Legal Analysis

There’s No Way FEC and FCC Could Successfully Investigate SNL for Making Fun of Trump

President Donald Trump repeated a toothless call for federal authorities to investigate Saturday Night Live and late night comedy shows for making fun of him.

This is not the first time he made such a call. In October 2017 he complained about “Late Night hosts” being anti-Trump, and called for Republicans to get “Equal Time,” an apparent reference to the “Equal Time” rule.

It’s hard to find a high-profile pro-Trump voice among late night comedians. Saturday Night Live in recent years hired actor Alec Baldwin, a vocal critic of the president, to play Trump in less-than-flattering skits. Late night hosts like Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers often rib and outright rip POTUS on their shows.

The president isn’t a fan, but there’s not really anything he can do but vent on the Internet.

We asked attorney and Law&Crime columnist Elura Nanos for her take on today’s tweets. She previously criticized Trump’s attacks on SNL, arguing that a hypothetical legal action or federal investigation over the show would go nowhere.

“Tempting as it is to focus on the silliness of Trump’s thin skin, his tweets are disturbing on a much deeper level in that they evidence a complete lack of familiarity with the basics of media law and free speech,” she wrote Law&Crime in an email. “Comedy programs are under exactly zero legal obligation to be even-handed in their satire, regardless of whether the butt of their jokes is a political figure.  Similarly, news programs are legally permitted to be as one-sided as they like. As an agency of the federal government, the FCC must adhere to the limitations set out by the First Amendment — which means that censoring speech based on its political content is as illegal as it gets.”

She argued that Trump seemed to be attempting to reference the Equal Time rule in his new tweet storm. Under that rule, radio and television broadcasts must give equal opportunity to opposing candidates who ask for it. The thing is, Trump isn’t a candidate, and he isn’t being denied requested airtime, she said.

“Trump’s reference to the FEC and FCC seems like an attempt to raise the bar on his usual threats — defamation lawsuits,” she wrote. “In the context of late-night comedy shows, he wouldn’t win one of those either, and he likely knows it.

[Image via Mark-Wilson/Getty-Images]

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