Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and President Trump. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

After NBC News reported Wednesday morning that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson came close to quitting over the summer, President Trump hurled one of his favorite insults at the network.

Note that Trump's tweet was not a direct denial of NBC's report about Tillerson; it was a sweeping assertion that NBC is “a disgrace.” Note, also, that when NBC asked the White House for comment before publishing, the White House declined to comment except to say that the story was untrue. (Tillerson, however, did deny that he considered resigning, in a Wednesday-morning news conference.)

The root of Trump's anger at NBC started long before this Tillerson story. The real “disgrace,” in Trump's view, is that the network on which he starred as host of “The Apprentice” does not reward him for years of strong ratings by covering him more favorably.

“I made a fortune for NBC with ‘The Apprentice,’ ” Trump told Fox News's Tucker Carlson in March. “I had a top show, where they were doing horribly. And I had one of the most successful reality shows of all time. And I was on for 14 seasons. And you see what happens when I am not on. You saw what happened, and the show was a disaster. I was on. I was very good to NBC, and they are despicable — despicable in their coverage.”

Trump aired the same grievance during a July news conference in Poland. Asked about CNN, the president turned his fire on NBC.

“I mean, NBC is equally as bad,” he said, “despite the fact that I made them a fortune with 'The Apprentice,' but they forgot that.”

Trump is remarkably explicit in his expectation of a quid pro quo — and his total disregard for media ethics. His position is that NBC's news division should repay the success he brought to its entertainment side, as if White House coverage is just one more business transaction. He contends that the network's loyalty to him should override its journalists' obligation to seek and report the truth.

Trump isn't just mad about NBC's Tillerson report, per se; he is mad because the network won't protect its former star.