NBC News has managed to provoke President Trump’s rage again this week with their reporting -- enough that he has raised the question of revoking their broadcast license more than once, according to The Washington Post.
The kindling for this particular fire was a report made by NBC News early Wednesday that Trump pushed hard for a significant expansion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal this past July. That request reportedly was the reason Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would later call Trump a “moron.”
POTUS did what he normally does when upset: He tweeted Wednesday denying the report. According to him, it’s “fake news” and “pure fiction,” and he wondered if NBC’s broadcast license could be challenged. The initial tweet wasn’t the last thing he had to say on the matter, either. At a news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump went on to say that, “It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it.”
A few hours later, he decided he still wasn’t done with the matter, and tweeted again.
Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2017
Can the president remove a network’s broadcast license? Long story short: No. No, he can’t.
The Washington Post’s podcast Can He Do That?, which is dedicated to looking into and explaining the powers and limitations of the U.S. president, examined this particular moment. They noted that, first and foremost, comments about restricting the press because something is, according to Trump, “fake news,” is dangerous because “they undermine the idea that this is one of our most precious freedoms.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2017
They also concluded that the idea of the President having the authority to revoke the broadcasting license of a network flies directly in the face of what the Constitution lays down as fundamental rights. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does have the right to revoke or restrict broadcast licenses if a news network does something that is outright illegal, “but that’s not the power of the president.”
Trump isn’t the first president to want to limit the abilities of news networks. President Nixon threatened the FCC not renew the licenses of TV stations in Florida that were owned by the Washington Post. For Nixon, however, it was more a case of specific retribution against the Post and not him wanting to put an end to the investigations against him by shutting down those TV stations. He also talked about it behind closed doors, while Trump is more or less shouting it from the rooftops.
However, the most important part of all of this that Trump seems to have fundamentally misunderstood, as pointed out by Andrew Jay Schwartzman of the Institute for Public Representation of Georgetown University Law Center, is that networks are not licensed at all. It’s the individual TV stations and local newspapers that are licensed. Furthermore, the FCC is an independent agency containing no more than three members from any one political party and does not have to answer to the president for anything, ever. He chose one of them to be the chairman, but that’s as far as the reach of his power goes.
Like so many of Trump’s other statements, this one is also made of mostly hot air and impotent rage.