pulled a stunt. Why would you do that and have your album come out two months later? It doesn't make sense." In the ensuing months, Janet felt overwhelmed by the hostility towards her. "People think I'm immune to being hurt by what's said. They ask me questions that shock me. Not everybody is as strong as the next person and words can kill. People push you and you start to think, 'Can I handle this?' But I know I can."
Immediately following the incident, Timberlake sounded unapologetic for his actions, telling Access Hollywood, "Hey man, we love giving you all something to talk about." Timberlake released a statement saying "I am sorry that anyone was offended by the wardrobe malfunction during the halftime performance of the Super Bowl. It was not intentional and is regrettable." However, Timberlake was not required to film a video apology as Jackson was. Timberlake also addressed the incident at the Grammy Awards the following week, which Jackson was banned from attending after being scheduled as a presenter, saying "I know it's been a rough week on everybody. What occurred was unintentional, completely regrettable and I apologize if you guys are offended." Timberlake gave an additional interview at the Grammy event and stated, "All I could say was, 'Oh, my God. Oh, my God,'" Timberlake said. "I looked at her. They brought a towel up on stage. They covered her up. I was completely embarrassed and just walked off the stage as quickly as I could. I'm frustrated at the whole situation. I'm frustrated that my character is being questioned. And the fact of the matter is, you know, I've had a good year, a really good year, especially with my music." Timberlake later declared, "It was something that went wrong. Then I felt like, I'm going to show everyone that this was something that didn't affect me, and I'm going to show up at the Grammys." He later said he was unable to attend most of the halftime rehearsals due to being on tour in Spain, having only one day to rehearse. While promoting his sophomore album FutureSex/LoveSounds over two years later, Timberlake expressed regret for his behavior, saying, "In my honest opinion now ... I could've handled it better. ... I'm part of a community that consider themselves artists. And if there was something I could have done in her defense that was more than I realized then, I would have. But the other half of me was like, 'Wow. We still haven't found the weapons of mass destruction and everybody cares about this!'" He added, "I probably got 10 percent of the blame, and that says something about society ... I think that America's harsher on women. And I think that America is, you know, unfairly harsh on ethnic people." 
Jackson suspected ulterior motives in the media's reaction, expressing, "It was just perfect timing to take people's focus off of other things. That's what happens, and it happened to me." Accounts from several university leaders and management groups offered a similar premise. Michael Rich, director of Harvard's Center on Media and Child Health, exclaimed, "Here we have Michael Powell upset about the happening in the Super Bowl, but the same Powell has been unwilling to do anything about the violence on television, where there has been much more research showing it has a harmful impact on kids." Robert Thompson, founding director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, said, "Michael Powell is representing the Super Bowl like everybody in the family sits around knitting booties, or like, it's the Macy's Day Parade. [...] Come on. There's gambling, there's a lot of drinking, partying, a carnival atmosphere", he asserted. Jay Rosenthal, attorney for the Recording Artists' Coalition, says the FCC's involvement was a smoke-screen, or a "sound bite attempt" by the Republican-led commission to act as if it's doing something. "When it comes to media consolidation issues affecting consumers and artists, they don't care about that. But when it comes to indecency, after ignoring it for years, all of a sudden they're snapping to attention", he said. Simon Renshaw of management group The Firm stated it to be "inappropriate" that Powell is trying to distract people from the real issues of what's currently going on in the media. "What I find offensive is CBS' refusal to carry MoveOn.org's ad during the Super Bowl", which pictured children working in factories to pay off the Bush administration's budget deficit. The Boston Legal episode "Let Sales Ring" likened the incident to being used as a distraction, portraying a news corporation which used the mishap to attract attention over other important events in the media. Daniel Kreps of Rolling Stone explained, "For the FCC, Nipplegate provided an opportunity to restore order and flex whatever power they had left. Faced with lax broadcast standards for cable TV and satellite radio, as well as the absolute lawlessness of the Internet, the FCC becomes hell-bent on preserving common decency in the family-friendly realm of network television. Thus, screws are tightened everywhere under the body's jurisdiction: Tape delays are lengthened and more frequent and sexually suggestive performances are replaced by less provocative selections. While the aftermath of Nipplegate starts to fade, the FCC will continue to carry its torch for the next half-decade." Cynthia Fuchs of Popmatters stated, "It behooves TV producers and consumers to focus their attentions on significant "news", rather than the daily distractions offered up by politicians, performers, professional spinners, and journalists. Janet is not that person you watch on TV. And neither is anyone else."
A decade after the incident, former FCC chairman Michael Powell gave his first interview regarding Jackson's performance, saying Jackson was treated unfairly and the controversy, including his own reaction, was completely overblown. Powell stated, "I think we've been removed from this long enough for me to tell you that I had to put my best version of outrage on that I could put on. Part of it was surreal, right? Look, I think it was dumb to happen, and they knew the rules and were flirting with them, and my job is to enforce the rules, but, you know, really? This is what we're gonna do?" Powell also said the treatment of Jackson, who was lambasted for causing "an outrageous stunt", was unfair, and commented on Timberlake not receiving the same backlash. "I personally thought that was really unfair", he said. "It all turned into being about her. In reality, if you slow the thing down, it’s Justin ripping off her breastplate."
