Donald Trump

Trump Keeps Wondering Why People Are Allowed to Make Fun of Him on TV

The "equal time" rule does not mean what the president thinks it means.



Although Donald Trump describes Saturday Night Live as "unwatchable," he keeps watching it, and he keeps wondering why the show is allowed to make fun of him. While Trump is no doubt trolling his opponents with these tweets, he also seems genuinely confused about regulation of broadcast television—in particular, the "equal time" rule, which he erroneously views as a general requirement of balance or fairness.

On Saturday, NBC re-aired an SNL episode from last December that includes a parody of It's a Wonderful Life in which Alec Baldwin, playing Trump, sees what would have happened if he had never been elected president. Trump did not like the sketch when it first aired. "A REAL scandal is the one sided coverage, hour by hour, of networks like NBC & Democrat spin machines like Saturday Night Live," he tweeted at the time. "It is all nothing less than unfair news coverage and Dem commercials. Should be tested in courts, can't be legal? Only defame & belittle!"

Trump, you will not be surprised to hear, still does not like the sketch. "It's truly incredible that shows like Saturday Night Live, not funny/no talent, can spend all of their time knocking the same person (me), over & over, without so much [as] a mention of 'the other side,'" he tweeted yesterday morning. "Like an advertisement without consequences." Fourteen minutes later, Trump elaborated on the sort of "consequences" he had in mind: "Should Federal Election Commission and/or FCC look into this?"

In 2016 Trump likewise complained that SNL is "a totally one-sided, biased show" and suggested there should be "equal time for us." Last month he wondered, "How do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution?" The lack of satirical balance, he averred, is "very unfair and should be looked into."

The president's anger at mean jokes about him extends beyond SNL. In 2017 he complained that late-night talk show hosts are "always anti-Trump" and wondered, "Should we get Equal Time?" He added that "more and more people are suggesting that Republicans (and me) should be given Equal Time on T.V." as a remedy for "one-sided coverage."

While there is no law against mocking the president, there is an "equal time" rule, and it is indeed enforced by the Federal Communications Commission, as Trump suggested yesterday. But it does not mean what the president seems to think it means.

The rule says that when a broadcast station sells or provides air time to a candidate for public office, it has to give his opponent(s) similar access. But the FCC has said the equal time rule applies only to content that is authorized by a candidate or sponsored by his campaign, and the commission makes a broad exception for news coverage, ranging from The Howard Stern Show to the airing of presidential debates. So even if Trump were in the middle of a presidential campaign, SNL sketches that skewer him would not trigger the equal time rule.

Sometimes Trump seems to have in mind not the equal time requirement but the "fairness doctrine," which required broadcast stations to air contrasting views on controversial subjects. The FCC rescinded the fairness doctrine more than three decades ago because "it was an affront to the First Amendment to have the government micromanaging how much time a particular broadcast outlet decided to devote to a particular topic," as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai put it during a 2017 forum at George Mason University.

Pai made it clear he will resist the president's periodic suggestions that the FCC should investigate or punish broadcasters who offend him, promising that "the FCC under my leadership will stand for the First Amendment." The same clearly cannot be said of Trump, who cares about freedom of speech only when he is speaking.

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  1. Trump, once again, taking an issue (like eminent domain) that historically the Republicans have been correct on and the Democrats have been fucking atrocious, and turning the table to make it look like Republicans are on the wrong side. Good fucking job you fucktard primary Trump voters. You elected a 90s Democrat.

    1. I only call out the primary voters because I do not blame anybody for voting Trump in the general. Trump's idiocy is totally worth Hillary not being president. At least Trump actually has an oppositional press so everybody's waking the fuck up to things.

      Any other Republican would have beaten Hillary, and with any other Republican president we would have reasonable immigration reform, the Republicans would still control the House, and there would be 58+ Republican Senators. Not like the Republicans deserve that, but they're still slightly less terrible than the Democrats, and thanks ENTIRELY to Trump the Democrats have a decent chance of picking up both chambers and the presidency in 2020 despite having the best economy in decades.

      1. I disagree on several points.

        First, I disagree that Republicans are only slightly less terrible than the communazis that roam the Democratic Party.

        Second, I disagree that any other Republican would have won. You imagine that the public awareness of and disgust with Democratic extremism that motivated so many anti-Hillary votes would have occurred without Trump's impact on the messaging of the election.

        1. You're both wrong.
          Republican politicians are equally as terrible as Democrat politicians.

    2. "You elected a 90s Democrat."

      I point this out all the time and it pisses everyone on both sides off quite nicely.

      1. He's just an incompetent Bill Clinton with a press who hates him instead of loves him.

        Only recently did I found out that in the 1996 elections, Chinese nationals with close ties to Al Gore were caught illegally funneling millions into DNC coffers that everybody agreed definitely came directly from the Chinese government. The DOJ and Clinton Administration refused to appoint an independent counsel despite the FBI director demanding one, and obstructed the Congressional investigation at every step.

