Is Mark Sanford entitled to equal time on Comedy Central?

I thought this question, posed on Slatest, was intriguing:

As the faux-conservative Colbert Report host, Stephen Colbert has lampooned campaign finance laws and the U.S. electoral system by starting his own super PAC and announcing bids for the presidency and “the president of the United States of South Carolina.” But another Colbert—this one with a hard t at the end—is also vying for the political spotlight: Elizabeth Colbert Busch, Stephen’s older sister, who’s facing off against avid Appalachian Trail hiker and former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford in a May 7 special election for South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District. Colbert has twice devoted show segments to his sister’s campaign, including one endorsing her candidacy, and has mocked Sanford on countless occasions. With the show’s nightly viewership of 1.5 million and the documented “Colbert bump” in a politician’s support after an appearance, is Colbert violating election laws by blending his hosting role with his sister’s campaign?

Probably not. The central law in play is the Federal Communications Commission’s equal-time rule. Beginning with the Radio Act of 1927, which Congress enacted in response to fears of broadcasters’ ability to sway elections by limiting a candidate’s access to the airwaves, radio and television networks have been required to offer equal airtime (or opportunities to purchase advertising at a reduced price) to all candidates if they request it. Exemptions were later added for documentaries, newscasts, news interviews, and on-the-spot news events.

Since it covers news stories and political issues, The Colbert Report would likely fall under the newscast or news interviews exceptions…

Really? I would have thought it was entertainment.

In any case, I’ve always found the equal-time rule sort of hard to follow. And now that we have “news shows” that are entirely satire, how would you go about giving equal time, anyway? And if you gave it, how could you be assured it would be to the advantage of the one demanding it? When everything is dealt with ironically, how do you make sure your equal time is quality time? Make it an infomercial, so you have total control? Maybe. I don’t know. But even that could backfire, as Comedy Central viewers go there for smart-aleck, not for earnest.

What do y’all think?


13 thoughts on “Is Mark Sanford entitled to equal time on Comedy Central?

  1. die deutsche Flußgabelung

    I’m sure Colbert would love to have him on the show as a guest. I don’t think Colbert would be easy on the Luv Gov.

  2. Dave Crockett

    With all respect to Slate, there is no way that The Colbert Report is “violating election laws” with its activities to date. Election laws do not prohibit anyone or any show from endorsing/ridiculing/supporting/blaspheming public figures over the air. Fox News is certainly proof of that. But if Mark Sanford feels he’s owed equal time, I feel sure that Stephen Colbert would be more than happy to devote an entire show to him. And, without a doubt, Sanford would be shown up for what he is — an embarrassment to all of South Carolina.

    1. Barry

      You left out MSNBC – which not only supports the President- but isn’t averse to call people that disagree with him crude names.

  3. Norm Ivey

    You seldom see real conservatives on Colbert or the Daily Show. I sometimes feel sorry for the ones that do show up. Bob Inglis comes to mind. Most have learned to avoid them, but Sanford’s ego is so big, that he would probably gladly go on the show. And with no one to advise him on optics (see your previous post) he’d never know what hit him. Colbert would allow him to embarrass himself completely. Sanford’s slow, rambling way of talking would just look dumb next to Colbert’s fast-paced and interrupting style. Or he could just let him go on and on. The only problem would be that it would also reflect poorly on South Carolina, and I’d rather we keep the negative reflections on our state to a minimum.

    1. die deutsche Flußgabelung

      I have to disagree with you, Norm when you say, “You seldom see real conservatives on Colbert or the Daily Show.” Stewart regularly has conservatives on his program including Newt Gingrich, Bill O’ Reilly (he is practically a regular), Bill Kristol, John Bolton, Mike Huckabee, David Stockman (who was just on this week), and Rand Paul just to name a few. Now Colbert, probably due to the fact that he is satirizing conservatives by playing an über-conservative pundit, gets a lot fewer conservative guests. In general Colbert gets fewer current political figures both liberals and conservatives than Stewart, probably because of his interview style. While Stewart tries to be somewhat objective when interviewing a candidate, Colbert spends most of his interviews trying to prove just how “unconservative” the guest is.

      1. Norm Ivey

        You are correct–Stewart does have a fair number of conservatives who show up, and he interviews them pointedly but fairly. I guess I had in mind some of the correspondents’ interviews where Aasif Mandvi or John Oliver essentially mock the interviewees to their faces. Those I sometimes have sympathy for because they obviously didn’t know what they were getting into.

        1. die deutsche Flußgabelung

          Oh yeah those conservatives really get burned. Like this week when John Oliver used that gun rights advocate’s own logic to get him to admit that we should legalize heroin because prohibition doesn’t work. That was hilarious to see the look on his face as he squirmed in his chair.

          Oh then there was the Tea Party group in Florida that was fighting for people’s right to ride the manatees. LOL.

          1. Barry

            uh, there are many people that think we should legalize all drugs.

            That’s a very strange comparison- doesn’t really work.

  4. Burl Burlingame

    At one point, Democratic congressfolk were urged not to appear on Colbert.

    Stewart and Colbert, bless ’em, have more book authors on as guests than anyone else on TV.

    Oh, and the shows don’t MAKE the conservative guests look like idiots. They just allow them to self-inflict idiocy.

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