President Donald Trump amped up his anti-media rhetoric Wednesday when he told reporters, “It is frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever they want to write. And people should look into it.”
Trump was responding to a question about an NBC news story, about which the president tweeted Wednesday morning: “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”
With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2017
Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2017
Was the president calling for restrictions on what the news media can report? Was he suggesting that supporters go after the license of a network for reporting a story to which he objected?
“I think the president is venting,” GOP strategist and attorney Brad Blakeman said. Trump doesn’t have the power to restrict the press, Blakeman added. “Is it unartful? Yes. Should he be doing it? Not so directly, no, because people will get the wrong impression.”
Republican strategist and CNN contributor Alice Stewart was less charitable. “It’s inappropriate to question the credibility of a news outlet based on a story you simply don’t like.”
People of a certain age could not help but see a parellel to the Watergate era when a supporter of President Richard Nixon challenged the license of a Florida TV station co-owned by the Washington Post.
Trump’s salvos against NBC come at a time when the White House has been pointedly dismissive of those who question America’s chief executive.
Tuesday on Twitter, Trump mocked “‘Liddle’ Bob Corker” even though the GOP senator from Tennessee could provide a crucial vote for the GOP tax plan.
At Tuesday’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked if she agreed with Trump supporters who called on Corker to resign immediately after he got in a war of words with the president, even though Corker was elected to serve a term that ends in 2018. “I think that’s a decision for Sen. Corker and the people of Tennessee, not for us, to decide,” Sanders answered.
After the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas, when a UNLV professor told her students she had predicted people would die if Donald Trump was elected president, Sanders told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “It is sad she is teaching students such divisive, inaccurate and irresponsible rhetoric. She should be ashamed of herself, and the university should look into it. What a terrible example to set for students.” There was no mention of academic freedom.
Trump’s fury at NBC was rooted in a mutliple-bylined story based on three high-placed anonymous sources that reported the president said he wanted to increase the U.S. nuclear arsenal tenfold at a national security meeting this summer.
Trump told reporters the story was false but also “totally unnecessary, believe me.”
Secretary of Defense James Mattis issued a statement that called the story “absolutely false” and “irresponsible.”
Was it a threat? Asked directly if he supported limits on what the press should write, Trump responded, “No, the press should speak more honestly.”
The Society for American Business Editors and Writers issued a statement that found “Trump’s apparent advocacy for revoking the broadcasting licenses of television networks that he dislikes is unacceptable. Only in totalitarian regimes are licenses removed from networks in response to the airing of stories that upset politicians.”
“Trump’s NBC threat can be empty and uninformed — NBC has no ‘license’ to take away — and still disturbing,” tweeted New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik.