I apologize. This is going to be ANOTHER rant. As many of you probably already know, Mr. Trump issued an ill-informed threat this morning against NBC News. It seems his feelings were hurt over a story which reported that he had pushed his senior aides back in July to dramatically increase our nuclear arsenal. Supposedly it was this request which prompted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to call him a “moron” after the meeting. Despite NBC verifying three White House officials as anonymously confirming this, Mr. Trump predictably screamed “Fake News!” But then he took his tantrum one step further, tweeting:
With all the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!
When asked about his tweet later in the day while reporters were covering his meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he seemed to back down a little. Responding to the question of if he favored limits on what the media should be allowed to say he said, “No. The press should speak more honestly.” But in a complete turnaround, earlier this evening he sent out yet another tweet concerning the issue.
Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to the public!
Fellow Republican, Senator Ben Sasse had the decency to issue this statement:
Mr. President: Words spoken by the President of the United States matter.
Are you tonight recanting the oath you took on January 20th to preserve, protect, and defend the First Amendment?
This is a good question. You see, while it’s tempting to brush his rhetoric off as more empty, deranged bluster designed to set his supporters hearts a-flutter, it’s possible this could become a real issue. Legal experts call his threats empty, pointing out that the F.C.C. doesn’t grant licenses to networks, and they also cite a historical precedent. In 1973, allies of President Nixon attempted to revoke individual licenses of television stations owned by the Washington Post Co. during their investigation into the Watergate scandal. Although a businessman who was a Nixon supporter filed papers that challenged the Washington Post’s ownership of the stations, and the Justice Department also filed antitrust charges against ABC, NBC, and CBS, ultimately they were unsuccessful. So, we have nothing to worry about, right? Well, according to a New York Times interview with Tom Wheeler, who was Chairman of the F.C.C. under President Obama, Mr. Trump’s seemingly idle threats could actually be a message to Trump supporters that he needs them to take up his cause. Mr. Wheeler states:
This sounds to me like another dog whistle for folks to file against the license renewals. Clearly it would be a bridge too far for the Trump F.C.C. to move on their own initiative. But if some conservative groups were to take this as their marching orders, it would be an interesting situation to see what the Trump F.C.C. did.
Whether his words are meaningless or not, Mr. Trump’s continued attacks against free speech, as in the case of the NFL protests and freedom of the press are chilling, and must not be allowed to stand unchallenged. Republicans consistently and vigorously defend the Constitution when it comes to the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms, even as we face more and more mass shootings. Are there any others besides Senator Sasse, willing to publicly denounce the President and defend the First Amendment as passionately? I don’t know about you, but I’m not holding my breath.