By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated February 03, 2004 07:39 PM

Clearly seeking to distance itself from the spectacle of Janet Jackson’s bared breast, MTV is pointing the finger of blame at the 37-year-old singer herself, the head of the cable music network said on Tuesday.

“Janet Jackson engineered it,” Tom Freston, chief executive for the network (which produced the Super Bowl halftime show), told Reuters in an interview.

“Credit” for the stunt comes two days after the widespread outrage over Justin Timberlake tearing off half of Jackson’s black leather bustier near the finish of their song — and a day after the FCC vowed to probe the incident and possibly fine CBS if it violated guidelines regarding broadcast standards and practices.

Meanwhile, organizers for the Grammy Awards on Tuesday denied reports that they were planning to yank Timberlake and Jackson from Sunday’s ceremony.

As for MTV’s stance, Freston tells Reuters that Timberlake was informed of the stunt just moments before he took the stage with Jackson.

“There’s now going to be an FCC investigation into the nipple,” Freston told reporters at a news conference.

Jackson, 37, released her own statement Monday night accepting blame for flashing the nearly 90 million Super Bowl viewers, but adding that the stunt simply went further than she had intended. Jackson’s rep said Timberlake was supposed to rip off the top layer of her outfit, revealing a red lace bra underneath.

But instead, everything came off — except for a sun-shaped nipple ring.

Freston said neither CBS nor the National Football League has rescinded or demanded a refund of MTV’s production fees. But sources familiar with the situation told Reuters that the incident could possibly cost CBS and the NFL millions of dollars.

The news service also reports that America Online (which, like PEOPLE, is part of Time Warner), may now seek a partial refund of the estimated $10 million it paid as a major Super Bowl advertiser and exclusive halftime show sponsor.

“While AOL was the sponsor of the Super Bowl Halftime Show, we did not produce it,” the company said in a statement. “Like the NFL, we were surprised and disappointed with certain elements of the show.”

AOL said the exposure of Jackson’s breast means it cannot now broadcast the halftime extravaganza on its Web site for its 25 million subscribers and visitors.

In other fallout, Tuesday’s New York Post claimed in an unsubstantiated report that Timberlake and Jackson may be banned from Sunday’s Grammy ceremony, but a rep for the Grammys tells Reuters the two will appear, as scheduled.

In addition, McDonald’s Corp. (which uses Timberlake as a pitchman) called the Super Bowl incident inappropriate but asserted that it would stand behind the 23-year-old singer.