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Last Night on Late Night

FCC won't take action over Stephen Colbert's Trump joke

Updated

Richard Boeth/CBS

Stephen Colbert is in the clear.

The Federal Communications Commission has reviewed complaints about the Late Show host’s notorious May 1 joke suggesting a sexual relationship between President Trump and Vladimir Putin and determined that no action will be taken in response.

“Consistent with standard operating procedure, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has reviewed the complaints and the material that was the subject of these complaints,” FCC spokesperson Neil Grace said in a statement to EW. “The bureau has concluded that there was nothing actionable under the FCC’s rules.”

Colbert’s controversial remarks came during a tirade in which he called Trump “the presi-dunce” and “a real prick-tator,” then asserted that “the only thing [Trump’s] mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s c–kholster.”

Colbert was bleeped on the broadcast and his mouth was blurred, but the FCC received thousands of complaints about the episode. The monologue sparked a backlash online under the hashtag #FireColbert, and some critics found the “c–kholster” joke homophobic.

Colbert addressed the criticism in a subsequent monologue, acknowledging that some of his words “were cruder than they needed to be.” But as for insulting Trump, he said, “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.”

The Late Show airs late enough that it is exempt from the FCC’s policies on “profane” and “indecent” content. “Obscene” content is prohibited at all hours, but Colbert’s joke apparently didn’t rise to that level.

UPDATE: The Parents Television Council, a media watchdog group, issued a statement commending the FCC’s decision not to take action against Colbert.

“It was crude. It was indecent. But it was protected speech,” the statement said. “The FCC’s decision not to sanction CBS for Stephen Colbert’s May 1 monologue on the Late Show was the proper outcome. The audio of the profane broadcast was muted and Colbert’s mouth was pixilated. And even more importantly, the broadcast aired after 10 p.m. in all time zones, which is outside the reach of the FCC’s longstanding broadcast indecency enforcement oversight.

“We applaud the FCC’s decision on this matter, and we call on CBS and all broadcast networks to uniformly adopt a mute button and pixilation for live broadcasts during primetime hours as well. If we learned anything new from this incident, it’s that the networks can take protective measures if they so choose.”