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    Trump challenges NBC's media license after unfavorable reports


    Americas: United States


    Trump challenges NBC's media license after unfavorable reports


    The question of media freedom and journalistic liberty in the United States emerged in October 2017 when United States President suggested that the media licenses of NBC News and other news networks should be challenged in the wake of unfavorable news reports.


    The issue was sparked when NBC news reported that Trump wished to increase the United States' nuclear arsenal tenfold. Trump reacted by casting aspersions on the NBC news report as "fake news" and "pure fiction."  


    Taking to his favorite social media outlet, Twitter, trump tweeted: "Fake @NBCNews made up a story that I wanted a 'tenfold' increase in our US nuclear arsenal. Pure fiction, made up to demean. NBC = CNN!"  In a following tweet, Trump declared:  "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!


    The suggestion that a leader of a democratic country would threaten to decertify a journalistic outlet for unfavorable coverage was met with outrage from free speech and civil liberties advocates.  Indeed, the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned Trump's tweets, saying that they offered a terrible  example for other world leaders.  Meanwhile, Walter Shaub, who held the leadership post at the United State Office of Government Ethics under President Barack Obama, reacted to Trump via Twitter as follows: "At what point? At the point when we cease to be a democracy.


    For its part, NBC News reported that during a high level meeting at the Pentagon in July 2017, President Trump said that he wanted to significantly increase the United States' stockpile of nuclear missiles.  The president reportedly called for an increase in the United States' nuclear weapons arsenal  during a Pentagon briefing.  During that briefing he focused on a slide that showed a  downward-sloping curve on a chart depicting the gradual decrease in United States' nuclear weapons since the 1960s.  Trump also apparently demanded that United States troops and military equipment be boosted.  NBC News attributed its sources for the report to three officials who were at the Pentagon briefing.  NBC News additionally said that Trump's call for more nuclear weapons shocked the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.


    Of significance was first, the fact that as of 2017, according to various entities including the Arms Control Association, the United States had in its possession approximately 7000 nuclear weapons.  Such a number could hardly be thought of as paltry.  But also of significance was the fact that Trump's call for more nuclear weapons should not have actually come as a shock to anyone. In an interview in February 2017 with Reuters News, Trump said he would like the United States to be "at the top of the pack" when it comes to having nuclear weapons.  He specifically said that the United States had "fallen behind on nuclear weapons capacity."  Trump added that although he would ideally want a world without nuclear weapons, so long as they exist "we're never going to fall behind on nuclear power." 


    Returning to the matter of challenging a news networks' license, it should be noted that NBC News -- the network that broadcast Trump's television reality show "The Apprentice" in the past -- was already on Trump's radar.  At issue was the network's report that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the president a "moron" and disparaged Trump's grasp of international relations.  That statement provoked Trump to call for an IQ contest with his own secretary of state while decrying the media report by NBC News -- the latest media outlet in his crosshairs.  Previously, Trump was known to go on negative public tirades against CNN and the New York Times. 


    The act of decertifying a news outlet would, in fact, be an arduous one -- even for a president. Of note was the fact that the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates United States broadcasters, does not issue licenses to networks as a whole, but rather to local stations.  Moreover, it would be a complex endeavor to challenge a  media license on the basis of content  personally deemed objectionable, given constitutional protections of the fourth estate.


    The technical aspect of Trump's quasi-threat aside, it certainly seemed contrary to the White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' claims a week prior that  Trump was an "incredible advocate" of constitutional media protections.  Indeed, a leader musing about curbs on media freedom because of his personal objections to unfavorable coverage has to be understood as the domain of third world authoritarians. It should go without saying that journalistic freedom is a hallmark of any democracy with liberty as its constitutionally-expressed central ethos. 


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