President Trump is threatening to revoke NBC’s broadcasting license following a report that he calls a “made up story.”
The story, which aired earlier this week, claimed that Trump asked to significantly increase the nation’s nuclear arsenal – something that would violate international treaties that have been signed by every president since Reagan.
The president’s comments reportedly came during a July 20th meeting at the Pentagon. As reported by NBC, the request was in response to a presentation showing a decrease in the US nuclear arsenal since the 1960’s. NBC also reported that Tillerson called Trump a “moron” after the meeting. Tillerson and the White House have denied this claim.
Trump slammed NBC on Twitter, calling the story as “pure fiction, made up to demean.” In a later tweet, he wrote, “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’s threat against NBC raises some important questions about the First Amendment.
“Not how it works,” tweeted Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat and member of the FCC.
For a TV station to broadcast, it must have a license from the FCC. These licenses are issued to individual stations, not to entire networks. According to a 2008 commission document, the First Amendment “protects broadcasts that criticize or ridicule established customs and institutions, including the government and its officials.”
But this report isn’t ridicule – it is misinformation presented as fact. The point here is that NBC aired a story without checking the facts, and Trump has called them out on it. Trump suggested that the network’s license be investigated, and an FCC committee member posted the regulations.
This is dangerous because Trump has the power to make changes to the rules – and then we really will have a First Amendment issue: do we allow stations to publish fake news and mislead the country, threatening our democratic process? Or do we attempt to curtail it but threaten First Amendment rights?
Editor’s note: Few presidents have taken on the media the way Trump has, and after 8 years of love-fest with Obama, the media is not used to this. But Trump’s threats are real.