        Talk about foreign interference in US elections, but nobody has even fucking heard of the scandal!

        Bill Clinton's greatest trick was convincing Americans (with the help of the press) that the Lewinsky incident was his worst scandal. It was like #30 on the list of serious scandals. It's #4 on the list of just sexual harrassment scandals. It was just the one he was stupid enough to get caught lying under oath about.

      2. It doesn't piss me off. It's proof of how dangerous today's Democrats are, though.

        1. "It doesn't piss me off. "

          Sure. That's the first thing pissed off people say.

  2. Although Donald Trump describes Saturday Night Live as "unwatchable,"

    I think the only people watching SNL are journalists and politicians.

    1. Comedy Central has like 2+ hours of designated anti-Trump programming every night. What is the market for that? I honestly don't get it. It's just not funny. There is not a single joke about Trump that is original or funny or clever. They just keep repackaging the same ones. There really is some sort of derangement that leads people to still enjoy it.

      1. Trump has done to comedy what Obama did to the anti-war movement.

      2. There really is some sort of derangement that leads people to still enjoy it.

        He has small hands and orange skin and bad hair and is fat, in case you weren't aware.

        1. So you're saying you'd definitely fuck him.

          1. Only if was really into watersports.

            1. So you're saying you'd definitely fuck him.

      3. SNL has always lambasted the current president. Even Obama. It has always lambasted every presidential candidate. Even Hillary. Holy crap where they merciless against her!

        Most presidents take it with a grain of salt, or even laugh along with the people laughing at them. Gerald Ford actually like Chevy Chase doing Ford pratfalls, fercrisake! But Trump is like a child whining that someone made fun of him.

        Why the fuck is he on twitter all the time complaining about a comedy show? Doesn't he have a 24-hour-per-day real job addressing real issues? Shouldn't he be out there welding steel slats for a wall?

        1. Compared to Trump and all of Obama's predecessors, Obama got kid-glove treatment. He never caught 1/10th of what Clinton or Bush 43 received. They kissed his ass for 8+ years.

        2. SNL has always lambasted the current president. Even Obama.

          Really? They lambasted him? When?

      4. Yah, Its almost like Trump keeps messing up in the same ways. Like how many times can he serve fast food at the white house, make spelling mistakes in his tweets, or have people who worked for him go to jail before comedians realize that this is just the new norm and stop making fun of him for it?

    2. The show is experiencing some of it's best ratings since Trump was elected.

      1. That's because before Trump, not even Journalists OR politicians were watching it.

        1. I have watched it a few times recently, and the two recent episodes starring John Mulaney were funny.

          1. But you think the things you post are funny too so there's that.

            1. Crusty writes comments for Reason, so that puts him in the "journalist" category, thus proving my point.

    3. It may be unwatchable. I do not know. There are better ways to spend a late Saturday night

  3. Fourteen minutes later, Trump elaborated on the sort of "consequences" he had in mind: "Should Federal Election Commission and/or FCC look into this?"

    Maybe Trump will do more to discredit "equal time" than any other politician.

    1. Look at the wonders Trump has done to free trade. Everybody loves free trade now, but only because Trump hates it. I'm intrigued to see how the protectionist Dems address the issue in the primaries (assuming any of the Democrat journalists moderating ever ask them any difficult questions). Trump's trade policies are closer to Sanders and Warren than they are to every 2016 Republican primary candidate. How will they address that? They can't appear to agree with Trump at all on any issue, otherwise they'll be a Nazi.

  4. There are plenty of reasons to dislike Trump, and this is certainly one of them.

  5. At this point, who cares what the president complains about so long as he doesn't try to do anything about it. It's Trump, after all. Either start grading on a curve or you're going to spend all day every day on something he and therefore the rest of the world will have moved off of hours ago.

    1. While Trump's rhetoric and language is insane and arguably dangerous, when it comes to using his actual government power and state action, he has been less obstructive and aggressive with the press and media than Obama was, although you would never know because they were all sucking Obama's dick for 8 years.

      I don't blame Obama at all for that, by the way. It's not his fault our press is a fucking joke, and any successful politician would take advantage of that.

      1. colorblindkid|3.18.19 @ 2:12PM|#
        "While Trump's rhetoric and language is insane and arguably dangerous, when it comes to using his actual government power and state action, he has been less obstructive and aggressive with the press and media than Obama was, although you would never know because they were all sucking Obama's dick for 8 years.
        I don't blame Obama at all for that, by the way. It's not his fault our press is a fucking joke, and any successful politician would take advantage of that."

        It was truly startling to see the media realize that their proper role' was to be adversarial to the president.
        On November 9th, 2016.

  6. I'll take Trump as seriously believing that the equal time rule still applies when he devotes half his tweets to mocking himself.