In the United States, the exposure of Jackson's breast by Timberlake led to much media attention and headlines, in which it was sometimes referred to as "Nipplegate". The socially conservative media watchdog group Parents Television Council (PTC) issued a statement that same day condemning the halftime show, announcing that their members would file indecency complaints with the FCC and the council supported the Commission's decision to investigate the halftime show immediately. In addition, the FCC received nearly 540,000 complaints from Americans, with the PTC claiming responsibility for around 65,000 of them. In its appeal to the Third Circuit Court, CBS disputed how many of the complaints were filed by individual, non-organized viewers. Columnists L. Brent Bozell III (who also founded the Parents Television Council) and Phyllis Schlafly also expressed criticism of the halftime show in their weekly columns. Democratic senator Zell Miller of Georgia, both on the floor of the United States Senate and in an editorial on Salon.com, denounced the halftime show as what he perceived as declining morality in America. The day immediately following the Super Bowl, then-FCC chairman Michael Powell ordered an investigation into the halftime show. Timberlake told CBS owned-and-operated station KCBS-TV in Los Angeles a few days following the Super Bowl that even his own family was offended by the mishap at the end of the halftime show. However, an Associated Press poll taken nearly three weeks after the Super Bowl found that although 54% of American adults considered the exposure distasteful, only 18% supported the FCC's investigation. Film director Spike Lee, speaking at Kent State University at Stark on February 3, called the incident a "new low" in entertainment.
The Super Bowl controversy was also a subject of humor on all of the late-night talk shows. For example, CBS's own Late Show with David Letterman mocked the incident all week following the Super Bowl. Host David Letterman jokingly commented on the controversy the day after the Super Bowl that he "was happy to see this thing happen ... because that meant for one night I wasn't the biggest boob on CBS". The next day, he also joked that President George W. Bush formed a "Department of Wardrobe Security" to prevent further wardrobe malfunctions. On February 4, Letterman opened his monologue by joking about having a wardrobe malfunction. Additionally, the Top Ten Lists featured on the program on that same night briefly referenced the incident. Jackson's appearance on the Late Show the following month increased the show's ratings 20% from the program's usual weeknight opener. Larry King also stated Jackson jokingly gave him a pair of suspenders with open holes around the nipples, commenting "I wore them once, they were cute." Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean called the FCC's investigation "silly", commenting "In general, I think the FCC does have a role in promoting some reasonable standard of decency. However, considering what's on television these days, I think the FCC is being pretty silly about investigating this." Dean added "I don't find it terribly shocking relative to some of the things you can find on standard cable television. I think the FCC probably has a lot of other things they should be pursuing."
South Park (aired on Comedy Central, a sister network to CBS at the time, and to MTV through Viacom) took aim at the hysteria in its eighth season premiere, "Good Times with Weapons", on March 17 of that year when Eric Cartman sneaks across a stage in the nude and later blames the incident on a "wardrobe malfunction". The townspeople are angered by Cartman's display, rather than feeling concern for a badly injured and disoriented character (Butters) who is also present on stage – a reference to the American culture's acceptance of violence while maintaining a taboo against nudity. During the 2004 MTV Video Music Awards, comedian Dave Chappelle joked that his appearance on the VMAs was "the biggest mistake [MTV made] since [they] put Janet Jackson on the Super Bowl." Family Guy also did an episode based around the "wardrobe malfunction" and the FCC's crackdown on "indecent" content, with one scene parodying the incident directly. The fourth season episode "PTV" involved actor David Hyde Pierce having a trouser malfunction at the Emmys. The FCC's sudden crackdown on indecent material on television leads an angered Peter Griffin to start his own network with looser content standards, PTV, on which later in the same episode, he presents a show called the "Side Boob Hour" which among other risque programs he puts on leads his objected wife Lois to call the FCC to crack down on PTV (leading to the implication of the FCC also regulating what his family says and does).
The halftime show continued to be a subject of discussion in 2005. At the beginning of 2005, the parody newspaper The Onion ran as its headline article for January 26, 2005, "U.S. Children Still Traumatized One Year After Seeing Partially Exposed Breast On TV". The article's satirical target was the nation's reaction to the incident, rather than the incident itself. On February 1, 2005, exactly one year after the halftime show, the PTC released a report titled MTV Smut Peddlers: Targeting Kids with Sex, Drugs, and Alcohol, covering MTV programming during the network's "Spring Break" week from March 20 to 27, 2004, accusing MTV of irresponsibly promoting sex, drugs and alcohol to impressionable youth. In response to the report, MTV network executive Jeannie Kedas argued that the report "underestimates young people's intellect and their level of sophistication." On February 6, however, New York Times columnist Frank Rich argued that censorship on television was becoming more prevalent following the halftime show in his February 6, 2005 column "The Year of Living Indecently". Examples he cited included more than 60 ABC-affiliated stations (including those owned by the E. W. Scripps Company, Hearst-Argyle Television and Cox Broadcasting) refusing to broadcast Saving Private Ryan due to the profanity prevalent throughout the film, which was to be aired unedited in its entirety by the network, and PBS editing obscene language out of certain programs such as the British terrorist drama Dirty War. The ESPN series Playmakers was also immediately forced to be canceled by the NFL following the incident. A commercial from Budweiser, which depicted a man opening a beverage on the outfit's breastplate and tearing it before it was worn, was intended to be aired during Super Bowl XXXIX the following year, but was pulled before its broadcast.
