President Trump’s suggestion that NBC should potentially have its broadcast license challenged has prompted a wave of condemnation from both sides of the aisle, with many saying that such a move would violate the First Amendment.
Trump lashed out at NBC News on Wednesday after the outlet reported that Trump had suggested increasing the nation’s nuclear arms stockpile during a meeting with top Cabinet officials.
“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.
While the idea was roundly criticized as a threat to the free press, many don’t believe that the president would be able to follow through.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is in charge of licensing television stations, but it only grants licenses to local stations and not their national network affiliates. And even though NBC’s local stations do rely on FCC licenses, it would be highly unusual for the agency to revoke a license based on a broadcaster’s content.
“Not how it works,” Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel tweeted in response to the president.
Still, congressional Democrats have seized on the president’s statement. Many are demanding that Ajit Pai, the Republican FCC chairman, condemn the idea.
“The president’s threat against NBC and other media outlets is far from empty,” Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzThe Hill's 12:30 Report: More of Biden's agenda teeters on collapse The Hill's Morning Report: Biden takes it on the chin Senate to take up voting rights bill Tuesday, missing Schumer deadline MORE (D-Hawaii), said in a statement, referencing a similar proposal from President Nixon, who wanted to crack down on The Washington Post.
“In confirmation hearings for Ajit Pai, we raised this possibility,” Schatz said. “Now, the FCC must show that it is loyal to the law, not the president, and make clear that it rejects this kind of interference.”
Trump’s tweet came the same day as a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee markup on legislation reauthorizing the FCC, and Democrats used the brief meeting to hammer the president.
“This threat alone could intimidate the press and lead to skewed and unfair reporting,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Commerce committee Democrat, said during the markup.
“I therefore call on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to immediately condemn this unwarranted attack. I also call on the chair to announce publicly that he will not follow through on his orders from the president. Chairman Pai should not act in any way to undermine free speech on our airwaves,” he said.
And Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyBiden's FDA nominee advances through key Senate committee Overnight Energy & Environment — Manchin raises hopes on climate spending Warren, Democrats ask federal government to resume tracking breakthrough cases MORE (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Pai on Wednesday asking him to publicly refuse to act on Trump’s request.
Democrats were not alone in criticizing Trump. Conservatives and industry advocates who often side with Pai also raised concerns about the president’s message.
“The founders of our nation set as a cornerstone of our democracy the First Amendment, forever enshrining and protecting freedom of the press,” said Gordon Smith, the CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters and a former Republican senator from Oregon.
“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.
Pai has yet to address the president’s statement and a spokeswoman did not immediately respond when asked for comment.
It’s not the first time he’s been forced to answer for Trump’s invectives against the media.
After the president tweeted that the press is “enemy of the American People” in February, Democrats pressed Pai in an oversight hearing and in a follow-up letter on whether he agreed with the assessment.
“No,” Pai responded.