Fears of Russian invasion of Ukraine rise despite US push for diplomacy
Trump: 'Disgusting' that press able to write whatever it wants
President Trump triggered a new storm with the media on Wednesday by saying that it is "disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write."
Trump said later that he has no plans to seek limits on what the press writes or reports, but the comments drew new scrutiny given his own tweet earlier on Wednesday threatening to pull NBC's broadcasting license over a story he said was false.
He's also questioned why the Senate Intelligence Committee isn't investigating mainstream news outlets for publishing "fake news," and during the campaign discussed the need to "open up" libel laws.
The NBC story that angered Trump said the president had sought to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal by a factor of 10, something he said was false.
According to the report, Trump's proposal shocked top military brass, who were said to have informed the president that such a move would be prohibitively expensive and violate international disarmament treaties.
"It is frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write," Trump said in the Oval Office during a joint appearance with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"The press should speak more honestly," he continued. "I've seen a tremendously dishonest press."
Trump may have been particularly annoyed with the story from NBC because the network, last week, reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the president a "moron" behind his back.
The new story suggested Trump knew little about the U.S. nuclear stockpile and capability.
"I know the capability we have, believe me, and it is awesome. It is massive," said Trump, who described a tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal as "totally unnecessary."
"So when they make up stories like that, that's just made up, and the generals will tell you that. And then they have sources that don't exist, they don't exist. They make up the sources. There are no sources."
Defense Secretary James Mattis backed Trump up, calling the report "absolutely false" and "irresponsible."
Experts say Trump doesn't have the authority to control broadcasting licenses, noting that it's the responsibility of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to grant licenses to local television stations.
The FCC does not grant licenses to national network affiliates like NBC, and even if it did, there is no precedent for revoking a license based on news the network published.
"Not how it works," tweeted Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.
While most viewed Trump's remarks as an empty threat, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) warned that the "threat alone could intimidate the press and lead to skewed and unfair reporting."
Pallone and other Democrats called on FCC chairman Ajit Pai - a Republican - to denounce Trump's remarks and declare that the agency has no intention of following through.
"The president's threat against NBC and other media outlets is far from empty," Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), said in a statement.
"The FCC must show that it is loyal to the law, not the president, and make clear that it rejects this kind of interference," he said.
Criticism of Trump's remarks also came from the right.
Conservatives noted that cracking down on First Amendment rights is anathema to their principles and said it sets a dangerous precedent for when they're not in power.
Tensions between the Trump White House and the news media have been boiling over for months.
But Trump's specific threats against the press in recent week have become a focus for the press corps at briefings with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Last week, Trump asked why the Senate Intelligence Committee isn't investigating mainstream news outlets for publishing "fake news" in the wake of the report that Tillerson had called Trump a "moron."
Sanders was pressed on whether the president believes the committee should investigate American media organizations.
"I don't know that that's the case," she responded.
"But I do think that we should call on all media to a higher standard," she continued. "I think you have a lot of responsibility, and a lot of times false narratives create a bad environment, certainly aren't helpful to the American people, and you have a responsibility to provide and report fair and accurate details. When we don't, that's I think troubling for all of us. I think that we need to move towards a certainly more fair, more accurate, and, frankly, a more responsible news media for the American people."
Harper Neidig contributed to this story.
This story was updated at 5:36 p.m.