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Defeat Trump’s NBC death penalty threat with this F word



On Wednesday, Donald Trump appeared to threaten the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) over its “Fake News,” unveiling the weapon of government license revocation.

Now, it’s an open question whether Trump was even serious, whether he is trolling the nation and tweaking the news media establishment. We’ve speculated before — going back to the 2016 election season — that Trump might just be doing some extended reality show in which America has been an unknowing participant and “sold a farce.

Or is Trump indeed some sort of unhinged Chief Executive with no concept of the basic First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press, or the basic premise that the Constitution is a document which limits the power of the government. (Note: For the latter proposition, don’t use that linked government document; try this instead.)

The problem is that this isn’t the first time Trump, or advisors close to him, have threatened such excessive executive action. Last year, Trump’s (and former Nixon) advisor Roger Stone suggested Trump “turn off” CNN’s license.

The solution involves . . . the F word: federalism.

Coverage From Elsewhere

This Forbes article explains that the Federal Communications Commission generally just doesn’t get involved in matters involving content distributed by broadcasters.

The trouble with Trump’s tweet, though, is the Nixonian undertone. (Or worse.) Cue up the dark Halloween/haunted house/horror movie soundtrack. This is from the Washington Post.

And the Peacock Network’s coverage of itself is here. Can you find why Ben Sasse won’t be happy?


As a practical matter, never mind a legal one or a moral one, the President cannot unilaterally revoke a network’s broadcasting license, but only the licenses of individual station operators. The President also cannot take unilateral actions because the Federal Communications Commission is an independent agency which is generally loathe to act on issues of content. While the President can appoint members and pressure it, even if the FCC were obedient, its actions are subject to a host of regulatory procedures including the federal Administrative Procedures Act.

You’re kidding me? This is Washington, folks. This means . . . litigation!

As for those individual stations, NBC owns 11, covering most of the top ten media markets including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington. That means that an attack.


Trump’s tweets, if taken literally and seriously, illustrate one type of danger of government power, even when it opposes another danger.

Trump’s danger is the spoken implication that government power can be used — today, by him — to dictate outcomes even when core constitutional rights are involved.

The greater danger may come from the federal bureaucracy, “where administration and regulation replace politics as the ordinary means of making policy.” Trump’s ill-considered eruptions threaten to set precedents, both legally or culturally, for far greater abuses, by people in the administrative state (or Dark State) with far greater access to covert power and possibly with far more Leftist and sinister motives.

Conservative corporate lawyer, commentator, blockchain technology patent holder and entrepreneur. Headquartered in a red light district in the middle of a deep blue People's Republic.

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