Rule by intimidation and edict are the hallmarks of a dictatorship, which is why President Donald J. Trump’s threats against the news media, members of Congress and even owners of professional football teams are not to be taken lightly.
It is evident that the president sees himself as the supreme leader, much like his pal Vladimir Putin of Russia and Kim Jong Un of North Korea.
Trump has expressed impatience with America’s democratic form of government in which the executive, legislative and judicial branches share power.
Indeed, he has attempted to de-legitimize both Congress and the judiciary by attacking the institutions and individuals who serve in them.
But it is Trump’s unrelenting criticism and even threats against the press that should give every thoughtful citizen pause.
We say thoughtful because Trump’s supporters have bought into the ridiculous notion that the news media are the enemies of the American people.
The president and his minions disregard the fact that a free, unfettered press is one of the main pillars of our democracy.
Freedom of the press is etched in the Constitution of the United States, which the president has sworn to “support and defend.”
Yet, Trump, as he did during last year’s campaign, continues to demonize the mainstream media in an attempt to dissuade reporters from covering his presidency objectively.
In his latest attack on those he considers the enemy, Trump doubled down on his “Fake News” rant by going after NBC News.
Last week, after vehemently denying an NBC News report that he had broached the idea of dramatically expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal during a meeting with top military brass and senior administration officials, Trump sent out several tweets.
The first said this: “Fake @NBCNews made up a story that I wanted a ‘tenfold’ increase in our U.S. nuclear arsenal. Pure fiction, made up to demean. NBC=CNN.”
But it is the second tweet that is deserving of bipartisan repudiation. Here’s what he wrote:
“With all the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”
When the president of the United States issues such a blatant threat against the press, there can be no mistaking his intentions. He is using the power of his office to intimidate.
His bullying tactics are designed to cause reporters and their supervisors to move more cautiously and perhaps not report on issues that could make them the subject of Trump’s public condemnation.
He knows that the mainstream media are not as financially sound today as they had been in the past and, therefore, cannot afford to lose readers or viewers.
It is ironic that a self-proclaimed disciple of the free enterprise system would seek to undermine privately owned newspapers and TV stations.
The president’s ongoing attack on the bedrock of this nation’s existence forces us to weigh in.
His raising the specter of challenging the licenses of the networks hits close to home for us. The owners of The Vindicator also own NBC’s affiliate in the Mahoning Valley, 21 WFMJ-TV, our broadcast partner.
It is worth noting that the Federal Communications Commission issues broadcast licenses to individual television and radio stations and local affiliates.
The FCC does not require national networks such as NBC, CBS and ABC to secure licenses.
According to The Hill newspaper, which published an extensive story about the president’s attack on NBC, the FCC came out with a document that said the First Amendment to the Constitution “protects broadcasts that criticize or ridicule established customs and institutions, including the government and its officials.”
The Hill also reported that the document stated the FCC “generally will not intervene” in “allegations that stations have aired inaccurate or one-sided news reports or comments.”
Trump may also be impatient with Congress and may want to punish NFL team owners whose players do not stand for the national anthem, but he can only do what the Constitution permits. That’s the democratic way.