Writers' Union Defends Stephen Colbert In Light Of FCC Chair's Remarks

Though remarks by Ajit Pai made it seem like there'd be a formal investigation into Stephen Colbert's show, that isn't the case.

You’d think an organization called the Federal Communications Commission would be better at stopping a game of telephone.

After earlier remarks made by FCC chair Ajit Pai that sounded like the agency would be launching a formal investigation into Stephen Colbert for a joke involving Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, the agency is clarifying its stance.

Shortly after Pai’s original comment on a talk radio show, an FCC spokesperson 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.” Another source echoed the sentiment to Vanity Fair.

Essentially: The FCC (at least publicly) did not really open a formal investigation into Colbert and his show, but is simply reviewing complaints.

It is standard practice for the agency to respond to viewer complaints, no matter how ridiculous. Shows like “The Simpsons” have famously gotten numerous FCC complaints, which the government has stored and catalogued for official records.

CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images

The union that represents Stephen Colbert came out in support of the comedian.

“As presidents of the Writers Guilds of America, East and West, we were appalled to read recent remarks by Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai,” WGA-East head Michael Winship and WGA-West chief Howard Rodman said to Deadline. (HuffPost is unionized under the auspices of the WGA-East, though in a separate division from television writers.)

“Pai’s remarks are just the latest in a series of statements by the current administration indicating a willful disregard of the First Amendment,” Winship and Rodman continued. “Colbert was poking fun at authority, a time-honored American tradition and an essential principle of democracy. What is obscene is not what Colbert said but any attempt by the government to stifle dissent and creativity.”

Even if a formal investigation isn’t happening, it’s good to know the WGA is willing to support its members in case a violation of rights by the government does occur.

“Our unions vehemently support Colbert and his writers and will fight for his or any individual’s right to publicly express his or her opinion of our elected officials.”

- Michael Winship and Howard Rodman to Deadline

”Our unions vehemently support Colbert and his writers and will fight for his or any individual’s right to publicly express his or her opinion of our elected officials,” said Winship and Rodman.

Although the facts have been hazy as this controversy has developed, the incident provided more nuance to the debate over “free speech” currently being hashed out with more frequency. Just this morning, The New York Times podcast “The Daily” devoted a feature segment to people fighting for the rights of conservative speakers such as Ann Coulter to say what they want.

It does seem contradictory to support of Coulter types, yet not of Colbert’s original remarks. The comedian David Cross mockingly summed it up on Twitter, writing, “Okay all you free speech warriors who fight for Ann Coulter and Milo etc. Time to sharpen your spears and hit the front lines!”

As a country, it seems we continue to want free speech so long as it supports our already-held opinions. If only the FCC could just help us all communicate better.

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