FCC Investigation into ‘Late Show’ Monologue Joke Yields Precious Little
Stephen Colbert has earned his comedy street cred by being thoroughly brash, brazen, iconoclastic and courageous. Nevertheless, the CBS viewership is still becoming acquainted by his sometimes off-color remarks. In a May 1 broadcast, Colbert aptly likened the President to basically being “Vladmir Putin’s cock holster.”
Fallout was fast. Trump supporters flooded the FCC with complaints. Luckily for all concerned, the FCC determined that Colbert violated no “decency” provisions in his broadcast. The only damage done was seemingly to the fragility of Trump’s ego and his base, but then again, we’re all getting used to that.
Colbert’s slew of frat-boy remarks culminated in a crack that the only thing Trump’s mouth is good for “is being Vladimir Putin’s [expletive] holster.” The naughty word was bleeped in the broadcast, and Colbert’s mouth was pixelated. But, intrepid journalists, who are paid to ferret out the truth, discovered what was the word, and they printed it – minus the offending syllable, of course.
All hell broke loose.
Trump called Colbert “no-talent guy.” Colbert’s monologue was plastered by some as inappropriately vulgar, by others as homophobic. The FCC received thousands of complaints. Reporters breathlessly reported Colbert was under FCC investigation, and a good time was had by all.
Today, however, the FCC put an end to the fun, saying in a statement: “Consistent with standard operating procedure, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has reviewed the complaints and the material that was the subject of these complaints.”
Programs that air on broadcast TV stations before 10 PM are subject to fine if the FCC determines they are “indecent.” Colbert’s show, however, airs in late-night, when the threshold is “obscene,” which the FCC defines as content that “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.”
Monday’s fiery monologue was plastered by some as inappropriately vulgar, by others as homophobic. It had been Colbert’s on-air response to Trump having insulted CBS newsman John Dickerson during an interview broadcast that morning. Among the president’s on-air remarks, he accused the Face The Nation host of disseminating fake news, calling the program Deface The Nation.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai got way too much attention for telling a radio interviewer earlier this month that the agency would be following “standard operating procedures” by reviewing indecency complaints. Unsurprisingly, given that the hours between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. are considered to be a “safe harbor” zone for broadcasters, the FCC later concluded there was “nothing actionable.”
So why is it now coming up?
The FCC is reviewing the transfers of licenses in a merger between CBS Radio and Entercom.
One of the objectors is Ed Stolz, the head of Royce International Broadcasting, which owns some radio stations in California. He has filed a petition to deny, but after the controversial Late Show episode aired — which led to a #FireColbert backlash on social media — Stolz requested the opportunity to submit new information based on what Colbert said.
For many reasons, including the shrinking agency highlighted here, that probably won’t occur, but nevertheless, CBS saw fit to respond to Stolz.
The broadcaster makes another point beyond safe harbors.
“CBS bleeped and obscured Colbert’s mouth at the point where Stolz alleges that Colbert uttered an obscenity so that a viewer could not hear or even lip-read what he said,” writes CBS’ lawyer. “Thus, the allegedly obscene expression was never broadcast.”
The comment then refers to the FCC’s announcement that the broadcast wasn’t actionable. One of the footnoted citations in CBS’ comment is the Parents Television Council.
“It was crude. It was indecent,” stated the PTC. “But it was protected speech. The FCC’s decision not to sanction CBS for Stephen Colbert’s May 1st monologue on The Late Show was the proper outcome…”
Source: The Hollywood Reporter