Stephen Colbert’s controversial Trump joke has drawn the interest of the federal government. Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, confirmed in an interview with Talk Radio 1210 WPHT that the agency is investigating the Late Show host’s remarks after receiving “a number” of complaints. The FCC is looking into the matter to determine whether the joke should be considered “obscene.”
“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 explained. “Traditionally, the agency has to decide, if it does find a violation, what the appropriate remedy should be. A fine of some sort is typically what we do.”
On Monday night, Colbert raged against President Trump in response to his dismissive treatment of CBS News’ John Dickerson. (Note: Dickerson is also a co-host of the Slate Political Gabfest.) “You have more people marching against you than cancer; you talk like a sign-language gorilla that got hit in the head,” he cracked, angrily, in his opening monologue. “In fact, the only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s cock holster.” The latter statement has been met with accusations of homophobia and led to a #FireColbert Twitter campaign on the political right. Colbert later defended the joke while admitting to some “regret” over his choice of words.
For the comment to be considered an obscenity, it must meet a three-tier test as determined by the Supreme Court. The FCC’s official definition reads as follows: “It must appeal to an average person’s prurient interest; depict or describe sexual conduct in a ‘patently offensive’ way; and, taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
Update: This post has been updated to include John Dickerson’s relationship to Slate.