Pai: FCC Will Investigate Any Complaints Over Colbert's Comments

FCC chairman Ajit Pai told Fox Business Network's Neil Cavuto that he has yet to see the clip of Stephen Colbert's comments about President Donald Trump on Monday's show, but he said that "if we do get complaints, we will look at the facts that are alleged and apply the law, and the law has one set of rules with respect to indecency that apply before 10 p.m., and after 10 p.m. there is a set of rules related to obscenity that apply."

Those comments do not signal in and of themselves any particular predisposition since the FCC historically investigates such complaints as a matter of course, though Pai did say that the FCC regulates "obscene language" after 10 p.m.

Colbert's comments, which included an oral sex reference and calling the President "BLOATUS," "presidunce," and "pricktator," came after 10 p.m., so would not be considered under the indecency rules, and came in the course of stinging criticism of the very public figure of a very controversial President, so would be highly unlikely to meet the much-higher bar for obscenity, which must be utterly without redeeming social importance.

Asked if he was offended, Pai said he had not seen the clip and did not want to pre-judge. But, if offense was Colbert's intent to make a political point, obscenity would be an extremely high legal bar to surmount, though veteran Republican strategist Karl Rove said he thought it was obscene.

Colbert's comments drew fire as well as praise on social media, prompting him to weigh in on his Monday monologue, calling them "choice insults" that he did not regret. "I believe he can take care of himself. I have jokes, he has the launch codes." But he did say if he had to do it over again he would change some words that were "cruder than they needed to be," addressing the criticism that his remark about Trump and Vladimir Putin had been homophobic.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.