Stephen Colbert found himself in the middle of a bipartisan controversy earlier this month when he made an insensitive joke about the president that angered both Trump supporters and the LGBTQ community. Though Colbert coyly shrugged off the heat he and The Late Show were taking for the remark, which illustrated a sexual act between the Trump and Vladimir Putin, it turns out the FCC is not going to levy a fine against the comedian for using the word “cock” on late-night network television.
“Consistent with standard operating procedure, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has reviewed the complaints and the material that was the subject of these complaints,” reads the FCC’s statement, according to Variety. “The Bureau has concluded that there was nothing actionable under the FCC’s rules.” Helping Colbert’s case was the fact that the broadcast, time delayed for incidents like these, bleeped out the questionable word and also blurred the host’s mouth as he was saying it.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai was originally asked about Colbert’s remarks on Talk Radio 1210 WPHT following news that The Late Show broadcast generated thousands of complaints. “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 said at the time.
The FCC has broad authority to regulate what can and cannot be broadcast based on legal precedent regarding obscenity laws. Yet looser rules apply during the hours of 10PM and 6AM ET, when Colbert’s show airs. So it would appear that the ample self-censorship on behalf of CBS saved the program from a guilty verdict in this case.