All manner of politicos and pundits have called on President Trump to curb his Twitter habit. It demeans the office of the president and makes life difficult for his White House crew, goes the argument.
Okay, but there’s this benefit: The tweets expose just how predisposed is the president toward gutting the First Amendment, and just how little he understands how it works.
On Wednesday morning, for example, Trump grew frustrated with a report by NBC News that Trump declared at a July meeting that he wanted to return to the country’s nuclear-warhead stockpile of the 1960s, or a tenfold increase over today’s levels. “Any increase in America’s nuclear arsenal would not only break with decades of U.S. nuclear doctrine but also violate international disarmament treaties signed by every president since Ronald Reagan,” noted the article, which carried four NBC News bylines.
Trump hated it:
As noted before, Trump for many, many months was content to merely denounce stories in the media — calling them “fake news,” belittling “third rate” reporters and so on. Of late, however, the president has taken to publicly airing his autocratic fantasies of abandoning the First Amendment. Last week, he wondered aloud why the Senate Intelligence Committee wasn’t looking into the so-called Fake News Networks.
And then, on Wednesday morning, he took the fantasy one step further on NBC News:
Well, it’s never appropriate to challenge their license. Because they don’t have a license. Per the website of the Federal Communications Commission:
We license only individual broadcast stations. We do not license TV or radio networks (such as CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox) or other organizations with which stations have relationships (such as PBS or NPR), except to the extent that those entities may also be station licensees. We also do not regulate information provided over the Internet, nor do we intervene in private disputes involving broadcast stations or their licensees. Instead, we usually defer to the parties, courts, or other agencies to resolve such disputes.
A bit more on this: The large news networks have affiliate stations that are owned by other entities; for NBC, there are about 200 of them. They also have owned-and-operated stations; for NBC, there are 11 such stations, in big markets such as D.C., Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth and New York, among others.
In order for Trump to wipe out the reporting of NBC News, well, he’d have to upend the licenses of all its affiliates and owned-and-operated stations — an unfathomable act, and one that might even draw condemnation from Trump’s fellow Republicans.
The autocratic effort couldn’t end there, however. NBC News transmits its reporting every day, all day on MSNBC, its cable arm. Here, Trump is powerless. Though the FCC regulates certain aspects of the cable television industry, news content ain’t one of them.
Don’t forget MSNBC.com and NBCNews.com. Those are quite common conduits for the “fake news” of NBC. Here again, Trump is powerless. Though the FCC, under President Barack Obama, instituted “net neutrality” rules for Internet service providers (which are unraveling), no one at the FCC can stop the NBC people from launching websites and publishing their reporting, whether or not it pleases the president.
With his tweet, Trump suggests that he figured there was a big placard somewhere on an FCC shelf with the title, “NBC License.” And that he could stop in one day and just rip it up. He’ll just have to accept that the world is more complicated than he’d prefer. He’s as unsuited for his job as his job is unsuited for his appetites.