Trump threatens NBC’s broadcast license following reports Tillerson called him a ‘moron’
Trump’s threat is seen as largely empty because a challenge on unfair coverage would be extremely difficult
President Donald Trump, who has threatened press freedoms before, suggested on Wednesday that the NBC television network might lose its broadcast licenses following critical stories detailing his behaviour.
“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!” the president tweeted.
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
Substantively, Trump’s threat is fairly empty: NBC and other networks do not hold a license for the network as a whole. Licenses are issued to local stations, of which NBC owns 28. Under deregulatory measures that Republicans successfully pushed over the past generation, challenging a license on the grounds that coverage is unfair or biased would be extremely difficult.
Gordon Smith, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, denounced Trump’s threat on Wednesday.
“The founders of our nation set as a cornerstone of our democracy the First Amendment, forever enshrining and protecting freedom of the press,” said Smith, a former Republican senator.
“It is contrary to this fundamental right for any government official to threaten the revocation of an FCC license simply because of a disagreement with the reporting of a journalist,” he said.
The tweet fits a pattern for Trump. His threat of government retaliation against NBC followed a tweet Tuesday that threatened the tax status of the National Football League. The league gave up its tax-exempt status in 2015.
Trump had previously spoken of making libel laws stricter and other crackdowns on the press, raising concern from First Amendment advocates.
NBC reported last week that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron” and nearly quit the administration out of concern over Trump’s behaviour and policy.
The network followed up Wednesday with a report on what had prompted the “moron comment.”
Tillerson made the comment following a July 20 meeting of top national security leaders at which Trump advocated a near-tenfold increase in the nation’s nuclear arsenal, questioning why he lacked the stockpile that US presidents had during the height of the cold war, the network reported.
The US has since entered into numerous treaties and other legally binding agreements to slow the nuclear arms race.
Trump has been furious at the coverage. He challenged Tillerson to an IQ test in a Forbes interview published on Tuesday and tweeted separately on Wednesday that the NBC account is “pure fiction, made up to demean.”