Donald Trump on Tuesday morning harshly criticized NBC News’ coverage of the Harvey Weinstein story, obliquely threatening to remove their “license,” even though no such thing exists, and if it did, the president wouldn’t have the power to remove it.
NBC has been in hot water for supposedly suppressing stories about the disgraced Hollywood producer. As CNN reports, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ronan Farrow claims that NBC News blocked his reporting on Weinstein and that the network has “misled” the viewers about it.
“[My reporting on Weinstein] twice cleared and deemed ‘reportable’ by legal and standards only to be blocked by executives who refused to allow us to seek comment from Harvey Weinstein.”
NBC News president Andy Lack sent employees a 10-page memo outlining why the network supposedly killed Farrow’s Weinstein coverage. Lack claims that Farrow’s reporting wasn’t ready for broadcast, saying that the reporter had failed to independently verify key aspects of his allegations.
“So we had nothing yet fit to broadcast.”
For reasons that remain unclear, Donald Trump has apparently taken an interest in this matter. In a Tuesday morning tweet, he took aim at NBC.
“NBC FAKE NEWS, which is under intense scrutiny over their killing the Harvey Weinstein story, is now fumbling around making excuses for their probably highly unethical conduct. I have long criticized NBC and their journalistic standards-worse than even CNN. Look at their license?”
Ronan Farrow’s NBC producing partner Rich McHugh speaks for the first time: Says NBCs handling of Harvey Weinstein story was “a massive breach of journalistic integrity.” https://t.co/0cdeqnFMkM— John Koblin (@koblin) August 31, 2018
This is not the first time Trump has threatened to revoke NBC’s “license.” As The San Diego Tribune reported back in October 2017, Trump had threatened the very same thing for unflattering coverage.
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2017
Unfortunately for Trump, that’s not actually a thing.
As Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel explained, the agency doesn’t “license” national broadcasters like NBC, CBS, and so on, saying “that’s not how it works.”
The FCC does license local broadcast networks, such as your local NBC or CBS affiliate – and there are 31,445 such networks in the U.S. Those local networks enter into agreements with the national broadcasters. The FCC can revoke the licenses of such stations, but the process is complicated and cannot be carried out at the whim of the president.
Long story short: The FCC can fine, and revoke the license of, a local affiliate if it runs afoul of FCC rules about profanity – dropping the F-bomb, for example, or showing nudity. The FCC does not regulate news coverage at all, and indeed, cannot and does not punish broadcasters for “news distortion” or even broadcasting outright lies or hoaxes, as those behaviors are all protected by the First Amendment guaranteed freedom of the press.