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Threat against NBC: Are Trump’s attacks on media merely an annoyance or harbinger of loss of responsible journalism?

In his latest attack on the press, President Donald Trump threatened to cancel NBC’s broadcasting license after a NBC report about a national security meeting in July during which Trump called for an almost tenfold increase in the nuclear arsenal. While his dig at NBC is hardly a creditable threat, it marked an uptick in the intensity of his attacks on the press. (Politico, October 11, 2017, by Louis Nelson and Margaret Harding McGill)

Trump’s threat provoked broad opposition from the broadcast industry, Democrats and First Amendment defenders. “Today’s call by the president of the United States to challenge the licenses of networks is not only dangerous to the American people’s right to access responsible journalism, it represents a clear misunderstanding on his part of how much control the federal government can exercise as it relates to networks and cable channels,” said Dan Shelley,  executive director of the Radio Television Digital News Association. Others were concerned about the chilling effect of this and other attacks on the media. (NBC News, October 12, 2017, by Andrew Rafferty)

For all his bluster and ugly threats Trump is toothless in attacking the press writes Paul Waldman, The Washington Post, October 11, 2017. “As unprecedented as Trump’s relentless and angry attack on the media is, it’s important to realize that unless he wants to break the law by doing something like ordering wiretaps of reporters (as Nixon did), there’s not much he can do,” agrues Waldman. “He could create an enemies list and instruct his aides not to speak to certain journalists. But given how incredibly leaky his White House is, they’d probably ignore him. He can try to discredit certain news organizations, which he has done. But you may have noticed that the main targets of his ire (CNN and the Times) are doing quite well in the Trump era. He has the power of the bully pulpit, but at least in this area, he’s finding it awfully hard to put his authoritarian impulses into practice.”

McKay Coppins, Columbia Journalism Review, Fall 2017, is not so sanguine about right wing challenges to the press. Coppins gives a short history of their attacks and warns, “It doesn’t require an overly active imagination to picture the post-apocalyptic news landscape that so many conservatives seem to be working toward. Media fragmentation accelerates to warp speed. Agenda-driven publishers—be they professionally staffed websites or one-man YouTube channels—churn out narrowly tailored news for increasingly niche audiences. There’s still plenty of factual reporting to turn to when you want hurricane updates or celebrity news, and adversarial investigative journalism doesn’t quite go out of style. But it’s easier than ever for news consumers to ensconce themselves in hermetically sealed information bubbles and ignore revelations that challenge their worldviews. For most people, ‘news’ ceases to function as a means of enlightenment, and becomes fodder for vitriolic political debates that play out endlessly on social media. (Like I said, it’s not hard to imagine.) Inevitably, the rich and powerful—those who can afford to buy and bankroll their own personal Pravdas—benefit most in this brave new world.”

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