President Donald Trump on Wednesday suggested that NBC’s broadcast license should be pulled as punishment after NBC News published a report stating that the president sought a dramatic increase in the nation’s nuclear arsenal.
“Fake @NBCNews made up a story that I wanted a ‘tenfold’ increase in our U.S. nuclear arsenal. Pure fiction, made up to demean. NBC = CNN!” Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday morning, equating the two TV news outlets he has most often lashed out against. “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!”
It is the second time in as many weeks that Trump has felt compelled to attack NBC News, which reported last week that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson came close to resigning last summer and called the president a “moron” following a with members of the national security team and members of the cabinet. It was at that meeting, NBC News reported Wednesday, that Trump said he wanted a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear stockpile.
Tillerson has denied that he ever considered resigning and a State Department spokeswoman said the secretary had never called the president a “moron.” The reporting from NBC News was attributed to multiple anonymous sources.
The president’s stated willingness to potentially challenge the broadcast licenses of networks whose coverage he objects to opens a new front on Trump’s long-running battle with the press. The president has regularly complained about coverage he views as unfairly critical, labeling stories, reporters and entire outlets “fake news.”
The FCC, an independent federal agency, issues broadcast licenses to stations and oversees license holders. It does not license networks. NBC is owned by Comcast, which holds broadcast licenses for several stations. NBC also airs on affiliate stations owned by other companies.
The FCC did not immediately comment on Trump’s tweet.
Local residents or competitors can file a challenge to a station’s license renewal, but the basis for such a challenge is extremely limited — it must be a case where the station systematically violated the FCC’s rules or lacked the requisite “character” to hold the license. That is usually defined as a felony conviction, said Andrew Schwartzman, a communications lawyer with the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center.
"It’s an empty threat. The last thing that NBC is going to worry about is whether its broadcast licenses are in jeopardy," Schwartzman said.
Schwartzman said the only time he could remember a large broadcaster losing its license was a New York station whose management was convicted of bribery in the 1970s. The license renewal issue surfaced in 2012, when Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. was facing controversy over a phone-hacking scandal in Britain, but Fox’s U.S. television licenses were not revoked over the issue.