In Canada, where the Super Bowl telecast was broadcast by the Global Television Network, the incident passed largely without controversy: only about 50 Canadians complained about the incident to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC). The CBSC received roughly twice as many complaints about other aspects of the Super Bowl broadcast, including music and advertising issues (though some were expected complaints about Canadian content/simsub issues preventing viewing of the popular American advertisements, which is a common issue among Canadian viewers of the Super Bowl to the present day). Professor Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, stated: "I know many people in other countries are scratching their heads and thinking 'What in the world is the big fuss over there?'"
New Zealand news outlets re-broadcast the "nipplegate" moment (some in slow motion) with commentary explaining that American ultra-conservatives had made the incident into a major controversy. The nation's largest newspaper, the New Zealand Herald, ran an op-ed from a New Zealander living in the US detailing his bafflement at his American friends, who had expressed outrage at the glimpse of nipple while supporting their country's invasion of Iraq and being fans of the television show Sex and the City.
On February 4, Terri Carlin, a banker residing in Knoxville, Tennessee, filed a class action lawsuit against Jackson and Timberlake on behalf of "all American citizens who watched the outrageous conduct". The lawsuit alleged that the halftime show contained "sexually explicit acts solely designed to garner publicity and, ultimately, to increase profits for themselves". The lawsuit sought maximum punitive and compensatory damages from the performers. Carlin later dropped the lawsuit. Three months later, Eric Stephenson, a lawyer from Farmington, Utah, filed a US$5,000 lawsuit in small-claims court against Viacom for false advertising of the Super Bowl halftime show, as he, the father of three young children, claimed that pre-game advertising led him to believe that the halftime show would consist of marching bands, balloons and a patriotic celebration. The lawsuit was rejected because Stephenson should have filed a federal lawsuit or complaint to the FCC, which was already investigating the halftime show.
America Online, the Internet service provider that sponsored the halftime show, demanded a refund of the approximately US$7.5 million that it paid to sponsor and advertise on the halftime show. However, no other advertisers of the Super Bowl had similar demands.
The incident triggered a rash of fines that the FCC levied soon after the Super Bowl, alleging that the context of the "wardrobe malfunction" was intended "to pander, titillate and shock those watching" because it happened within the lyrics within Timberlake's performance of Rock Your Body: "Hurry up 'cause you're taking too long ... better have you naked by the end of this song." In addition, the FCC cited a news article on MTV's website (MTV.com) claiming that the halftime show would promise "shocking moments" and that "officials of both CBS and MTV were well aware of the overall sexual nature of the Jackson/Timberlake segment, and fully sanctioned it – indeed, touted it as 'shocking' to attract potential viewers". CBS, however, argued that the exposure was unplanned, although in later statements CBS asserted that while the exposure was unplanned by CBS, it was deliberately planned by Timberlake and Jackson "independently and clandestinely". On September 22, 2004, the FCC fined Viacom the maximum penalty of US$27,500 for each of the 20 CBS-owned television stations (including satellites of WFRV in Green Bay, WCCO in Minneapolis and KUTV in Salt Lake City; current CBS owned-and-operated station KOVR in Sacramento at the time was owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group) for a fine totaling US$550,000, the largest ever placed against a television broadcaster at that time. However, the Parents Television Council and even some of the FCC commissioners criticized the Commission for fining only 20 CBS stations, not all of them, for the halftime show. 66% of respondents to a March 2005 Time magazine poll believed that the FCC overreacted to the halftime show by fining CBS.
On November 24, 2004, Viacom paid out US$3.5 million to settle outstanding indecency complaints and stated that it would challenge the US$550,000 penalty related to the incident, on the grounds that the broadcast was unintentional and thus exempt from indecency regulation. In March 2006, the FCC affirmed that the Super Bowl halftime show was indecent, so CBS paid the FCC's issued fine in July 2006 in order to take their appeal against their fine to federal court. CBS appealed the fine on September 17 at the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.
On July 21, 2008, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of CBS, voiding the FCC's fine on the grounds that the enforcement involved a significant deviation from prior practice that was not announced as a clear policy change. On May 4, 2009, however, the Supreme Court vacated and remanded the case back to the Third Circuit for reconsideration in light of the previously decided Federal Communications Commission v. Fox Television Stations (2009).
On November 2, 2011, the Third Circuit Court ruled 2–1 that its earlier decision was correct, citing that the broadcast was legal under the FCC's then-current policy of allowing "fleeting" indecency on the airwaves, and that it was unfair of the FCC to change the policy retroactively. On June 29, 2012, the Supreme Court declined an FCC appeal.
