For 70 minutes, the new New York Times Presents documentary Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson digs deep into one of the 21st century’s most controversial moments: the 9/16th of a second reveal of Janet Jackson’s nipple during the 2004 Super Bowl. One big detail delivered by the doc’s new reporting on the incident and its aftermath may explain in part the major discrepancy between how Jackson and Justin Timberlake were treated at the time: Les Moonves’ ego.
That year, both the Super Bowl and the 46th annual Grammy Awards aired on CBS, and in the week between the two events, Jackson issued multiple apologies for the Super Bowl show. But Moonves, as the chairman and CEO of CBS at the time, wasn’t satisfied and initially banned both Jackson and Timberlake from attending the Grammys — except that Timberlake did end up appearing at the ceremony, performing twice and winning multiple awards.
Malfunction reveals the details behind why Timberlake was able to appear at the Grammys while Jackson was not: While it had been previously reported that Moonves originally banned both performers from the ceremony, what the documentary discloses is that Moonves actually demanded private, in-person apologies from both of them (on top of the numerous public apologies that had already been made).
According to Times reporter Rachel Abrams in the documentary, Moonves “wanted an apology from Janet Jackson, he wanted it in person… and he did not get it.” Meanwhile, she said, “Timberlake showed up at the CBS offices in Los Angeles and gave that apology and basically kissed the ring.”