Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, poured gasoline on an internet firestorm Thursday, when he announced that his agency would be determining whether Stephen Colbert's oral sex joke violated any guidelines.
"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 told WPHT, a Philadelphia-based radio station.
Stephen Colbert earned the ire of Donald Trump supporters — and a few, but but not the majority of LGBT folks — Monday, when he told the president on his late-night CBS show, "The only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s cock holster." The word “cock” was bleeped on television.
Conservatives alleged the joke was homophobic. In addition to filing complaints with the FCC, they made the hashtag #FireColbert trend on Twitter. In response, Colbert apologized for his word choice, but not the sentiment.
“While I would do it again, I would change a few words that were cruder than they needed to be,” he said Wednesday. “I’m not going to repeat the phrase. But I just want to say, for the record, life is short, and anyone who expresses their love in their own way is to me an American hero. I think we can all agree on that.”
Many Colbert supporters expressed outrage at the allegations of homophobia, as the comedian has a long record of being an ally to the LGBT community. The announcement of an FCC investigation sparked some to allege censorship, McCarthyism, and hypocrisy from the Trump administration.
— AM Joy w/Joy Reid (@amjoyshow) May 6, 2017
This is Fascism. The government is going after Stephen Colbert for making a joke about Trump. https://t.co/HTFzdX5XqX
— Millennial Democrats (@Millennial_Dems) May 6, 2017
So now Republicans want Stephen Colbert fired for telling the truth! How about firing Donald Trump for Lying? Typical GOP ideologies!
— Impeach Donald Trump (@Impeach_D_Trump) May 6, 2017
— BrooklynDad_Defiant! (@mmpadellan) May 6, 2017
While many are outraged by the thought of an FCC investigation, Esquire notes that the agency, after receiving a number of complaints, is following standard practices. The title of its article is, "Chill. The FCC Is Just Doing Its Job."
According to FCC policy, Colbert's joke would have been in violation of regulations — if it had aired between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Since the Late Show With Stephen Colbert begins at 11:35 p.m. Eastern, the restrictions on content are more lax. Thus, the likelihood that the joke will be determined as "obscene" are slim.
Or as an FCC representative told CNNMoney, "We review all consumer complaints as a matter of standard practice and rely on the law to determine whether action is warranted. The fact that a complaint is reviewed doesn't speak one way or another as to whether it has any merit."