Trump Brands Media ‘Destroyers’

President Donald Trump arguably took his hardest shot at the mainstream media last week, even as FCC chairman Ajit Pai finally broke his silence on the President’s attack on broadcast licensees.

A week after tweeting that news outlet licenses should be challenged and if necessary revoked, the President, under the guise of a campaign funding e-mail, but one whose invective came between the salutation “friend” and the name “Donald J. Trump,” leveled both barrels at the “enemies of the people.”

The Trump-Pence campaign committee, in concert with the Republican National Committee, issued the latest in its series of media “accountability” surveys.

This one left no doubt that the President has a disdain for news outlets not seen since Richard Nixon — a comparison being invoked by Democrats last week — though Nixon’s threats were generally reserved for private conversations not meant for public consumption.

“The Mainstream Media is out to bring down my administration,” he wrote. “It’s a 24/7 barrage of hit jobs, fake stories, and absolute hatred for everything we stand for as a movement.”

Calling mainstream media — he was particularly miffed at NBC News — the “fake News machine,” he said they don’t care about the truth, or “what’s right,” but only about propping up the liberal Democrats he said they “worship.” Oh, and “destroying anyone who wants to put America first.”

Adding to the news media angst was Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ refusal to commit to not throwing journalists in jail for doing their jobs — Trump has made it clear he wants to ferret out leakers, who appear to abound in his administration.

Sessions was asked for that assurance at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D.-Minn.), who cited the President’s tweets about revoking broadcast licenses.

Sessions said the President “did not know that he could make a blanket commitment to that effect,” and didn’t make such a commitment. He did say that the Justice Department had not taken any “aggressive action against the media at this point,” but added that there were matters “that involve the most serious national security issues that put our country at risk [the President has made no secret he wants to go after leakers] and we will utilize the authorities that we have legally and constitutionally if we have to.”

Klobuchar said at the hearing that Pai had provided a “positive” answer about whether the FCC would revoke broadcast licenses over news content, as the President had suggested. Pai said last week, when pressed during a seminar appearance, that the FCC did not have that authority.

Klobuchar’s statement notwithstanding, Hill Democrats who had called for chairman Pai to break the silence seemed to want a stronger repudiation of the President’ s tweets.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, suggested focusing simply on whether or not the FCC can yank a license misses the point.

“At any given time broadcasters have any number of matters in front of the FCC. I am concerned that the agency could potentially use these matters against the companies, and take action outside the view of the public,” he said in Perspectives in this week’s B&C.

Pallone and others on the committee will get a chance to press their point at an FCC oversight hearing Oct. 25 at which Pai and the other commissioners are scheduled to testify.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.