President Donald Trump has threatened press freedom before, but he took it a step further when he suggested that television networks should lose their broadcasting license because they publish "fake news."
The president made this statement on Twitter after NBC reported that Trump had called for an astounding increase in the country's nuclear arsenal during the meeting he had with US national security advisors in July.
Pres. Trump tweeted: "With all the fake news that’s coming from the networks and NBC, at what point would it be appropriate to challenge the licenses they carry? Bad for the country!"
Hours later, the president elaborated on the threat he made on the social media network when he was interviewed by reporters. "It’s frankly disgusting that the press is allowed to write whatever it is they wish to write. People should be looking into it," said Trump before meeting with Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada.
Substantively, the president’s threat is fairly empty because television networks including NBC are not holding any license as entire networks. A license is issued to a local station, which means NBC owns 28 of them.
Under the deregulatory measures that Republicans pushed during the Reagan administration, revoking the license of a local station on the grounds of unfair or unbiased coverage would prove to be very difficult.
Still, the remarks of the president alarmed the advocates of the 1st Amendment because Trump suggested the use of government power to punish the media. A lot of them recalled the same threats that President Nixon made years ago.
According to the former Republican senator and president of National Association of Broadcasters, Gordon Smith, the founders of the country set the 1st Amendment as democracy's cornerstone, forever protecting and enshrining press freedom.
"It's contrary to this right for a government official to suggest the revocation of FCC licenses simply because of disagreement with the press or the reporting of a certain journalist," said Smith.
Former commissioner at the FCC, Michael Copps, called president Trump's threat as "madcap" and that if it’s pursued, "it would be an unacceptable and blatant intervention to the decisions of an agency that is independent."
Copps said that the smaller independent stations across the country would find Trump's threat chilling as they lack the funds needed to defend themselves.
The tweet fits the perfect pattern for Trump every single time he reacts to perceived antagonists.
Previously, he had spoken regarding his plan to make strict libel laws. In a tweet, he also questioned the "massive tax breaks" of NFL players as some of them were "disrespecting the country, flag, and anthem."
The latest tirade of Pres. Trump against NBC was caused by a report on Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, as he allegedly called the President a "moron" in private. The report said that Tillerson nearly quit his job because he was concerned about Trump’s policies and behavior. Tillerson denied that he said any of those statements.