Whether it’s mocking newspapers for shrinking subscriptions or demanding the firing of an ESPN anchorwoman, President Trump has been at near-constant war with the media since taking office. Today’s comments suggest he may be taking this out of a war of words and a more overt attempt at wholesale censorship of those he deems his enemies.
Trump responded with fury today to NBC News reports he’d sought a tenfold increase in the US nuclear arsenal, not only denying the story, but threatening to “challenge their license,” declaring NBC “bad for country.”
Even during the 2016 campaign, President Trump was threatening to move against newspapers and others saying it’s not “freedom of the press” to let media report without restrictions. He’s talked of changing libel laws to sue hostile media out of existence, and today lamented it is “frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever they want.”
While NBC was today’s target, Trump made clear they weren’t the only ones on the block, and within hours he was declaring network news in general as “partisan, distorted and fake,” and threatening to revoke all their licenses because it’s “not fair to public.”
While some experts say the threats could put pressure on NBC and others to be more pro-Trump, they also note the threats are basically empty. The United States does not license news media, and while President Trump could conceivably try to threaten the broadcast licenses’ of individual television stations owned by the networks, this would be both unprecedented and have no legal basis.
The whole controversy is likely to raised questions both about whether Trump is trying to censor the media, and whether in the course of his latest screed he was even aware that US presidents don’t legally have the authority to shut down news stations they have a personal beef with.