EDITORIAL: FCC correct to stay out of Stephen Colbert controversy

The Federal Communications Commission, perhaps seeking to avoid a repeat of the “wardrobe malfunction” fiasco, opted this week to ignore complaints about Stephen Colbert’s recent crude comments about Donald Trump.

It was the correct decision.

On the May 1 broadcast of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” the host unleashed a vulgar broadside at the president with a one-liner that involved Vladimir Putin and oral sex. Critics accused the comedian of being vulgar, homophobic or both.

Mr. Colbert later offered a half-hearted apology on air, allowing that in hindsight he might have changed a few words.

In response, the FCC received “thousands of complaints,” the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. But the agency concluded that there was “nothing actionable” under federal rules. The fact that the FCC has opted to show the type of restraint that eluded Mr. Colbert is both admirable and encouraging. The last high-profile case in which beltway bureaucrats sought to punish broadcasters for “indecent” content — the Janet Jackson incident in the 2004 Super Bowl — they were embarrassed in court.

Fact is, many of the FCC’s regulations date back to the 1930s. The media landscape no longer remotely reflects the “scarcity” of the airwaves premise used to justify broadcast regulation. Federal censors have no business dictating content to broadcasters or deciding what is or isn’t “appropriate” for viewers.

Stephen Colbert’s monologue may have been offensive and ill-advised. But that shouldn’t be any of the government’s business.

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