    Whether he's that stupid and purposely violating what he thinks the law is, or whether he is trolling the public, or whether he believes the law exists but doesn't apply to the President, that is a different matter.

    1. Uh, what? What the fuck are you talking about? The equal time rule doesn't require an individual to spend an equal amount of time denouncing themselves.

      1. It doesn't even exist. Therefore it means nothing. The joke is that Trump says he thinks it exists.

        Please try having some fun with life.

  7. The good thing about Trump as president is that every article Reason publishes about him is one less article about food trucks or the Export Import Bank.

  8. The good thing about Trump as president is that every article Reason publishes about him is one less article about food trucks or the Export Import Bank.

  9. "Hi, I'm Jacob Sullum, and despite being employed as a journalist, I'm over two years into Donald Trump's presidency without figuring out that he makes these public statements, particularly via Twitter, just to call attention to problems, not as actual policy proposals."

    If Trump didn't say something obscene (or that the Left characterizes as obscene) in such tweets, left-wing media wouldn't publicize them nearly as much, nor would it publicize its own radicalism as "rebuttals". Net effect: far less public awareness of the Orwellianism of the Left, and far more of their "progress" taking hold.

    In short, Trump's Twitter account is doing more for freedom in this country right now than any other factor. Yes, I realize how strange that sounds, but it's true.

    1. Partisan satire and ridicule is a problem needing attention?


    2. ^Mr. JD nailed it

  10. *sigh*

    You still don't get it. He does it for attention so they'll keep putting him in skits. He loves being the main character of the progressive comedy scene. The only worse thing than being talking about is not being talked about.

  11. Get off Twitter. Seriously.

    1. You mean the Pres, or people in general?

    2. Twitter causes brain cancer.

  12. The old "Fairness Doctrine," killed by Republicans in 1987 over the voluble protests of the Democrats (who tried to re-enact the doctrine and were only blocked by Reagan's veto) - that's the doctrine Trump wants to revive. Even in the world of "spectrum scarcity" and 20th century broadcasting, that rule was repressive.

    Radio didn't dare give Rush Limbaugh a show until the Fairness Doctrine was killed off. Each station which broadcast Rush would have had to balance him out with an undefined (but nonzero) proportion of prog programming, regardless of audience interest.

    The Equal Time rule, though formally still on the books, has been riddled with exceptions thanks to new technology and new programming formats, so I'm not sure you can really say it's a major concern of media today.

    1. Mayor Daly, bless his heart, had the Equal Time rule watered down because there was this gadfly candidate (I think also named Daly) who insisted on the right to appear on TV to balance out Mayor Daly whenever the Mayor had a ribbon-cutting ceremony or other public event. So Congress decided that bone fida news didn't have to follow strict equal time rules for political candidates. And nowadays every show which has an interest in highlighting political candidates has been classified as a news show for regulatory purposes.

  13. Although Donald Trump describes Saturday Night Live as "unwatchable,"

    He's not wrong.

    1. I wouldn't know, I don't watch it.

      I remember - and this was some years ago - a TV room emptying as people realized that the show wasn't funny.

      1. "I wouldn't know, I don't watch it."

        That's 'cause it's unwatchable.
        BTW, for some reason youtube always includes a series of Colbert links all the way at the bottom of any search I'm doing; every one of them is a variation on 'Trump is a big poopyhead'.
        Have no idea if anyone watches that, but I'm asking since I won't: Does he have any other material?

      2. Who watches TV in a TV room? I am getting way older, and I don't even talk like that. Everyone watches this stuff on Demand and half the time on their own personal devices. No wonder you can't get why the show is funny. It has sucked for years at a time, and definitely goes through phases of funny to not funny, but with Trumptard as President it is funny again,

  14. I watch SNL way more than I used to, since it is in a funny phase, and Trump jokes are easy but hilarious. C'mon, He is his own worst enemy and is the cause of over half of the shit that flies his way. Trump is a narcissist asshat who is bright orange. It's so easy to make fun of him and he is such a dickhead, campaigning on hate and division, President Bonespurs who makes fun of real veterans, and acts tough even though he is not. He just bitched about McCain again, who you may like or hate, but who was certainly not a tough guy poser like Trump is. And Trump lies constantly in dumb easy to catch ways and calls everyone else a liar, and seems to think he is the smartest man in the world, even though he is not smart, and is just an entitled fool who inherited tons of cash from his Daddy. Trump is Bif from Back to the Future, just like Ted Cruz said, after Trump accused Cruz's dad of assisting in murdering JFK. Trump is a conspiracy wackjob in an age of conspiracy freaks. Funny! What crazy shit will he try to sell everyone next? I laugh everyday when I read about his stupid tweets complaining about how people are mean to him, what a bitch ass whiner he is. It's just too easy to make fun of him. Comedy gold.

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