Sorry Breitbart, Obama and Fallon Didn’t Violate the Equal-Time Rule

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Photo: Pool/2012 Getty Images

Not only did Breitbart.com call President Obama's "slow-jam the news" segment with Jimmy Fallon last night "possibly the worst 'comedy' segment in the history of mankind," the site decreed that it violated a campaign-finance law: "Obama should be ashamed of himself (though, of course, he has no capacity for shame)." The FCC's equal-opportunity rule states that if a broadcaster affords airtime to a candidate, equal time must be granted to "all other such candidates for that office."

There are, however, exceptions to the rule: "(1) a bona fide newscast, (2) a bona fide news interview, (3) a bona fide news documentary, or (4) on-the-spot coverage of bona fide news events." In Breitbart's informed legal opinion, "Only the second provision could be construed as saving NBC from giving Mitt Romney equal time. But this was not a bona fide news interview. In fact, it wasn’t an interview at all — no questions were asked, no answers were given. It was literally Obama reading a campaign speech over a guitar, a horn, a keyboard, and some drums."

But a recent FCC ruling sets a different precedent that would almost certainly include Late Night: Talk shows — in this case Anderson Cooper's daytime chatfest, Anderson qualify as bona fide newscasts. Furthermore, in a precedent set by Entertainment Tonight, the FCC noted that its role "is not to decide, by some qualitative analysis, whether one kind of news story is more bona fide than another."

Of course, even if Fallon wasn't protected under the rule, it could always invite Mitt Romney to lead a little slow-jam of his own. And who wouldn't want to see that?