On Wednesday, the left-wing Daily Beast claimed that President Trump questioned the First Amendment after he strongly criticized NBC News over a report he saw as being fake or misleading in an article entitled, “Trump Threatens NBC News, Questions First Amendment.” It’s true that Trump said it’s “disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write,” but he didn’t question or lament the First Amendment.
According to the Daily Beast:
President Trump tweeted Wednesday that NBC News should have its broadcasting license revoked because of its report that he asked advisers in July about dramatically expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal. “Fake @NBCNews made up a story that I wanted a ‘tenfold’ increase in our U.S. nuclear arsenal,” he tweeted. “Pure fiction, made up to demean. NBC = CNN!” In a follow-up, he added: “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!” Later in the day, during press availability in the Oval Office, the president continued his tirade against the media, essentially lamenting the First Amendment: “It is frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write.”
With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2017
It’s clear the president was criticizing news networks that present misleading information, not lamenting the First Amendment right to free speech and a free press.
And Trump does have a point. It is, quite frankly, quite disturbing that some so-called “mainstream” media outlets that present themselves as “objective” can put out what can only be described as liberal propaganda. That’s not questioning the First Amendment — that’s calling into question what’s being presented as “news.”
Let’s not forget a recent video put out by Project Veritas highlighting one editor’s anti-Trump bias at the New York Times.
On Wednesday, Trump tweeted a followup that read: “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!”
Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2017
But, the Daily Caller said, citing a report at Axios, revoking licences of broadcast networks isn’t quite what some seem to think:
Despite Trump’s rhetoric, any attempt to take NBC News or other networks off the air would be nearly impossible. That’s because only local affiliates of the major news networks have licenses. NBC, CBS, ABC and other networks do not operate with licenses.
Axios further explained:
- NBC the network doesn’t have a “license.” Individual stations do. Some of those are owned directly by NBC’s parent company, Comcast, but even if the FCC revoked those licenses it wouldn’t stop the network from producing content.
- “There’s no way the FCC can say, ‘Saturday Night Live needs to go off the air,'” said Harold Feld, senior vice president at advocacy group Public Knowledge.
- The FCC is an independent agency. Its chairman, Ajit Pai, is designated by the president. But he’s not beholden to the White House’s demands like executive agencies.
- The president does have the ability to pressure the FCC chair. Trump’s comments Wednesday are an example. It’s still highly unlikely that anything would happen to the licenses, Feld said. “Trump can’t order the FCC to do it, the FCC wouldn’t want to do it, and even if they did poke around they couldn’t really do anything other than poke around and demand documents based on what the precedents are,” he said.
- The FCC does have leverage over NBC owner Comcast, Feld noted. But any move to pursue the company would be out of step with Pai’s industry-friendly agenda thus far.
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