President Trump threatened NBC’s broadcasting license on Twitter Wednesday for running critical stories about him.
“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!” Trump tweeted.
The president’s outburst followed a succession of critical stories coming from NBC, which reported last week that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had called him a “moron,” then followed up Wednesday with the reason why: During a July meeting at the Pentagon, Trump called for a tenfold increase in the nuclear arsenal. The joint chiefs of staff and Tillerson pushed back on that demand, partly because any increase in the nuclear stockpile would violate international disarmament treaties signed by every president since Ronald Reagan.
“Fake @NBCNews made up a story that I wanted a ‘tenfold’ increase in our US nuclear arsenal,” Trump tweeted before he threatened NBC’s right to broadcast. “Pure fiction, made up to demean. NBC = CNN!”
On Wednesday afternoon, NBC’s Peter Alexander reported that on the matter of the First Amendment, Trump said: “It is frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write.”
Trump had previously feuded with CNN about their coverage of him, at one point tweeting gifs of him at a WWF match punching a wrestler who had a CNN logo superimposed on his face. He later retweeted a cartoon of a train about to run over a CNN reporter.
It’s unclear whether Trump’s threat has any currency. The Federal Communications Commission, which oversees broadcast licenses (for individual stations, not networks), is an independent agency in the federal government and is not required to follow presidential orders. The commissioners of the FCC are appointed by the president and approved by the Senate.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) wrote to FCC chairman Ajit Pai Wednesday, urging him to resist Trump’s requests to revoke licenses because of news coverage.
“It is inappropriate for the President to propose challenging broadcasters’ licences because he disagrees with their coverage,” that letter read. “The First Amendment is the cornerstone of our democracy, and the news media plays an instrumental role in educating the American public and holding elected officials accountable. Any insinuation that elected officials could use the levers of government to control or sensor the news media would represent a startling degradation of the freedom of press.”