Rosenworcel, Clyburn Need To Thump Trump

I can almost understand Republican Chairman Ajit Pai's muted response to Trump's tweeted threats against NBC's TV station licenses, but not those of Democratic Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn. If what they've said so far reflects their passion for protecting media from Trump at the FCC, the networks and their licensed stations may be in a little trouble. 

The controversy over President Trump’s tweeted threats against the broadcast licenses of NBC because of “fake news” on the network dragged into a second week as reporters finally cornered FCC Chairman Ajit Pai for a comment on Tuesday.

“The FCC under my leadership will stand for the First Amendment,” Pai said when asked about the tweets during an event at George Mason University. “And under the law the FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on the content of a particular newscast.”

What he didn’t say is that, under the law, the FCC has the authority to revoke a license for many other reasons, and, more important since revocations are rare, make life miserable for licensees in many other ways, most notably by delaying or denying license transfers.

For instance, the FCC could block Sinclair’s merger with Tribune Media by simply determining that it was not in the public interest for this or that reason.

In fact, there is a whole slew of people who want Pai to do just that. Most of them are on the left. They fear that Sinclair will use its enlarged broadcast footprint to spread its conservative message even further.

It is ironic that these are some of the same people who are concerned that Pai might use his regulatory power to bring NBC to heel. I bet that if Clinton had won, they would right now be banging on the door of Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel demanding that she kill the Sinclair deal because of Sinclair’s political views, First Amendment be damned.


Pai’s comments at George Mason this week were as disappointing as they were predictable. Last March, after Trump called CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC “the enemy of the American people,” Pai was asked by Sen. Tom Udall at an oversight hearing if he agreed with the president.

Pai took a pass, saying he didn’t want to “wade into the larger political debates.”

So, on two occasions now, Pai has made it clear that he is not going to criticize the president for his war on the media or even caution him against trying to impose his will on what is supposed to be an independent agency.

Watch him dance around the question again next Wednesday when he appears before the House Communications Subcommittee.

But what about the FCC’s two Democrats, Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn? Surely, they came down hard on the Trump for trying to intimidate the media through the offices of the FCC.


Rosenworcel first reacted with a tweet of her own: “Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy. Hope my FCC colleagues can all be on the same page with respect to the 1st Amendment.”

And then in a piece that appeared this week on the website of Cosmopolitan of all places, she said: “I don’t think history will be kind when this agency is silent and does not clearly and unequivocally refute interference like this from the president.”

If you think that was a snore, here’s Clyburn’s Twitter response to Trump’s attack on NBC: “Revoking a broadcast license on such grounds will only happen if we fail to abide by the First Amendment.”

HBO’s political satirist Bill Maher often mocks liberal Democrats for their namby-pamby responses to conservative loudmouths like Trump. Rosenworcel and Clyburn prove his point.

Perhaps the problem is, they don’t have anybody on staff who writes tough.

Allow me.

For Rosenworcel: I don’t have time or the inclination to educate that ignorant, two-bit real estate hustler on freedom of the press. But let me be clear: I will treat any Trump-inspired complaint against NBC with the same contempt I would Trump himself.

For Clyburn: As a former newspaper publisher, I will burn this place to ground before I let Trump or any other political hack use the FCC processes to intimidate or silence the news media in any fashion.

OK, I know, these may be a bit strong and I would like to see more decorum return to Washington. But Rosenworcel and Clyburn could at least be a little more colorful and pointed in defense of free speech and their agency. The Trump resistance needs outspoken leaders.

I disagreed with former Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps on just about every matter of policy, but I appreciate how he was able to use his bully pulpit to rally liberals when he was in the minority during the Bush administration.

The New York Daily News got a good statement from him after the Trump tweets: “This madcap threat, if pursued, would be blatant and unacceptable intervention in the decisions of an independent agency,” he said.

“The law does not countenance such interference. President Trump might be happier as emperor, but I think the American people would strip him of his clothes on this issue.”

That, I think, is just about the right tone for the FCC’s current minority duo.

Last week, I said that their most important job is to make sure that the White House does not meddle in FCC affairs by keeping an eye on what’s going at the commission. All those FCC lifers who voted for Clinton should help with that.

Their second most important job is to speak up early and often in the strongest possible terms whenever Trump’s war on the media crosses over into FCC territory.

They, too, I would note, are scheduled to appear before the House committee next Wednesday. I’ll be listening.

Harry A. Jessell is editor of TVNewsCheck. He can be contacted at 973-701-1067 or here. You can read earlier columns here.

Comments (22)

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Erica Frisch says:

October 20, 2017 at 3:47 pm

Well, it is official, Harry has turned his once reliable media guide into a fake news website that unabashedly substitutes his personal opinion as news and fact. it aint… Witness his obsession with Sinclair. My favorite was his recent unhinged column filled with ad hominem attacks on Rush Limbaugh. FAKE NEWS

    Ellen Samrock says:

    October 20, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    “…conservative loudmouths like Trump.” In case Harry is confused, Donald Trump is not Rush Limbaugh but the president of the United States.

    Andrea Rader says:

    October 20, 2017 at 8:32 pm

    Dude, you do know this is an opinion piece, right?

    Veronica Serrano Padilla says:

    October 20, 2017 at 9:32 pm

    @Fake Roer: Nope, it’s you who is confused. Trumpo the Cheeto-faced Clown is indeed a “loudmouth” (more so than even Limbaugh). But partially correct in that El Trumpo is not a “conservative” – no, he pretends to be whatever his unwashed minority wants him to be.

    Linda Stewart says:

    October 21, 2017 at 12:31 am

    He should act like it then.

