FCC Chair Preemptively Rubbishes Trump’s Dumb Tweet About Difficult Media Licenses (UPDATED)


Is it a day ending within the letter “y”? Then sure, President Donald Trump has mentioned one thing flippantly authoritarian, made an entirely empty risk, and blasted the media, all earlier than lunch. Helpfully, he completed this all with only one tweet:

Ajit Pai ||| ReasonMotiveThe president is right, if unintentionally so, that difficult a media firm’s license out of frustration over its allegedly inaccurate protection is “Unhealthy for nation!” As he would know properly, if he paid consideration to his personal Federal Communications Fee Chair, Ajit Pai, who in a speech final month (as lined by Selection) sounded the warning that “free speech in observe appears to be underneath siege on this nation”:

Pai added that the “frequent thread is the idea, shared by too many, that these with views perceived as unpopular or offensive ought to be silenced. One has to wonder if those that will at some point carry the torch might be devoted to open debate or will as an alternative search to marginalize viewpoints they do not like.”

Pai mentioned that he additionally sees “worrying indicators” on the FCC, pointing to Twitter messages during which “individuals recurrently demand that the FCC yank licenses from cable information channels like Fox Information, MSNBC, or CNN as a result of they disagree with the opinions expressed on these networks.”

“Setting apart the truth that the FCC does not license cable channels, these calls for are basically at odds with our authorized and cultural traditions,” Pai mentioned.

(Try Motive‘s April interview with Pai, which is embedded at the bottom of this post.)

CNN’s Oliver Darcy and Brian Stelter do a good job of explaining why Trump’s trial-balloon threat is “essentially toothless,” not least because “there is no single license for NBC or any other national television network.” Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of Press Foundation, counters in a Twitter thread that “There’s an argument that Trump’s new threats against NBC & the NFL have crossed the line into an actual First Amendment violation.” As always, keep refreshing Popehat.

Working through my own “5-Step Process for Playing Defense Against Trump’s Bad Ideas,” part of which emanated from his nonsense-talk as president-elect about criminalizing flag-burning, I quickly conclude that 1) Trump can’t really do anything about this specific issue right now (not least because his FCC commish would raise a stink). 2) Congress ain’t gonna do jack about this or any related issue, either. 3) There are many constitutional/institutional restraints to Trump acting on his many garbage ideas about the media (on which more below). 4) It’s possible that his behavior will create a backlash that reverses the seeming erosion in public support for the First Amendment (see, for example, the recent increase in public trust of the media, and yes, yes, “the media” does not equal the First Amendment, but I’m talking about backlashes). But! 5) How might he be changing the political conversation in such a way to make what is currently unlikely possible? That’s where this latest belch might linger.

Let’s just posit that this is a stupid and awful thing for any American president to say:

Press freedoms (including to the freedom to write mean-spirited things about politicians without being rung up for sedition) are not “disgusting”; they are part of what Made America Great In the First Place (#MAGIFP). But by stomping up and down on the right’s preexisting anti-media button, Trump is helping to smoke out a fundamental incoherence among his base. Namely, that many red-hatters imagine themselves as fighting the real battle for free speech against an increasingly censorious, monolithically leftist, three-headed media/entertainment/academia monster. And their hero is so narcissistically combative, historically incurious, and blasé about government overreach that he’s actually talking about bringing back the fucking Fairness Doctrine.

The #NeverTrump Republican political consultant Rick Wilson is fond of saying that Trump ends up ruining everything he touches. That’s more sour than my take—after all, Trump has decisively touched his own regulatory state, with such salutary picks such as Ajit Pai. But I think we may soon conclude that just when conservatives were inching tantalizingly close to the free-speech high road, their hero led them down a Culture War highway to hell.

Nick Gillespie’s interview with Mr. FCC:

UPDATE: The president of the United States tweets again:



Matt Welch

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