FCC will not take action against CBS' 'Colbert' show

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission said on Tuesday it would not take any action over thousands of complaints about a crude joke that late-night television host Stephen Colbert told about U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's Vladimir Putin.

The oral sex joke was bleeped before the airing of the May 1 episode of CBS Corp's "Late Show with Stephen Colbert," but prompted a social media campaign to get Colbert fired.

FCC spokesman Neil Grace said the agency had reviewed the complaints and "concluded that there was nothing actionable under the FCC's rules."

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NEW YORK, NY - MAY 01: Stephen Colbert attends 'Rei Kawakubo/Commes Des Garcons: Art of the In-Between' at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 1, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic))
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 01: Stephen Colbert (L) and Evelyn McGee attend the 'Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art Of The In-Between' Costume Institute Gala at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 1, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images For Entertainment Weekly)
MONTCLAIR, NJ - APRIL 30: Stephen Colbert and John Turturro arrive at Conversation Series Discussion at the Montclair Film Festival 2017 Day Three on April 30, 2017 in Montclair, New Jersey. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Montclair Film Festival)
MONTCLAIR, NJ - APRIL 28: Stephen Colbert and Dolores Huerta arrive at Montclair Film Festival 2017 Opening Night on April 28, 2017 in Montclair, New Jersey. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Montclair Film Festival)
NEW YORK - APRIL 25: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and guest John Legend, Kelly Osbourne, Dr John during Tuesday's 4/25/20 show. (Photo by Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - APRIL 17: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert during Monday's 04/17/17 show in New York. (Photo by Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - APRIL 6: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on *Thursday, April 6, 2017 Special Hybrid Episode: Jessica Lange; Bassem Youssef; Judy Gold. (Photo by Mary Kouw/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 02: Evelyn McGee-Colbert and Stephen Colbert attends 'The Play That Goes Wrong' Broadway Opening Night at the Lyceum Theatre on April 2, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/WireImage)
NEW YORK - MARCH 27: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airing Tuesday March 27, 2017 with Lily Tomlin & Jane Fonda; Jay Chandrasekhar; musical performance by Aimee Mann (Photo by Richard Boeth/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 31: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airing Friday March 31, 2017 with Susan Sarandon, Joey McIntyre, Robert Klein. (Photo by Richard Boeth/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 21: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 with guest Ryan Reynolds (Photo by Mary Kouw/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 14: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airing Tuesday, March 14, 2017 with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Todd Barry. (Photo by Timothy Kuratek/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 13: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, interviews with Ewan McGregor, Finn Wittrock and musical performance by The Shins on Monday's taping in New York. Pictured left to right: Finn Wittrock and Stephen Colbert. (Photo by Michele Crowe/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 6: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airing Monday, March 6, 2017 with Judd Apatow. (Photo by Timothy Kuratek/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 6: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airing Monday, March 6, 2017 with Anderson Cooper, Judd Apatow and musical performance by Jidenna. (Photo by Timothy Kuratek/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 28: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airing Tuesday February 28, 2017 with Lisa Kudrow; former White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest; comedian Tony Rock. (Photo by Richard Boeth/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 17: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017 with guests Julie Andrews; Christina Hendricks (Photo by Mary Kouw/CBS via Getty Images)
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A CBS spokesman declined to comment on the decision.

FCC rules for programs on broadcast television after 10 p.m. only bar obscene content. For content to be ruled obscene, it must meet a three-pronged test established by the U.S. Supreme Court.

It is rare for the FCC to impose fines for obscene or indecent conduct. It has issued just two fines since 2010 to television stations for improper conduct, most recently in 2015 to a Virginia TV station for a sexually explicit video aired during an early evening newscast.

The Parents Television Council, which has criticized the FCC in the past, said it agreed with the agency's decision. "It was crude. It was indecent. But it was protected speech," PTC President Tim Winter said of Colbert's joke.

The bleeped joke, which made reference to Trump's oft-stated admiration for the Russian president during the 2016 election campaign, came at the end of an insult-heavy monolog by Colbert.

It triggered a #FireColbert trending Twitter hashtag, with Trump supporters calling for a boycott of CBS advertisers, some people accusing Colbert of being homophobic, others accusing left-wingers of hypocrisy, and still more defending the comedian, whose show has surged in popularity since he stepped up his attacks on the Republican president.

Addressing Trump, Colbert said: "Sir, you attract more skinheads than free Rogaine. You have more people marching against you than cancer. You talk like a sign language gorilla that got hit in the head."

Colbert told his audience he was responding to Trump's appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation" the preceding weekend, when the president told host John Dickerson that he liked to call the Sunday morning news show "Deface the Nation."

Two days later, Colbert told viewers he did not regret the jokes, but acknowledged that some of the words were "cruder than they needed to be." (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Reese and Peter Cooney)


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