The FCC has decided against taking any action on Stephen Colbert’s May 1 Late Show broadcast, in which he treated President Donald Trump to a series of increasingly Rabelaisian insults, in response to on-air insults Trump had delivered earlier in the day to CBS News-man John Dickerson.
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.”
“The Bureau has concluded that there was nothing actionable under the FCC’s rules.”
In rough numbers, the FCC was saying that programs airing on broadcast TV stations before 10 PM are subject to fine if the commission determines they are “indecent.” Shows that run in late-night, however, have a different threshold: content must be ruled “obscene” for stations to be fined. FCC defines obscene 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.”
Here’s the monologue that launched a thousand complaints: