Breaking days of silence, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai subtly shot down President Donald Trump’s threat to revoke NBC’s licenses because of its recent reporting.
In his brief comments, Pai mentioned neither Trump nor NBC. But, he said Tuesday: “I believe in the First Amendment,” adding his agency “does not have the authority to revoke the license of a broadcast station based on the content of a particular newscast.”
Pai confronted the question at an event hosted by the Mercatus Center, after days of dodging reporters’ questions about Trump’s tweet. The president’s threat came in response to NBC reporting last week that revealed he had hoped to expand the U.S. government’s nuclear arsenal.
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
Immediately, a number of Democrats — including Pai’s colleagues at the FCC, Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn — expressed their dissatisfaction with Trump’s comments.
Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy. Hope my @FCC colleagues can all be on the same page with respect to 1st Amendment. https://t.co/1aNpYsk7BG— Jessica Rosenworcel (@JRosenworcel) October 11, 2017
As they and others noted, the FCC does not have the power to fulfill Trump’s threat. For one thing, NBC's main, national network isn't licensed by the U.S. government. Local stations do obtain those licenses — but even if the FCC took the unlikely step to revoke them, it hardly would stop NBC’s parent, Comcast, from producing content elsewhere.
* Comcast, through its NBCU arm, is an investor in Vox Media, which owns this website.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.