Prior to the broadcast, CBS rejected the MoveOn.org Super Bowl ad Bush in 30 Seconds because it was deemed too controversial. CBS stated that it had a "decades-old" policy of rejecting advertisements regarding "controversial issues of public importance", although MoveOn charged that the networks had previously accepted similar advertisements from other groups. The Super Bowl broadcast featured numerous commercials for erectile dysfunction medicines and advertisements for Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light brand featuring a flatulating horse and a dog attacking male genitalia; however, no politically charged advertisements appeared during the telecast. CBS, which also held the rights to Super Bowl XLIV, later aired a commercial during that game featuring then-Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother that discreetly refer to their pro-life viewpoints. The ad, sponsored by Focus on the Family, received similar controversy. In a league-mandated policy meant to clear the airwaves of such advertisements, the NFL announced that those types of commercials would not air again during Super Bowl broadcasts (the league ended an advertising relationship with Levitra in March 2007 as an official league sponsor).
In January 2005, Fox, the network that carried Super Bowl XXXIX under the NFL's alternating network contract for the championship game, rejected an advertisement for the cold remedy Airborne that briefly featured the naked buttocks of veteran actor Mickey Rooney.
Moments after the Jackson-Timberlake tangle, streaker Mark Roberts added to the controversial halftime by running around the field naked except for some writing on his body which read "SUPER BOWEL" on the front, an advertisement for an online betting website, and a well-placed G-string attached to half of a miniature football covering Roberts' genitals. Part of Roberts' stunt was broadcast in the United States; CBS chose to keep its cameras in a wide-shot view of the stadium and use quick cutaways to players and coaches as Roberts ran around the field until players from both competing teams, the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers, tackled him. Matt Chatham, the Patriots' special teams expert and reserve linebacker initially knocked Roberts down, thus allowing stadium security and police to arrest Roberts and take him into custody.
Aside from Jackson's exposure, minor controversy around the show's other performances included rappers P. Diddy and Nelly gesturing towards their crotches, stripping cheerleaders, and musician Kid Rock appearing in a poncho made from a slit American flag, which he later threw towards the audience. U.S. Senator Zell Miller complained that Kid Rock's outfit was a desecration of the American flag.
Website Soap Opera Central speculated that the fallout from this incident may have had a subtle effect on daytime television. These television shows are known for "love in the afternoon" and regularly feature romantic couplings; shortly before the Super Bowl, the Procter & Gamble soap operas As the World Turns and Guiding Light had gone as far as featuring rear male nudity during sexual scenes. After the Super Bowl controversy, FCC commissioner Michael J. Copps stated that it was time for a crackdown on inappropriate sexual content in daytime television, and indicated that he was reviewing whether soap operas were violating the agency's indecency prohibitions.
Two other major sporting events that followed the Super Bowl that year also were forced to censor their respective halftime shows following the incident. The Pro Bowl, which would be played on February 8 at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii, originally was to feature singer JC Chasez, who was a member of boy band 'N Sync as was Timberlake, sing the National Anthem before the game and perform his hit song "Blowin' Me Up (with Her Love)" at halftime. However, the NFL did not allow Chasez to perform during halftime due to the sexually suggestive content of his chosen song (even though the game was carried by ESPN, which is not under the content purview of the FCC as it is a cable network, and therefore only self-regulates content as an advertiser-supported service), replacing it with traditional Hawaiʻian dancers. The 2004 NBA All-Star Game also censored its act, despite being broadcast on TNT (which in reiteration, is not bound by FCC content regulations as a cable network), having halftime performer Beyoncé Knowles perform "Crazy in Love" rather than "Naughty Girl", which they feared would incite controversy given its sexual content. Jackson was in attendance at the game, and dressed conservatively. The networks that were to broadcast the 46th Grammy Awards (CBS) and the 76th Academy Awards (ABC), live events scheduled for February 8 and February 29 respectively, enhanced their broadcast delays to accommodate editing of inappropriate video in addition to audio.
Following these announcements, Guiding Light edited out nudity from an episode that had already been taped. A week later, the show's executive producer John Conboy was fired and replaced by Ellen Wheeler. All nine American network soaps began to impose an unwritten rule of avoiding any sort of risqué adult scenes, and in the months following, editors of soap opera periodical Soap Opera Digest wrote about how daytime television was losing its steam. NBC also re-edited a scene from an episode of its medical drama ER where paramedics were wheeling an elderly woman into the hospital, and her breast could be seen non-explicitly in the context of her injury and treatment. Even as late as Veterans Day (November 11) of 2004, 65 ABC-affiliated stations pre-empted the uncut network presentation of the film Saving Private Ryan over concerns about the film's violent and profane content and FCC regulations. Benjamin Svetkey of Entertainment Weekly quoted L. Brent Bozell III and Peggy Noonan associating the mass pre-emption of Ryan with the halftime show incident. The annual Victoria's Secret Fashion Show was cancelled for that year in reaction to the incident.
