We do a lot of media criticism here at First Draft. It’s one of Athenae’s specialities with her takedown of Chuck Todd as the most recent example. Criticism is one thing but threats are altogether a different matter, especially from a president* who puts the bully in bully pulpit.
In his continuing campaign to distract attention from his administration’s failures and scandals, fake he-man Donald Trump is going after the “fake news” media. Along with kneeling jocks, minorities, and uppity women, the media are his go-to boogeyman. We all know what his definition of “fake news” is: stories that are critical of him. How has he retained his reputation in some circles as a tough guy? He’s got a glass jaw: real tough guys can take a licking and keep on ticking as an old Timex ad put it. The Insult Comedian is a whiny, titty baby who cannot handle criticism. What did he think he signed up for? This is the big leagues, not grade school t-ball.
There are a number of reasons Trump’s ideas about punishing NBC are, from a practical matter, unworkable.
First off, NBC itself as a broadcast network isn’t licensed by the FCC. NBC’s potential vulnerability would come as the owner and operator of 28 individual local stations, including its Telemundo station
(There are also dozens of NBC affiliates that NBC does not own and thus does not hold the licenses to.)
Second, the FCC license renewal process Trump suggested could be used to retaliate against NBC occurs every eight years. According to experts, it’s basically a rubber stamp and stations’ licenses are almost always renewed, though citizens in the localities of a station can technically challenge a license, as can a station’s competitors, if the station is doing competitive harm. To challenge NBC’s licenses, someone would have to do so in each of the individual local communities and they would face an uphill battle, legally speaking, especially after the deregulation that occurred starting with the Reagan administration.
“There are a couple of oddball cases involving smaller broadcasters, where they’ve gotten in trouble and not gotten their licenses renewed, but never about programming. No significant broadcaster of any size has ever lost a license renewal,” Schwartzman said
The threat may be empty but the mere fact that he made it is disturbing. The Nixon administration threatened the Washington Post company with revocation of its teevee affiliate licenses. I think you know why: Tricky Dick did not like its coverage of his administration. Nixon, of course, was smart enough to have surrogates do so privately as opposed to spouting off himself in public. That’s why they called him Tricky Dick. It’s one difference between Watergate and Moronogate.
I recently read an excellent 1982 biography of Mussolini by an Oxford Don, Denis Mack Smith. The parallels are disturbing. Mussolini was a mendacious, narcissistic opportunist who only believed in himself. Like Trump, he manipulated the mass media of his day to obtain power. In his case as a journalist who immediately turned against a free press upon becoming Duce. The good news is that it’s much harder for any American president to suppress free speech. The bad news is that we’re having this discussion at all.
Attempts to shut down a free press are not only unconstitutional, they’re the first step on the path to dictatorship. Trump is so unpopular and incompetent that it’s not going to happen. We need to be concerned about future attempts to do so by a demagogue who is cleverer and more knowledgeable. It *can* happen here.