Regulators are reviewing a lewd joke made by “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert this week involving President Trump and his Russian counterpart, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission confirmed Thursday.
The FCC has received several complaints concerning Mr. Colbert’s recent quip and will considered whether it violated any law against broadcasting “obscene” content, Chairman Ajit Pai said in a radio interview Thursday.
“I have had a chance to see the clip now and so, as we get complaints, and we’ve gotten a number of them, 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,” he told Talk Radio 1210 WPHT Thursday.
Mr. Colbert provoked a firestorm this week by using crude language in a joke targeting Mr. Trump on Monday after the president insulted the CBS News program “Face the Nation” and its host, John Dickerson. Nearing the end of his nightly monologue, Mr. Colbert unleashed at length against Mr. Trump, concluding: “The only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s [obscene term for a male sexual organ] holster.”
The comment, while bleeped during broadcast, triggered instant backlash including calls for Mr. Colbert’s termination and, according to the FCC, numerous complaints.
“We review all consumer complaints as a matter of standard practice and rely on the law to determine whether action is warranted,” an agency spokesperson clarified to CNN this week. “The fact that a complaint is reviewed doesn’t speak one way or another as to whether it has any merit.”
Federal law prohibits broadcasters from airing content deemed indecent or profane between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. “The Late Show” airs in most markets at 11:30 p.m., however, meaning the FCC must only consider whether the host’s quip can be categorized as “obscene” if and when it decides to react, as obscene material is barred regardless of the hour.
The Supreme Court has laid out a three-part test for obscenity that requires the offending material to appeal to the average person’s prurient interests, to be “patently offensive” and, as a whole, lack “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”
“Traditionally, the agency has to decide, if it does find a violation, what the appropriate remedy should be,” Mr. Pai said in Thursday’s interview. “A fine, of some sort, is typically what we do.”
“[W]e have the rules on the books that I’m duty bound to enforce and I’m committed to enforcing them,” he added.
Mr. Colbert defended against the backlash brought on by Monday’s joke afterwards and said in a subsequent broadcast he had no regrets for targeting the president.
“I’m not going to repeat the phrase, but I just want to say for the record, life is short, and anyone who expresses their love for another person, in their own way, is to me, an American hero,” Mr. Colbert said Wednesday.
CBS declined to comment on the chairman’s remarks, Vanity Fair reported.