Stephen Colbert probably did not anticipate such an explosive reaction to his risqué joke about President Trump's, er, relation to Vladimir Putin. On Monday on his show Late Night, Colbert said this about Trump: "In fact, the only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s c–-k holster.” As it is wont to do in response to controversy, the internet lit up with opinions, much of it calling for the proverbial head of Colbert.
The hashtag #FireColbert hit the Twitter trending list and is still going strong. Users tweeting in support of this idea fall more or less into two camps. For some, there was a decidedly homophobic tinge to Colbert's joke, as it appears to riff on the idea that a weak or insecure person (Trump) is also a gay person. There were others who apparently found the language and innuendo simply inappropriate. Colbert is the successor of David Letterman who, like other late night luminaries of American past and present, had a certain PG-rated standard he mostly stuck with.
Another subset of users seemed to feel the joke crossed a line for what is acceptable to say about a president. (CBS has not yet made a statement about the controversy.)
By Wednesday, the #FireColbert hashtag had been taken over by supporters of the host, who often pointed out that many of those who want Colbert taken off the air support Trump, who has made plenty of offensive comments of his own. Many were also skeptical of the sincerity of those who decried Colbert for being homophobic, citing at times the policies espoused by Vice President Mike Pence. As most have come to expect from social media, reactions broke down along partisan lines, though there were some exceptions.
Colbert's lewd joke came in a segment where he was coming to the defense of Face the Nation host John Dickerson. On Sunday, Trump's interview with Dickerson included a few swipes the president took at his interviewer, saying he enjoyed calling the show "Deface the Nation." It's doubtful Dickerson, or anyone else at CBS, took it personally, since Trump is a regular critic of just about any mainstream journalistic outlet, including individual reporters themselves.
But Colbert did seem to take offense at Trump's treatment of his fellow CBS colleague, and appears to be comfortable with his segment. It's still posted on the his show's Twitter feed, "c--k holster" bit included:
The press is in a bit of Catch-22 situation at the moment. They are tasked with covering the presidency objectively, while at the same time weathering almost daily attacks from the White House. If the news media stands up for itself, it risks being perceived as biased. But if it stays silent and allows arguably the most powerful person in the country to ridicule and level unsubstantiated attacks against it, that reticence could lend credibility to Trump's accusations.
Colbert has apparently had it with all that. Whether or not his joke offended some viewers, an apology from him does not look at all likely at the moment.