President Donald Trump denied ever calling for a larger U.S. atomic arsenal and questioned whether FCC licenses should be taken from NBC television channels after the network published a story on Wednesday saying he’d done so in a meeting with security and military officials.
“It’s frankly disgusting how the press can write whatever they want to write and people should want to check into it,” Trump told reporters as he met at the White House with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trump’s denial was backed up by a statement by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. “Recent reports that the President called for an increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal are completely false,” Mattis said. “This sort of reporting is irresponsible. ”
NBC said that Trump made his remarks on July 20, and that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called him a “moron” after he left that session.
Trump issued a denial on Twitter early Wednesday and increased the prospect of challenging FCC licenses. NBCUniversal, the parent company of the network, is owned by Comcast Corp..
The president doubled-down about the threat Wednesday night, stating on Twitter that “Network information has become twisted so partisan and fake that licenses must be challenged and revoked. Not fair to public! ”
Comcast shares slipped marginally lower after Trump’s tweet, down 0.7 percent to $37.41 at 10:28 a.m. in New York.
Trump has threatened to use his office’s powers . Throughout his campaign, and again in March, he mused about loosening libel law to make it easier to win lawsuits over inaccurate stories. In an Oct. 5 tweet he urged that the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate mainstream media organizations’ news coverage as part of its probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
In 1972, President Richard Nixon urged his lieutenants to interfere with the renewal of the Washington Post’s licenses for Florida TV stations. The company’s stock price took a hit, and defending the licenses cost the company more than $1 million in legal fees over 21/2 decades, publisher Katharine Graham composed in 1997.
“Of all the threats to the company through Watergate — the attempts to undermine our credibility, the petty slights, and the favoring of this competition — the most effective were the challenges to the licenses of our two Florida television channels,” Graham wrote in her memoir.
Trump’s tweet was reminiscent of the episode.
“Is that Mr. Nixon speaking? That’s the last time we had #x 201D, & this; said Peter Tannenwald, a communications attorney.
Tannenwald, who has practiced law for 50 years, couldn’t recall an instance of a TV license being revoked because of the station’s programming.
Democrats blasted the president’s action as a clear attempt to intimidate journalists.
Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts urged the Federal Communications Commission in a letterdefy any urges from President Trump to damage the news media and infringe upon the First Amendment. ”
“@POTUS is openly suggesting an abuse of power,” Senator Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, said in a tweet.
Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic member of the FCC, tweeted simply, “Not how it works. ”
The FCC’s Republican chairman, Ajit Pai, who was chosen by Trump, didn’t respond by telephone and email for comment.
The National Association of Broadcasters said Trump’s threat to use authority contrary to the television network violates the Constitution’s First Amendment protection for press freedom.
“It is contrary to the fundamental right for any government official to undermine the revocation of an FCC license only because of a disagreement with the reporting of a journalist,” Gordon Smith, president of the Washington-based trade group, said in an emailed comment. Smith is a former Republican U.S. senator from Oregon.
The FCC issues licenses to owners. Comcast owns 10 NBC channels, such as in New York and Los Angeles, and it said in a filing this year which “substantially all of our broadcast television station licenses have pending applications for renewal. ”
The television network broadcasts through over 200 channels owned by companies. Affiliate owners comprise Gray Television Inc.. , which listed 29 NBC channels in a March filing, and Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.. , which listed 22 channels in an annual filing in February.
The White House didn’t comment. An NBCUniversal spokeswoman declined to comment.
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Trump and NBC have a relationship.
NBC made Trump a celebrity by broadcasting “The Apprentice. ” And Trump hosted NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” during the presidential campaign.
However, Trump has threatened to break up Comcast. Alec Baldwin routinely skewers Trump on “Saturday Night Live. ” And NBC said it cut ties with Trump in 2015 after he derided Mexican immigrants as “rapists” during a speech announcing his presidential campaign, saying it would no longer air the annual Miss USA and Miss Universe Pageants — a joint venture between Trump and NBC.
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