Larry Wilmore's use of N-word drew single indecency complaint

Larry Wilmore's use of N-word drew single indecency complaint
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Comedian Larry Wilmore's use of a racial slur at this year's White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner drew criticism for the comedian and questions for the White House.

But the comedian’s remark drew hardly a word of protest from the public. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) received only one indecency complaint over it, according to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Hill. The request sought complaints regarding the “White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.”


Wilmore ended his remarks at the annual dinner, which also includes an appearance from the president, by declaring, “Yo, Barry, you did it my n----!” The comment was part of a larger riff on how important the first black president had been to him personally.

The one person who filed a complaint to the FCC about the airing of the racial slur listed their location as Bolingbrook, Ill., and said Wilmore would have been charged with “treason” in another country for disrespecting its leader in such a way.

“How can anyone disrespect the highest office in the world by using a racial slur in the presence of the President wife and his family and beautiful young girls who are watching from a remote location,” the person wrote in the complaint. “Any any [sic] other country, this Larry Wilmore was [sic] have been charged with treason and imprisoned for life.”

The complaint was directed at ABC, which does not air Wilmore’s daily program, and filed several days after the dinner.

The FCC responded by saying that the complaint had been closed. 

“Your complaint provides the Commission with valuable information that we use to spot trends and practices that warrant investigation and enforcement action,” the agency replied. “We do not resolve individual complaints about this issue, and there will be no status information to report on your complaint.” 

It is unclear how many people actually watch the dinner, which is aired live on cable and satellite channel C-SPAN and takes place on a Saturday night — not traditionally a busy time for television programming.

Overall, the FCC sees a significant number of complaints about indecency on television, receiving 5,552 complaints between December of 2014 and May 16. 

The relatively muted response by consumers at the broadcast regulator contrasts with public concern over Wilmore’s comment.

Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart wrote that “never before has the n-word been used to address the president.”

“At least, not in public and most definitely not to his face,” he said. “That’s why Wilmore’s use of it was as shocking as it was disrespectful. And that’s why many African Americans in the room and watching on television were appalled by Wilmore’s excessive and inappropriate down-home familiarity with the leader of the free world in front of the world.” 

Both Wilmore and the White House defended the joke.

“Many people were upset about it,” Wilmore said. “Many people supported it. I completely understand why people would be upset about that. It’s a very charged word. I get it.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest also faced questions about the joke at one of his daily briefings. He said that Obama “appreciated the spirit of the sentiments that Mr. Wilmore expressed.”

A second complaint filed over the dinner was against CNN, from a viewer upset with anchor Don Lemon. He flashed a middle finger at Wilmore during the dinner after he the comedian called him “alleged journalist Don Lemon.”

The commission wrote back with bad news for the viewer, who said they were located in Texas: They don’t enforce indecency rules against cable channels.

“As such, no further action is required by the FCC,” the agency said. “Your complaint was closed as of today.”