Trump Tweets About ‘Unfunny’ Late Night Comedy Hosts

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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President Donald Trump cited a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule Saturday morning while arguing that late night television programs are favoring Democratic ideals with their coverage.

“Late Night host are dealing with the Democrats for their very ‘unfunny’ & repetitive material, always anti-Trump!” Trump tweeted. “Should we get Equal Time?”


Trump’s final remark is presumably a reference to a provision specified in the Communications Act of 1934, which requires broadcasters to offer, in general, equal airtime to political candidates. It was originally created to solely focus on the selling of airtime.

“The equal time requirements do not mean that station owners must give away air time to candidates, only that they must make equivalent air time available to all candidates for the same office on equivalent terms,” reads Philip H. Miller’s book Media Law for Producers. “For example, if a station offers one candidate for sewer commissioner … a 30-second slot in prime time for $5,000, it must make 30-second slots in prime time available to all other candidates for sewer commissioner for $5,000.”

Congress later created four exemptions to the equal opportunity law, including: regularly scheduled newscasts, documentaries in which the candidate is merely a feature and not the focal point, spontaneous news events, or shows or episodes oriented around direct interviews. The rule also doesn’t apply to more minor candidates, usually nominees from outside the two major political parties.

The most notable potential exception to the rule are talk shows. The FCC rules on such kinds of programming on a case-by-case basis, as made evident by the agency’s decision to exempt Anderson Cooper’s daytime talk show “Anderson” in 2011, declaring it a bona fide news interview production.

Trump’s social media post is likely a public appeal to the FCC to examine the conduct of late night entertainers like ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel, CBS’s Stephen Colbert, and perhaps TBS’s Samantha Bee and Trevor Noah of “The Daily Show” as well. (RELATED: A Reminder That Jimmy Kimmel Wasn’t Always The Liberal Hero He Currently Is)

But Trump seems to have cited a rule that doesn’t apply to him since he isn’t a candidate, at least yet. It is a slightly conceivable argument to say that a first-term president is a perennial candidate since a re-election is inevitable and sometimes imminent, but that appears to be a far-fetched interpretation.

Trump likely meant to call for an application of the Fairness Doctrine, an FCC policy established in 1949 that requires broadcasters to present all perspectives of an issue deemed publicly significant. The rule — which did not mandate equal time for opposing views, but just that each standpoint is presented at least once — however, was effectively eliminated in 1987, and formally removed in 2011.

Since Trump capitalized “Equal Time” he was probably attempting (fairly erroneously) to cite one of the two official FCC rules, which either don’t apply or aren’t currently in effect. It is also possible he was merely arguing that they should cover him more fairly without the force of law or public policy.

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