TV host Stephen Colbert recently responded to President Donald Trump’s insulting remarks to CBS reporter John Dickerson with a slew of invective of his own. Now, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says his Commission is looking into complaints that the Late Show host’s remarks may have violated obscenity regulations.
During an April 30 Face the Nation interview with Dickerson, President Trump brought up his oft-used “fake news” claim about any media reports he disagrees with. He cited Dickerson’s show in particular, referring to it as “Deface the Nation.”
This didn’t sit well with fellow CBS personality Colbert, who took it upon himself to respond, with a string of insults about Trump, calling him a “presidunce,” and a “pricktator,” and — in a bleeped-out comment — claiming that the President orally pleases Russian leader Vladimir Putin:
Colbert faced immediate backlash online from Trump supporters, and others who contend that his comments were homophobic. The host has not apologized for his monologue, though he did say the next day that he probably would have used some less-crude words if he did it all over again.
“I have jokes; he has the launch codes,” said Colbert. “So, it’s a fair fight.”
Trump also has the executive branch of the federal government. FCC Chair Pai recently confirmed his agency is looking into the remarks after receiving complaints from the public.
“I have had a chance to see the clip now and so, as we get complaints, and we’ve gotten a number of them,” Pai told WPHT-AM radio in Philadelphia. “We are going to take the facts that we find and we are going to apply the law as it’s been set out by the Supreme Court and other courts and we’ll take the appropriate action.”
The FCC has three types of no-no content for broadcast TV shows:
• Profane content: This is your typical “no vulgar language” prohibition. FCC regulation of these kinds of violations only apply to broadcast TV and only before 10 p.m.
• Indecent content: This is more about depictions of “sexual or excretory organs or activities” that don’t quite meet the definition of obscene. This usually means no bared boobs or butts, but again only pre-10 p.m.
• Obscene content: There is a three-pronged test for obscenity, per the FCC: “It must appeal to an average person’s prurient interest; depict or describe sexual conduct in a ‘patently offensive’ way; and, taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”
Because of the time-limited prohibitions on indecent or profane content, the only option would be for the FCC to consider whether this monologue was obscene. It seems unlikely that Colbert’s comments — however inappropriate one might find them — rise to that, but if the FCC were to rule against him, Pai says that a fine would be the most likely result.