Why Is The FCC Opening An Investigation Into Stephen Colbert?

Photo: Gail Schulman/CBS.
The Federal Communications Commission has initiated an investigation of Stephen Colbert after a controversial joke about Donald Trump.
Colbert, the host of the Late Show on CBS, made what some consider a homophobic slur amongst a slew of insults directed at Trump during his monologue on Monday night. According to TIME, Colbert’s comments came in response to Trump’s treatment of friend and fellow CBS employee John Dickerson during a recent interview discussing Trump’s first 100 days as President. The Chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai has spoken on the record to explain the cause for the investigation.
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“I have had a chance to see the clip now and so, as we get complaints, and we’ve gotten a number of them,” Chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai said in an interview on the The Rich Zeoli Show on 1210 WPHT. “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 told radio host Rich Zeoli. Adding that this is “the standard operating procedures,” Pai asserted that they are making sure to “evaluate what the facts are and apply the law fairly and fully.”
In an interview with Fox Business Network, the Chairman explained that the FCC flags speech it considers indecent before 10 p.m., after which point they look for content that is considered obscene. Given that The Late Show airs at 11:35 p.m. ET, Colbert’s comment must meet a three-tier Supreme Court test to be labeled obscene. This three-tiered test, known as The Miller Test, includes the following criteria:
“(1) whether ‘the average person, applying contemporary community standards’ would find that the work, ‘taken as a whole,’ appeals to ‘prurient interest’ (2) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and (3) whether the work, ‘taken as a whole,’ lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
After the hashtag #FireColbert had began trending across social media, the late night host defended his comments saying, "I had a few choice insults for the President. I don't regret that. He, I believe, can take care of himself. I have jokes; he has the launch codes. So, it's a fair fight.”
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In regards to the comment being received as homophobic, the talk show host said that in hindsight he "would change a few words that were cruder than they needed to be." He added, ”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. I think we can all agree on that. I hope even the President and I can agree on that. Nothing else. But, that."
If Colbert’s comment is deemed obscene by the FCC, Chairman Ajit Pai said, “Traditionally, the agency has to decide, if it does find a violation, what the appropriate remedy should be,” he explained during his interview on The Rich Zeoli Show. "A fine, of some sort, is typically what we do.”
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