Clear Channel Communications, owner of many popular radio stations and affiliated with Super Bowl broadcaster CBS, had also censored or removed many songs from radio following the event, including blacklisting Jackson from receiving airplay as well as focusing on editing rock radio formats in particular. Rolling Stone stated "Stations all over the country, the petition notes, are dropping or editing dozens of songs, including the Who's 'Who Are You,' Lou Reed's 'Walk on the Wild Side,' Pearl Jam's 'Jeremy' and John Mellencamp's 'Jack and Diane.' According to the petition, a Clear Channel programmer combed through the song database for five Denver stations and made changes to everything from Steve Miller's 'Jet Airliner' to Nine Inch Nails' 'Closer.' Cleveland classic-rock station WNCX 98.5 has yanked Warren Zevon's 'Lawyers, Guns and Money,' Pink Floyd's 'Money' and several other classics. 'It's absurd,' says Reed. 'It's like being censored by a squirrel. It's beneath me, it's beneath all these artists. It's done by people who are very pious and stupid.'" Clear Channel Communications also removed talk-radio host Howard Stern from several of its large-market radio stations within a month of the incident, citing the raunchy content of Stern's show. The FCC fined Clear Channel over allegedly indecent content on the Bubba the Love Sponge radio show. As a result of the incident, some networks established regulations requiring time delays of as much as five minutes for live broadcasts such as awards shows and sporting events. In late 2004, the United States House of Representatives passed a bill to raise the maximum FCC fine penalty from said US$27,500 to US$500,000 per violation; the United States Senate voted to decrease it to US$275,000 per incident, with a cap of US$3 million per day. By June 2006, the two houses reconciled the differences in fine levels, settling for a fine of US$325,000 per violation in the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005.
The incident also prompted tighter control over content by station owners and managers. Viacom, at the center of the controversy, also employed the controversial Howard Stern in its radio division (at the time called Infinity Broadcasting). The expanding control on content is said to be a contributing factor that drove Stern away from terrestrial radio and onto Sirius Satellite Radio, and is sometimes credited as the media figure most responsible for introducing a new era in radio. It has also been reported that some teen-oriented awards shows in the summer of 2004 had also been purged of most sexual and profane content that had been perceived as staples in such awards telecasts in the past, including Fox's Teen Choice Awards and MTV's self-created Video Music Awards. Author Frederick S. Lane stated in an interview with John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable magazine that the controversy surrounding the halftime show was the primary inspiration for his 2006 book The Decency Wars: The Campaign to Cleanse American Culture, which explains moral controversies in the American media over the years.
The Super Bowl itself would not feature a modern act for its halftime show for the next six years, opting instead for classic rockers such as Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Prince, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and The Who (McCartney, the Stones and The Who were all part of the British Invasion of the 1960s). In fact, no women performed at the Super Bowl halftime show at all until The Black Eyed Peas performed in 2011.
In 2012, during the halftime show for Super Bowl XLVI, rapper M.I.A. pointed up her middle finger during her performance. That incident drew comparisons with the exposure of Janet Jackson's breast in the Super Bowl halftime show eight years prior. The Associated Press asserted that people learned what M.I.A. did only when reports surfaced in the media and quoted TV critic James Poniewozik: "I had no idea she even did it until NBC issued an apology for it." NBC blurred the entire screen albeit a second too late to obscure M.I.A. giving the finger. The NFL ultimately sued M.I.A. for US$1.5 million on breach of contract grounds. The lawsuit was settled in August 2014 and the terms of the settlement remained private. As an indication of the reduced level of complaints, only 222 complaints were filed over the incident.
Sports would be greatly affected by the controversy. Three weeks later, NASCAR announced at the driver and crew chief meeting at North Carolina Speedway that it would stiffen penalties on use of improper language or gestures including larger fines, loss of points (if it occurred in a post-race interview or after the driver fell out of a race), ejection of a team from the race, or lap penalties (if in-race) under the circuit's "detrimental to NASCAR" rule. Johnny Sauter was fined US$10,000 and 25 points a week after the new rule took in effect for obscene language in an interview. Later in 2004, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. received a 25-point penalty and a US$50,000 fine when he used an obscenity after winning the 2004 EA Sports 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. He lost the championship lead after that incident and lost the championship by 100 points after the incident. In 2007, Tony Stewart received a similar penalty after using an obscenity in a post-race interview following his Brickyard 400 win. Kyle Busch, in November 2010, was fined US$25,000 for an obscene gesture caught on ESPN, along with an in-race two-lap penalty, as the gesture was aimed at a NASCAR official.
The NFL also came under some smaller controversies over its telecasts. The FCC received a complaint about Fox's telecast of a January 2005 playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings; the complainant alleged that Minnesota player Randy Moss, who scored a touchdown, apparently made movements appearing to moon the spectators. However, the FCC denied the complaint because Moss was fully clothed at all times, and his gestures were shown for only a few seconds, thus warranting that the display was not indecent; game announcer Joe Buck also immediately condemned the act (and additionally, Moss was fined by the NFL). On January 13, 2007, during Fox's coverage of an NFL playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles, the camera cut to the stands, showing for four seconds a shirt with the words "Fuck DA EAGLES" that was worn by a female spectator. That drew a backlash from the Parents Television Council, which filed complaints with the FCC.
