Donald Trump ramped up his war with the news media on Wednesday morning, suggesting that it might be appropriate to challenge the license of NBC News in response to what he claimed was its “fake news”.
The spat between Trump – who worked for NBC for 14 years as the host of The Apprentice – and the network’s news arm has been swirling ever since NBC’s report on the strained relationship between Trump and the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. It appears that Trump’s most recent outburst was triggered by a report that Trump requested a tenfold increase in the US nuclear arsenal, a report Trump called “made up” and “pure fiction”.
NBC News attributed that report to three unnamed officials “who were in the room”.
As is often the case, the implications of Trump’s tweet are unclear.
There is no single license that the federal government grants to NBC or any other national broadcast network. The FCC does register individual stations and affiliates, of which NBC has more than 200, but there would be no mechanism for separating NBC news – the object of Trump’s ire – from the network’s non-news programming, the vast majority of its broadcast content.
Also, even if the network were broadcasting “fake news” as Trump puts it, the FCC can only revoke a broadcast license for content that either violates the law, or falls short of certain technical standards.
The threat – a naked challenge to the first amendment protection of freedom of the press – comes less than a week after Trump also pondered why Congress had not begun to investigate the “Fake News Networks”, rather than his administration’s many alleged ties to Russian actors.
Questioned about that statement in a press conference, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, responded: “The president is an incredible advocate of the first amendment.”
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