President Donald Trump gets plenty of criticism for his inappropriate words and actions as commander-in-chief.
But his tweets Wednesday morning went beyond deplorable and waded into authoritarian territory. Trump made a direct threat to the First Amendment protection for the press, a democratic value that has been afforded to media organizations in this country for more than two centuries.
Trump was responding to an NBC report that cited three top officials who had been involved in a national security meeting in July. During that meeting, Trump allegedly told his top military experts that he wanted to increase the nuclear warhead count by tenfold, essentially adding 60,000 nuclear weapons to the United States’ arsenal. The U.S. currently has around 6,800 nuclear weapons.
This was the same meeting that NBC News said resulted in Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling the president a “moron” for the president’s outrageous comments during the sit-down.
Trump logged into his Twitter account Wednesday morning to denounce the entire article’s assertions, calling it a fake story.
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2017
Trump then tweeted out his thoughts on news organizations publishing material he deemed to be “fake,” questioning whether they deserved to remain licensed or not.
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
There is no certifiable proof that Trump’s comments are accurate — it's likely that he's simply calling news coverage he dislikes “fake,” even as they have done their due diligence finding multiple sources to back up claims.
Many things Trump has called fake news in the past have been confirmed as truth. For example, Trump’s testy conversation with Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, which he previously called “fake,” was later confirmed as real.
But the broader problem with Trump’s tweet is that it spits in the face of a political value that Americans have sought to defend since the nation’s inception, that a free press must be protected from abuses from the government itself.
Trump’s insistence on threatening to punish NBC News and other outlets is reminiscent of what dictators in other nations have threatened in the past. It’s a disturbing pattern that this president and his administration have sadly been promulgating, and the American people should no longer tolerate it moving forward.
Banner image and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Kevin Lamarque