During NBC's live broadcast of Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009, the five-year anniversary of the original incident, affiliate KVOA-TV's analog broadcast feed (the high definition feed of the station was unaffected) over Comcast's Tucson, Arizona system was interrupted by an unknown party, when an excerpt of a film aired by adult cable channel Shorteez was broadcast for 30 seconds to local Comcast subscribers just after Larry Fitzgerald scored his fourth-quarter touchdown to take the Cardinals to a 23–20 lead. Afterwards, 10 seconds of an end credit segment from ClubJenna (which, like Shorteez, is owned by Playboy Enterprises) was shown. Comcast offered a US$10 credit for customers who claimed to have seen the incident, and the Federal Communications Commission announced that it would investigate the cause of the incident. E! Online columnist Josh Grossberg stated: "This almost makes us nostalgic for the days of Nipplegate."
Frederick S. Lane argued in his 2006 book The Decency Wars that the Super Bowl halftime show controversy influenced the primary focus on "moral values" and "media decency" in the 2004 Democratic Party primaries. Jackson claimed the incident was used in the media as a diversion for President George W. Bush's poor approval ratings and the Iraq War, with Bush and First Lady Laura Bush giving public commentary on the incident rather than focusing on other issues.
Various entertainment companies, including Viacom, which owned MTV, CBS and Infinity Broadcasting at the time, and Clear Channel Communications (which owns music radio broadcasting formats), enforced a blacklist of Jackson's singles and music videos on many music channels and radio stations worldwide; this largely affected her chart performance throughout the course of her eighth studio album Damita Jo released the same year, as well as her following two albums 20 Y.O. and Discipline.
Jackson was intended to appear at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards, which was being held the following week, but her invitation was withdrawn due to the incident. Jackson was originally scheduled to appear as a presenter for a tribute to Luther Vandross, performed by Celine Dion, Richard Marx and Alicia Keys, and was chosen due to previously collaborating with Vandross on the #1 hit "The Best Things in Life Are Free". According to People Magazine, Jackson "had been slated to speak before the accolade but was being pressured to bow out gracefully – or face being uninvited", before later being completely barred from attending. However, Timberlake was still allowed to attend and perform at the event. The majority of the artists at the ceremony were also asked to comment on Jackson's incident. Jackson had also been cast to play Lena Horne in a movie about the singer and activist's life, which was to be produced by ABC, but was forced to resign following the performance incident. A statue of Mickey Mouse wearing Jackson's iconic "Rhythm Nation" outfit was mantled at Walt Disney World theme park the previous year to honor Jackson's legacy, but was removed following Jackson's controversial performance. A spokesman for Disney said, "Considering all the controversy [the performance] drew, we talked it over for a couple of days and decided it would be best to replace hers with a new one."
In her first interview since the incident, Jackson appeared on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman on March 29, 2004, which increased the show's ratings over 20%. In April 2004, Jackson poked fun at herself in an appearance on Saturday Night Live, first while playing Condoleezza Rice in a skit, nervously answering a question by exposing her right breast (which was pixelated by NBC), and again by viewing a mock home video from her childhood in which her bathing suit top came off in a wading pool, calling it a "swimsuit malfunction". An NBC spokesman said Jackson was wearing a bra beneath her blouse during the skit. During a performance on ABC's Good Morning America, the network promoted Jackson's appearance as her "first live performance since the Super Bowl", hinting at the chance of shock value. Blender Magazine recalled "Photographers and camera crews are packed in, in case Jackson decides to show us the left one. And if all eyes (and cameras) are on her chest, Jackson, 38, responds defiantly by refusing to cloak her breasts in a modest turtleneck. The cleavage is her way of saying 'fuck you.'" In 2006, during an interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Jackson upheld her claim that the Super Bowl scandal was an accident.
Janet Jackson's first album released following the Super Bowl incident was Damita Jo, her eighth studio album. A majority of the reviews for the album, including those by AllMusic, the BBC, Entertainment Weekly, The Guardian and The New York Times focused on the negative backlash suffered by Jackson as a result of the incident but gave favorable reviews to the album itself. Blender Magazine considered the album's success to be "a minor-chord "F-you" victory to the wolves nipping at Janet's tits."
Despite the blacklisting, Damita Jo was a success and certified Platinum, selling over three million copies worldwide and also receiving a Grammy nomination. Singles from the album like "Just a Little While" and "All Nite (Don't Stop)" reached #1 on the Hot Dance Club Songs chart. Although receiving positive reception, the incident also affected the performance of following albums 20 Y.O. and Discipline due to the blacklist. However, 20 Y.O. managed to sell over 1.5 million copies worldwide, was certified Platinum in the US and received a Grammy nomination. Additionally, "Feedback" reached the top 20 pop hit on the Billboard Hot 100, selling one million copies worldwide. Subsequent releases "Make Me" peaked atop the Hot Dance Club Songs and top 20 internationally; "Nothing" reached #1 on the digital pop and music video charts, also considered for an Oscar nomination.
