FCC Commissioner Responds to Trump: "This is Not How it Works"

Rosenworcel reminds Trump of the "fundamental importance of the free flow of information to our democracy."

Flickr / New America

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel responded to President Donald Trump’s Twitter demand on Tuesday that NBC have its broadcast “license” reviewed.

Trump at 10:58 a.m.:

NBC FAKE NEWS, which is under intense scrutiny over their killing the Harvey Weinstein story, is now fumbling around making excuses for their probably highly unethical conduct. I have long criticized NBC and their journalistic standards-worse than even CNN. Look at their license?

Rosenworcel at 11:10 a.m.:

One more time . . . this is not how it works.

She then shared a link to the FCC’s manual on how it regulates broadcast licenses. The 33-page guide makes for an interesting read for more than just media geeks. Her dismissal of Trump’s request comes into focus with this passage on Page 13 of the FCC manual:

As noted above, in light of the fundamental importance of the free flow of information to our democracy, the First Amendment and the Communications Act bar the FCC from telling station licensees how to select material for news programs, or prohibiting the broadcast of an opinion on any subject. We also do not review anyone’s qualifications to gather, edit, announce, or comment on the news; these decisions are the station licensee’s responsibility.

The FCC doesn’t license networks, it should be noted, only local, over-the-air stations.

The subtle response to Trump from Rosenworcel signals her independence as a member of the FCC. While she was first nominated for the position by President Barack Obama and served as an FCC commissioner from May 2012 to January 2017, she was then renominated by Trump and confirmed. She’s now serving in her second stint as an FCC commissioner, a position she’s held since August 2017.

Rosenworcel’s position on the commission has struck a deep contrast to the chair, Ajit Pai, especially on issues of net neutrality. In December 2017, Pai, claiming a majority vote of the five FCC commissioners, voted to kill net neutrality protections.

“It’s not good for anyone who consumes or creates online,” she said in August about the decision in front of a Senate oversight committee. “We’re adding another gatekeeper and toll online. We could have them build the internet into a fast lane for some and slow lane that’s bumpy for the rest of us. I don’t think that’s the openness that’s led our internet economy to thrive.”

The FCC is an independent agency, a fact that has been clouded as Trump interferes with its decisions. Even Pai, whose decisions fall often onto the Republican side of the aisle, moved against Trump’s wishes this summer when he said he had “serious concerns” about a proposed merger between Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media, blocking the deal. It would have aligned two major Republican-leaning media companies, giving them near-total control of local media across the country.

Sinclair was memorably ridiculed by Deadspin earlier this year when a compilation video was released that shows local TV news anchors across the country making the same impassioned speech.