#FireColbert didn’t work, but CBS and late-night TV host Stephen Colbert could still end up paying for his controversial jokes about President Donald Trump.
Colbert initially generated outrage on Monday by making an obscene joke about Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin involving oral sex. Critics on the left denounced the joke as homophobic, while those on the right felt he was being too harsh on Trump, per the Los Angeles Times.
The hashtag #FireColbert trended on Twitter for much of Tuesday, and Colbert addressed the controversy on Wednesday’s show, saying that while some of his words were “cruder than they needed to be,” he didn’t regret attacking Trump and defending a fellow CBS employee, journalist John Dickerson.
“I believe (Trump) can take care of himself,” he said. “I have jokes, he has the launch codes. So, a fair fight.”
On Wednesday, Federal Communications Commission chairman Aijt Pai said in response to a question about the joke that his agency does not regulate content except in cases of obscenity, seeming to imply no punishment would come.
"It's a free country. People are willing and able to say just about anything these days," Pai said, per the Washington Post.
But Pai, a Trump appointee, appeared to change his tune slightly on Thursday in an interview with Talk Radio 1210 WPHT. Pai told the outlet that he had just recently seen the video for the first time and that, in light of complaints the FCC has received about the clip, his agency would investigate it.
“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 said, per CBS Philadelphia.
However, as CNN reports, just because the FCC is investigating complaints does not necessarily mean any fines, which Pai said are the most typical form of punishment, will be issued. In order for the FCC to levy any discipline, it must prove that Colbert’s joke was obscene, as FCC rules only prevents indecent material from being broadcast from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. When it aired Monday, the profanity in Colbert’s joke was bleeped out.
“The fact that a complaint is reviewed doesn't speak one way or another as to whether it has any merit,” a FCC spokesperson told CNN.
That fact did not stop some critics of Trump and Pai from accusing the government of attempting to censor criticism of the president.