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Trump Wants CNN, NBC “Licenses” to Be Revoked for Not Airing Iowa Victory Speech

Cable networks, even those that report on political news, don’t need licenses to operate.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at his caucus night event at the Iowa Events Center on January 15, 2024, in Des Moines, Iowa.

On Tuesday, former President Donald Trump expressed deep discontent over major cable news organizations deciding not to air his victory speech in the Iowa caucuses live on television.

Within the speech he gave on Monday night, the former president’s comments delved into lies he frequently makes about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, including wrongly stating that mail-in ballots led to “crooked” outcomes and falsely stating that President Joe Biden only won the race through “election interference.”

The two networks have, for quite some time now, refused to air Trump’s speeches live or have cut away from them when they include such false claims, which are incredibly difficult to fact-check in real time. In a speech he made in New Hampshire on Tuesday evening, Trump chastised the channels for not airing his remarks live.

NBC and CNN refused to air my victory speech. I think of it because they are crooked,” Trump said at the event. “They’re dishonest, and frankly, they should have their licenses or whatever they have… Take it away.”

Trump’s demand that these cable stations lose “their licenses” is an empty one — no such license exists for cable channels, which do not have to adhere to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) standards the same way broadcast news networks do. Even if they did, there is no standard requiring broadcast stations to air the victory speeches of presidential candidates in state-level nominating contests.

In this case, prior to Trump’s whining about cable networks in his speech, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow had preemptively explained the network’s thinking on the subject, saying on Monday night, as his victory speech was happening, that the decision was based on a longstanding network policy of not wanting to air blatantly false material and disinformation from Trump.

Said Maddow:

There is a reason that we and other news organizations have generally stopped giving an unfiltered, live platform to remarks by former President Trump. It is not out of spite, it is not a decision that we relish, it is a decision that we regularly revisit. And honestly, earnestly, it is not an easy decision, but there is a cost to us as a news organization of knowingly broadcasting untrue things.

Trump’s comments are in line with the frequent attacks he’s made on the media, including his criticisms of journalists and networks during his time in the White House. It’s also not the first time Trump has threatened to pull the licenses of news stations that have reported on him.

Trump’s attacks on the media have also sometimes violated First Amendment protections for journalists. While president, for example, his White House suspended the press credentials of CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta, in retaliation for questions from that journalist challenging Trump on his immigration policies.

CNN sued to have Acosta’s press pass restored, and a federal judge ruled that he was improperly suspended, issuing a temporary injunction on the White House’s actions until a full trial could be carried out. The Trump administration restored Acosta’s press pass soon after.

While Trump has heaped praise on right-wing journalists who portray him in a positive way, he has frequently derided journalists who have reported truthfully about him, oftentimes labeling them as un-American. In late 2019, for example, Trump said on Twitter that such journalists were “the enemy of the people.” Such jargon has sometimes led to threats of violence and even actual attacks against journalists by Trump supporters.

Trump’s latest comments about news networks refusing to air his victory speech this week — and his dreams of seeing them punished for not doing so — shouldn’t be ignored, critics note. Even though Trump, if he becomes president again, couldn’t really do much toward cable stations, his words could have a chilling effect on how broadcast stations report on him.

“This isn’t an empty threat” from the ex-president, journalist Ahmed Baba said on X, adding that politicization of the FCC — which could restrict how some news organizations operate — is “100% something Trump will try to do.”

“If you think he won’t try to do this if he’s elected, you haven’t been paying enough attention,” retired journalist and media critic Jennifer Schulze also said.

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