Immediately following the incident Timberlake jokingly dismissed it, telling the inquisitive press: "[Jackson and I] love giving you all something to talk about." His attitude quickly changed as the scandal grew into a serious controversy. People Magazine stated Timberlake was referred to as "the Teflon man" at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards because the incident did not affect him as it did with Jackson. In a 2006 interview with MTV, Timberlake said that compared to the huge backlash Jackson suffered, he himself received only about 10% of the blame; and he accused American society of being both "harsher on women" and "unfairly harsh on ethnic people". Prior to plans for the Super Bowl performance, Jackson and Timberlake had discussed potentially recording a duet for Jackson's Damita Jo album, as well as a rumored collaboration for a Quincy Jones album, though neither came to fruition. In November 2013, Timberlake performed a cover of Jackson's "Let's Wait Awhile" on The 20/20 Experience World Tour before transitioning into his song "Until the End of Time", which was regarded as a sign of affection or apology to Jackson.
Media commentators stated Jackson was treated too harshly by the media and public, while Timberlake's career was not affected much by the incident. Shannon L. Holland in Women's Studies in Communication argued that the media reaction after the incident focused disproportionately on Jackson, "represent[ing] her as a contemporary Jezebel in that her racial and gendered Otherness was often juxtaposed with the 'normalcy' of Timberlake's white masculinity. That is, she emerged in a public discourse as the primary (if not sole) instigator of the lewd act, a scheming seductress who manipulated Timberlake for her own economic gain." In 2014, former FCC chairman Michael Powell, who had enforced fines on the conglomerates involved with the broadcast following the incident, stated: "I personally thought that was really unfair. It all turned into being about her. In reality, if you slow the thing down, it's Justin ripping off her breastplate." Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone stated "Justin isn't exactly Mr. Loyalty -- he totally left Janet Jackson to take the heat after the Super Bowl.'" E! Online also commented "Timberlake wasted no time placing the bulk of the blame for the incident on Jackson. And, of course, the woman takes the blame even though the man stripped her. Pathetically typical." A reporter for VH1 said "JT still gets a side eye for leaving her out to dry."
One observer claimed "Despite her 'wardrobe malfunction' – for which we think Justin Timberlake wasn't punished nearly as severely for – Janet put on a pretty amazing show." The New York Times noted "[a]fter her right breast upstaged the Super Bowl, she was criticized by the first lady, vilified by media executives and abandoned by her co-conspirator, Justin Timberlake; less excitable commentators suggested she was merely a shrewd publicity-stunt woman with a new album to promote." Jackson's parents, Joe and Katherine Jackson, also expressed concern that Timberlake did not stand by Janet following the incident, commenting, "What I didn't like is there wasn't one person on that stage, there were two people. After a while, there was only Janet Jackson. That's all there was. Janet Jackson," adding "Janet don't pull that thing open herself. He did it. We were surprised that they didn't say anything to Justin about it."
Timberlake would eventually be invited back to the Super Bowl halftime show when he was named headlining act for the Super Bowl LII halftime show in February 2018. During his performance, Timberlake again sang a portion of "Rock Your Body," but stopped right before reaching the "I'm gonna have you naked by the end of this song" lyric, saying "hold up! Stop!" and smiling. Some commentators interpreted this as a subtle reference to the 2004 incident.
Pop singer Katy Perry parodied Jackson's Super Bowl incident in the music video for her single "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" during a scene where Perry's breast is accidentally exposed at a school event. Jackson's incident is also recreated in Eminem's "Ass Like That" music video. The controversy and sexual nature surrounding Miley Cyrus' performance of "We Can't Stop" and "Blurred Lines"/"Give It 2 U" with guest artist Robin Thicke at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards was likened to Jackson's performance with Timberlake at the Super Bowl event.
The term "wardrobe malfunction", which was developed to describe Jackson's incident in a public statement and was later added to the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, has influenced media by frequently being used by various entertainers and publications when describing revealing outfits or, more so, accidental public exposures or nudity. The term's frequent usage following the incident has led to numerous entertainment outlets compiling various celebrity "wardrobe malfunctions", with Jackson included in the lists as the most infamous example and originator of the term.
Several songs have mentioned Jackson's performance, most notably Drake in Birdman's "Money to Blow" and Eminem's "Ass Like That", as well as Drake's "Zone", Tyga's "Tyga Montana", 50 Cent's "Just a Touch", Kanye West in Mase's "Be Alright (Welcome Back Remix)", Tech N9ne's "Pornographic" and "Flash", T-Pain's "Therapy", Chamillionaire's "Talking That Talk", and Common in Jadakiss's "Why? (Remix) and in Lil Wayne's "Grindin"".
Justin Timberlake referenced the incident when ripping off part of Kristen Wiig's outfit during an appearance on Saturday Night Live in 2009. The Family Guy episode "PTV" was written as a parody of the FCC's strict measures and regulations following Jackson's Super Bowl halftime show performance controversy. A scene from the episode involving the fictional portrayal of an extreme reaction to actor David Hyde Pierce having a wardrobe malfunction at the Emmy Awards was also a recreation and reference to the incident. Jackson's performance is again referenced in a brief scene where Peter Griffin is dressed in Jackson's Super Bowl outfit and has his breast exposed by Justin Timberlake during the musical number "The Freaking FCC". The song itself was introduced when Lois called the FCC in response to a PTV show called "The Side Boob Hour." The episode received Primetime Emmy Award and Annie Award nominations for its subject matter. Jackson's performance also inspired the South Park episode "Good Times with Weapons". In the episode, the show's creators draw attention to the media and public's unnecessary reaction to Jackson's brief exposure while disregarding or accepting extreme acts of violence during a scene where the public is outraged when Eric Cartman is seen naked and having a "wardrobe malfunction" on stage, while character Butters Stotch is ignored although he is bleeding and severely injured. Several game shows have also mentioned Jackson's performance.
