Brow Beat

The FCC Will Not Take Action Against Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert.


The Federal Communications Commision has confirmed it will not take action against Stephen Colbert.

The late-night comic found himself in hot water earlier this month when, after quipping on the Late Show that “the only thing [President Trump’s] mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s cockholster,” observers across the political spectrum criticized him for making a homophobic joke. Outrage stirred in particular on the political right, however, which helped to create anxiety when the FCC—an independent federal agency—announced it would be looking into Colbert’s comment as possibly “obscene.” Some viewed the move as an extension of Trump’s assault on First Amendment rights.


However, as CNN and others quickly reported after the news broke, the FCC was merely following standard procedure after receiving several complaints, and the joke—according to the agency’s own definition—was extremely unlikely to be determined an obscenity. On May 19, the FCC revealed that it received more than 5,700 complaints, the vast majority of which called the joke homophobic and offensive. “It implied that there is something wrong with being gay,” one Illinois viewer wrote to the agency.

The FCC has officially declined to take action against Colbert, providing a statement in response to an inquiry. “Consistent with standard operating procedure, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has reviewed the complaints and the material that was the subject of these complaints,” it read. “The Bureau has concluded that there was nothing actionable under the FCC’s rules.”