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?