Why Is Stephen Colbert Being Investigated By The FCC? The Agency Received Complaints
A lot of comedians have ripped into Donald Trump over the last two years, but one of them is in hot water this week after some claim he went too far. The Federal Communications Commission is investigating Stephen Colbert for his potentially profane comments during a show last week. (Bustle has reached out to CBS and The Late Show for comment.)
Since the 1970s, the FCC has been tasked with regulating the nation's airwaves, and one of its main responsibilities is making sure that what's on public access media is generally suitable for all ages. During an interview on the Philadelphia talk radio program The Rich Zeoli Show, FCC chairman Ajit Pai confirmed that the agency is launching an investigation against allegedly homophobic comments that Colbert made about Trump during a recent monologue on The Late Show.
"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 and other courts and we'll take the appropriate action," Pai said during the interview.
"We have received a number of complaints, as I said, and we'll follow the standard operating procedures, as we always do, and make sure we evaluate what the facts are and apply the law fairly and fully."
Launching an investigation into Colbert is certainly within the agency's purview, but the potential conflict of interest is embedded within the subject matter. Comedians have rarely been so brazen in criticizing the president, and any action out of the ordinary by the FCC could create an entirely new controversy.
The agency's regular enforcement of the profanity rules may protect it from having to engage much further with the situation anyway. According to the FCC website, "the Commission's rules prohibit the broadcast of indecent material during the period of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.," because that's when children are most likely to be watching television. Since Colbert airs at 11:30 p.m. on the East Coast, it might be spared the fine.
Yet the agency does still seem to have discretion to enforce a fine, or harsher punishment, on CBS for Colbert's words. Some called for the late night host to be fired due to the nature of his comment, and there is a segment of the country that wants at least some kind of punishment for the comment, so the FCC could interpret that as a public mandate to action. (Bustle has reached out to the FCC for comment.)
Whatever the FCC decides to do, it's unlikely to have a strong effect on CBS. The agency certainly doesn't have the authority to fire Colbert, who said he might have used some different words if he were to tell the joke again, and it doesn't seem like the network is interested in firing him either.
Plus, the maximum profanity fine that the FCC can levy against a network is $325,000, according to Reuters. That certainly won't break the bank for CBS, so the whole situation could fade without much of a change in the status quo.
However, the larger issue about what's OK when criticizing a politician like Trump will likely still remain.