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Could the President Punish NBC News for What He Says Is a False Report?

by | Nov 16, 2017 | First Amendment, Media Law

A recent NBC News report said that the president wanted an almost tenfold increase to our nuclear warhead stockpile.

Trump was quick to claim the story was “made up and “pure fiction” on Twitter. He followed that up with a tweet threatening the broadcast license for NBC.


But how real is that threat? Does the president have the power to pull NBC News’ broadcasting license?

The short answer is no. Here’s why.

Any citizen, including the president, can file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). But if his only complaint is alleged misrepresentation or “fake news,” the First Amendment protects NBC News.

Why? Because to accomplish its goal of open debate in our society, the First Amendment includes the right to wrong.  

But that’s just the first issue. The other problem is that NBC News doesn’t have a broadcast license.

The FCC licenses individual TV stations – not networks. Comcast Corp broadcasts NBC’s content on over 200 stations. To be effective, Trump would have to successfully challenge the licenses of all those NBC affiliate and owned-and-operated stations.

Additionally, NBC reports on cable through MSNBC, and that content is not regulated by the FCC.

We’ve seen this kind of threat before from a president. Richard Nixon challenged the license of two Florida TV stations owned by the Washington Post, which was investigating Watergate at the time. The TV stations are still in business and thriving.

Our President has every right to complain about press coverage he doesn’t like, but he can’t muzzle the news. 


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