Trump Threatens NBC’s License After Nuclear Arsenal Report

By on October 11, 2017

President Donald Trump is threatening First Amendment protections for news networks that paint his administration in a negative light.

NBC News reported this morning that Trump had sought a tenfold increase in the number of nuclear weapons the United States currently harbors. The increase would result in an additional 60,000 nuclear weapons, and would be the highest number of weapons we have had in the history of the nuclear age by almost double.

The suggestion was made at a national security meeting in July, where military officials carefully explained why the move would be detrimental to our interests, sources told NBC. It was the same meeting where Rex Tillerson allegedly called Trump a “moron” behind his back.

Though the assertion of Trump’s suggestion is backed by three separate officials who were present in the meeting, Trump immediately responded to the allegations on Twitter, claiming that NBC News is publishing fake content.

Trump also made a veiled threat to the network, saying it may be time for the FCC to consider challenging their license.

The FCC doesn’t grant licenses to big networks, but does have some say in what broadcast stations are licensed at the local level. Such a threat by Trump, then, would require a targeted attack of licensees across the nation, in nearly every media market.

The bigger problem posed by Trump’s tweet is more philosophical in nature, but challenges an important value in American democracy — the right of a free press to report on events, with limited obstruction or intimidation from the U.S. government.

The debate on the extent to which the press is truly free has been argued over the entirety of our nation’s history. But Trump’s threats on Wednesday morning take that debate to new heights. As he contemplates retaliation against news outlets that report negative information about him, Trump essentially endorses repeating the horrendous ideals of John Adams, who jailed newspaper writers in the 18th century for doing the same type of reporting.

It’s been nearly 215 years since those aspects of the Alien and Sedition Acts were last enforced, and many more challenges to the press’s freedoms have been made since that time. For the most part, however, courts have ruled the press should be free to report on facts that they become privy to, including information from unnamed, anonymous sources. As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said in a 1972 opinion, compelling the news media to name sources would “annex the journalism profession as an investigative arm of government,” a move that could result in some dastardly outcomes.

Trump has proven time and again that he cannot be trusted in the office he holds. His insistence on undermining the norms of this nation should not, and must not, gain momentum. Trump’s challenges and threats to media are both abhorrent and detestable, and should be recognized for what they truly are: an attack on an important democratic principle, and an attempt to diminish the important role that news agencies play in this country.