President Trump on Tuesday suggested that NBC's television license should be “look[ed] at” in a tweet that called the network “FAKE NEWS,” even though the agency in charge of TV licensing does not issue them to TV networks and cannot legally revoke an individual TV station's license based on the content of its programming.
Trump's tweet took aim at NBC's handling of journalist Ronan Farrow's reporting on Harvey Weinstein. Farrow and the news network have been at odds over whether NBC hindered his investigative reporting on Weinstein's misconduct.
"NBC FAKE NEWS, which is under intense scrutiny over their killing the Harvey Weinstein story, is now fumbling around making excuses for their probably highly unethical conduct,” Trump wrote. “Look at their license?"
Tuesday marks at least the second time in the past year Trump has suggested that NBC's license should be scrutinized. Last October, Trump tweeted a similar remark asking “at what point” it would be appropriate to challenge NBC's license. That tweet came days after NBC had reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had called Trump a “moron."
Legal experts have said the Federal Communications Commission, the agency in charge of issuing broadcast licenses, has no power to do what the president has proposed. The FCC does not issue licenses to TV networks; it issues licenses to individual TV stations.
"One, networks are not licensed at all,” lawyer Andrew Schwartzman, who lectures on media and public policy at Georgetown University, told The Post's “Can He Do That?” podcast last year. “And two, the FCC … is an independent agency."
That means the president may not direct or instruct the FCC to take particular actions.
Even if the FCC were to target individual TV stations, Trump's own FCC chairman has indicated that he lacks the authority to revoke a license over content issues.
"Under the law, the FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on the content of a particular newscast,” Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman, told an audience at a Washington think-tank event.