Slate’s Explainer column, pointing out the possibility of Steve Colbert’s run in the South Carolina presidential primaries breaking election law:
The Federal Election Commission prohibits corporations from making “any contribution or expenditure in connection with a federal election.” A “contribution” includes “anything of value,” including airtime. Thus each time Colbert promotes his candidacy on The Colbert Report, he’ll be accepting an illegal “in kind” contribution from Comedy Central’s parent company, Viacom. The FEC does exempt news programs (including satires like the Report) from the “in kind” airtime ban, but not if a political party, political committee, or candidate (like Colbert) controls the show’s content. (emphasis mine)
So, hypothetically, if, say…FoxNews decided to back Guliani and use as much air time as possible to smear his opponents in either party, they could do that.
Or, if CNN wanted to portray the Democratic Party nomination as a lock for Hillary, and essentially tell the rest of the field “don’t bother, just step aside”, this law, supposedly for the purpose of keeping things “fair”, would be silent.
Because neither of them are officially controlled by a political party.
Yet Steve using his show and campaign as a bit of performance art & commentary on how goofy the whole song & dance of partisan politics is would be a violation. Because by making fun of the process, he’s corrupting it. Yeah, sure.
Now, we’ve fallen for a lot over the years. But I think it’s safe to say that if someone seriously tried to use having their own TV show as a stepping stone to election, people would spot it a mile away and laugh. Something so obvious just strikes people as cheesy anyway, like watching an infomercial. Meanwhile, no matter how unquestioning the mainstream media is, no matter how transparent their front-runneritus, they’re still seen as oracles of some sort. Is it any wonder why Steve & John’s shows are so popular?
This is nowhere near a serious example, but the point is the same: restricting expression doesn’t actually accomplish anything. Besides, Steve doesn’t even share his actual views on anything on his show, it’s all a character. Then again, that’s one thing he’s got in common with the others…
Edit 103006 @ 12:55 AM: Bill O’Reilly, in the process of promoting his new book, bashes Colbert’s campaign as a stunt to, um, er, promote his new book:
“This is a publicity stunt to mock the country,” he said.
O’Reilly said that Colbert announced he was running for president to get publicity for his new book, “I Am America (And So Can You!).” But he said Colbert refused an invitation to promote the book on “The O’Reilly Factor.”
“Colbert doesn’t have the cojones to face me,” O’Reilly said. “He knows the book is dumb, so he’s not going to come in. Instead, he runs for president.”
I assume this is an inside joke between the two of them, because otherwise it’d mean Bill has somehow dropped his IQ into negative numbers. Even a chimpanzee on crystal meth can tell the publicity stunt aspect is the entire point of Colbert’s run, the message being “honestly folks, what’s the difference?”.