On Thursday night, when Jon Stewart did a desk piece bashing Fox News from Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” desk, he uttered the phrase, “I see your bullshit.” CBS bleeped the last word, but any viewer could see what he was saying. Colbert, who was perched under the table, popped up to whisper into Stewart’s ear, “We’re live!” Stewart then looked into the camera and said, “Oh, we’re live. I’ve never been on a show with stakes before.”
Here’s the thing: neither Colbert nor the network needed to worry about Stewart uttering that word. “The Late Show” is broadcast in what the FCC refers to as the “safe harbor” hours of 10pm to 6am local time, during which the federal agency says, “a station may air indecent and/or profane material.” In fact, that night’s show aired more than a half-hour late, putting it post-midnight in the Eastern and Pacific time zones, and after 11pm here in the midwest — out of reach of the government’s scornful rule.
So why was it a concern? Probably because CBS has an internal rule against certain words and images being broadcast at any time — a notion that seems anachronistic in an era when the average viewer doesn’t know the difference between CBS, TBS, and political BS.