WASHINGTON, U.S. - U.S. President Donald Trump landed himself in another controversy, suggesting on Wednesday that news organizations that he disagrees with be shut down.
Trump’s latest statement was, by far, the President’s worst criticism against critical news reports that he called “frankly disgusting.”
Trump’s statements alarmed free-speech advocates who compared the tactics to intimidation efforts by the Nixon administration.
Trump seemed to have been reacting to an NBC News report that he had pushed senior aides in July for a major expansion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
It was this report that reportedly prompted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to refer to Trump as a “moron” after the meeting at the Pentagon.
Trump took to Twitter, calling the report “pure fiction made up to demean” him and questioned whether networks that report “Fake News” should be stripped of their broadcasting licenses.
Incidentally, the Federal Communications Commission licenses individual stations and affiliates, not networks.
Trump declared on Twitter, “Bad for the country!”
Then, responding to questions from reporters in the Oval Office, Trump denied expressing a desire for more nuclear weapons and again criticized NBC.
Trump said, “It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write. And people should look into it.”
The President added that he was not calling for limits to be imposed on the media, but he said that “the press should speak more honestly.”
He added, “I mean, I’ve seen tremendously dishonest press. It’s not even a question of distortion. . . . And then they have their sources that don’t exist.”
On Wednesday night, Trump reiterated his call for possibly challenging networks’ licenses over their news coverage.
He left a message on Twitter and said, “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!”
His close aides suggest Trump is frustrated over his stalled legislative agenda and political troubles.
Commenting on the ongoing investigations into his campaign’s ties to Russia, last week, Trump suggested that the Senate Intelligence Committee investigate news outlets over “fake news.”
Then, days later, he expressed anger at late-night television hosts over their “unfunny anti-Trump” material.
He proposed bringing back the Fairness Doctrine, a rule phased out in 1987.
The rule required broadcasters to provide “equal time” for divergent political views on certain issues.
First Amendment advocates criticised the president over his remarks and called them an assault on the Constitution.
Michael Copps, who served as chairman of the FCC in 2009 under President Barack Obama said in a statement, “I think it’s dangerous and has a chilling effect. I worry not just about somebody like NBC, which has a lot of resources to defend themselves, but especially about small, independent broadcasters who express opinions but do not have resources to do battle with the president.”
However, later in the day, legal experts called the president’s threat against NBC empty.
They noted that the FCC does not grant licenses to networks.
They further added that it is rare for individual stations’ licenses to be stripped over political concerns or for other reasons.
Meanwhile, in response to Trump’s tweet, Jessica Rosenworcel, a member of the FCC, wrote on Twitter, “Not how it works.”
The tweet was linked to an FCC report on how stations are regulated.
Andrew Schwartzman, a media law specialist at the Georgetown University Law Center said, “Obviously, when a public official, much less the president, threatens media outlets with any kind of legal proceedings, it is a cause for grave concern as a First Amendment matter. But as a practical matter there is no possible legal jeopardy for Comcast (NBC owner) television licenses.”
According to the NBC report, Trump’s reaction over the nuclear stockpile came after senior advisers showed the President information charting its steady decline in numbers since the 1960s during the meeting at the Pentagon in July.
Trump is said to have expressed a desire to expand the arsenal by up to 10 times its current size.
NBC has not formally responded to Trump’s attacks on the network.
Courtney Kube, a national security reporter for the network, said in a tweet, “NBC News didn’t report Trump ‘called for’ more nucs. On the contrary, we reported Trump said he wanted more but no one took it as an order.”
Further, Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said Trump’s attacks risk “outrage fatigue.”
He, however, added, “A call to challenge the licenses of news organizations for doing their jobs is genuinely shocking. This is the language of an autocrat, not the elected leader of a democracy.”