    Ellen Samrock says:

    October 22, 2017 at 11:57 am

    I’ll make a deal with you, Harry. You tell journalists to stop the lying (aka, fake news), stop turning tragic events into political footballs, stop the cover-ups and I’ll write the president and tell him to act more presidential, whatever that means. Can’t say fairer than that.

Matt Hortobagyi says:

October 20, 2017 at 3:53 pm

The truth is it is
hard to lose a TV license based on past FCC history. The exceptions are WLBT in Jackson, MS and the RKO stations.

laureen moncrief says:

October 20, 2017 at 3:56 pm

Wow, standing up for the 1st Amendment makes this a fake website? And yet they let you post here. Better reread the 1st amendment Houston!

Erica Frisch says:

October 20, 2017 at 3:58 pm

Serious people never took the presidents comments about losing a license seriously. It was clear and obvious he was taunting the know nothing media leftists. He knew they would have a crazed reaction. It was like a parent telling a child not to get out of bed because of the monster – under that bed. The kids freaks out and the parent gets a chuckle.

    alicia farmer says:

    October 20, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    Wow! Up is down. Black is white. Facts are fiction. Words have no meaning.

    Bruce Morrison says:

    October 20, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    Right on target Houston

Susan Davis says:

October 20, 2017 at 5:16 pm

First Amendment is not at question here. What President Trump is upset about is the disregard for the truth that so many in the media are trumpeting (pun intended). He realizes he can do nothing to the networks, but We The People can. Say that a number of people decide that a major network or 3 decide to file papers with the FCC about license renewal and that the station willfully has deceived the public in their news reporting. I believe that would constitute grounds for a Petition to Deny license renewal. And their is plenty of evidence, usually in their own words, to back this up.

Shenee Howard says:

October 20, 2017 at 5:27 pm

Ironically, POTUS was caught this morning re-tweeting a fake news story about the UK. Quickly discredited. Which he never acknowledges.

Darrell Brotherton says:

October 20, 2017 at 6:32 pm

“Serious people never took the presidents comments about losing a license seriously.” Its so great to have a POTUS that we ‘shouldn’t take seriously’… Why? Because he’s repeatedly demonstrated he’s a mental midget, incapable of rationale thought and lies incessantly. Houston: when George W comes out and calls him on the carpet, I’d think you give it pause. You sir, have a mental disorder.

Andrea Rader says:

October 20, 2017 at 8:40 pm

There is a genuine threat of using the government to punish one’s perceived media enemies; witness Senator Ted Kennedy’s scheme to prohibit a cross-ownership waiver for News Corporation to own both the successful WFXT and the struggling Boston Herald. By contrast, Tribune had no such trouble obtaining and renewing waivers in various markets around the country.

Veronica Serrano Padilla says:

October 20, 2017 at 9:37 pm

“…two-bit real estate hustler…” Glad to see Mr. Jessell the stones to say that (unlike many of the anonymous posters here).

Cheryl Thorne says:

October 22, 2017 at 8:16 am

HARRY THE LEFTIE!!!!! JUst like we knew you were..As I said before..This is just another Leftie mouthpiece..You clowns just cannot help yourself…You are all hypocrites and fakes to the core.It’s the media business and how dare anyone to speak out against us..We all know better because we have a perceived high opinion of ourselves because we have a camera in our face..Well after running multiple stations one thing I know..The dumbest people in the building have a microphone and camera in front of them!!! Also look at the polls that show the historically low opinion of the public against the media.The mainstream media is going to be destroyed by the American public as ratings plummet and advertisers continue to turn away..

    alicia farmer says:

    October 22, 2017 at 11:29 am

    Bestyet – Hope you are having a great weekend in mom’s basement, wearing that tinfoil hat.

CBS Pittsburgh says:

October 22, 2017 at 4:07 pm

Not sure how Rosenworcel and Clyburn became the punching bags here. If this is a First Amendment issue (and I agree, it is) than it is just as important for Pai, O’Rielly and Carr to take a stand. Your editorial lets them off too easy.

Cheryl Thorne says:

October 22, 2017 at 7:36 pm

Former GM .. exactly.. that’s why you’d text former GM you clown!

Brian Bussey says:

October 23, 2017 at 10:34 am

I was under the impression this site was populated by broadcast media professionals?. In broadcast news, facts mean everything. Rational debate has to be the discussion of facts. I look forward to opposing viewpoints of a set of facts. That is how I form my own opinions. Comments like the one from NC17 are obviously a plant by someone who has never worked in this industry. Had he did, he would know who writes what is spoken on air. Our current leadership is the Whitehouse more resembles the result of a Coup than a fair election. NBC dumped Brian Williams for not being honest about saying he was somewhere 35 years ago. Has any Faux News anchor ever been demoted for lying.? I don’t believe they are capable of identifying a lie if they heard. it. If Faux News is not news then they should be forced to take the word “news” out of their title. This what happens when THE FAIRNESS DOCTRINE is not in place to counter the efforts of billionaires who have unlimited resources to pump out propaganda disguised as news. Trump does not scare me. What really terrifies me is the millions of people who take up for trump regardless of what he says. That should terrify all of us.

    John Livingston says:

    October 26, 2017 at 10:47 pm

    Fairness Doctrine is not needed was glad when it went out in the 80’s since it was outdated plus it was form of censorship before it went bye bye bye. Fox News has never had ever react a story from the news anchors who have never lied opinion shows like Sean Hannity should react some of his stories Sean Rich with his theories should apologize to the Rich family. You have posted fake news about Fox News viewers not being smart which is fake news and isn’t true and propaganda would be MESSNBC oh I mean MSNBC which isn’t real news their fake news. But you clearly don’t know what propaganda is Fox News isn’t as you have claim which your wrong.