Several presenters at award shows have referenced the incident, including Anna Nicole Smith at the first annual MTV Australia Video Music Awards, Dave Chappelle at the MTV Video Music Awards, and singer Alanis Morissette at the Juno Awards, commenting, "It's disturbing and curious to me to see what came of that. We're all sexual beings, and if we don't let it out organically, we repress ourselves. If we repress anger, it turns to depression. If we repress our sexuality, it turns to pornography and rape. To think that the country was in an uproar because of a nipple." Comedian Russell Brand referenced the incident when hosting the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards, saying "I can almost guarantee a Janet Jackson-style Super Bowl nip slip."
The Super Bowl XXXVIII incident is considered to be the most controversial television and media event to occur within popular culture, and Jackson was regarded as the world's "most controversial musician" who was "changing the cultural landscape" due to the incident's massive effect on censorship and broadcasting in television and entertainment. The performance incident made "Janet Jackson" the most searched term, event and image in Internet history. Jackson was later listed in the 2007 edition of Guinness World Records as "Most Searched in Internet History" and the "Most Searched for News Item". It also broke the record for "most searched event over one day". 'Janet Jackson' also became the most searched term and person for 2004 and also of the following year. It also set a record for being the most watched, recorded and replayed moment on TiVo. A company representative stated "The audience measurement guys have never seen anything like it. The audience reaction charts looked like an electrocardiogram." Monte Burke of Forbes magazine reported, "[t]he fleeting moment enticed an estimated 35,000 new [TiVo] subscribers to sign up." Janet's Super Bowl halftime incident also coined the phrase "wardrobe malfunction", which was later officially added to the Webster's English Dictionary in 2008. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Entertainment Weekly stated "Radio stations rushed to add Jackson's new single, "Just a Little While" to playlists on Monday following the incident [...] And USA Today reports that jewelry stores and piercing studios are seeing increased customer interest in silver sunburst-shaped nipple shields."
YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim revealed that his frustration at not being able to easily find a video clip of the incident provided the inspiration for the creation of YouTube, and later of Vevo. The launch of Facebook commenced three days following the incident, in a potential attempt to capitalize on its publicity through social networking.
Rolling Stone stated Jackson's Super Bowl performance "is far and away the most famous moment in the history of the Super Bowl halftime show". PopCrush called the performance "one of the most shocking moments in pop culture" as well as a "totally unexpected and unforgettable moment". Gawker ranked the performance among the most recent of the "10 Shows that Advanced Sex on Television", commenting the set "had all the elements of a huge story" and "within seconds the world searched furtively for pictures", concluding "it remains so ubiquitous, it's impossible to look at a starburst nipple shield without thinking "Janet Jackson"". E! Online ranked it among the top ten most shocking celebrity moments of the prior two decades. A study of television's most impactful moments of the last 50 years conducted by Sony Electronics and the Nielsen Television Research Company ranked Jackson's Super Bowl performance at #26. The incident was the only Super Bowl event on the list and the highest music and entertainment event aside from the death of Whitney Houston. TV Guide Network ranked it at #2 in a 2010 special listing the "25 Biggest TV Blunders". Complex stated "It's the Citizen Kane of televised nip-slips – so unexpected, and on such a large stage, that nothing else will ever come close. If Beyoncé were to whip out both breasts and put on a puppet show with them when she performs this year in New Orleans, it would rate as just the second most shocking Super Boob display. Janet's strangely ornamented right nipple is a living legend, and so is Justin Timberlake's terrified reaction." Music channel Fuse listed it as the most controversial Super Bowl halftime show, saying the "revealing performance remains (and will forever remain) the craziest thing to ever happen at a halftime show. Almost immediately after the incident, the FCC received a flood of complaints from parents who just wanted their children to enjoy a nice, wholesome three hours of grown men inflicting damaging and long-lasting pain on each other for sport. Halftime shows would never be the same." Patrick Gipson of Bleacher Report ranked it as #1 in its list of the most "Jaw Dropping Moments of the Last Decade", stating Janet "changed the landscape of live television forever". Gipson explained "It prompted a million mothers to cover their childrens' eyes, fathers and sons to jump out of their seats in shock and numerous sanctions by the Federal Communications Commission, including a US$550,000 fine against CBS. Talk about a halftime show that will be hard to top." The incident was also declared "the most memorable Super Bowl halftime show in history", as well as "the most controversial", adding "you can't talk about this halftime show, or any subsequent halftime show from here to eternity, without mentioning the wardrobe malfunction".