By now, the fairest question to ask is whether to take President Donald Trump’s agitated reactions to news reports seriously or literally — or neither.
NBC News reported Wednesday that Trump indicated he wanted a tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear stockpile during a July 20 meeting with national security officials.
This purportedly led Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to tell his colleagues as the meeting broke up that Trump is a moron.
Trump quickly termed the account — which NBC attributed to three officials who were in the room — “pure fiction” and “made up to demean.”
Then came the attention-getting tweet: “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License?”
Presuming he was talking about the Federal Communications Commission — no other licenses would leap to mind — he seemed to get the process wrong.
As described on the agency’s own website, the FCC licenses only individual broadcast stations, as opposed to TV or radio networks such as NBC, Fox, ABC or CBS.
Maybe he was thinking of all of the licenses held by affiliates of NBC’s parent, Comcast.
Or maybe he was thinking of nothing at all.
Previous warnings of this type from Trump have failed to pan out.
During the campaign, more than a dozen women came forward to accuse Trump of sexual misconduct. He vowed to sue them once the election was over, but did not follow through.
Trump also disliked many newspaper stories during the campaign.
“I’m going to open up our libel laws,” he vowed, “so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.”
But state courts and legislatures are the forum for these cases and it remains especially difficult for a politician to succeed, especially without presenting evidence that a story was false.
Again, there was no follow up.
Same goes for Trump’s past hint his administration would hit back at CNN by obstructing its parent Time-Warner’s $85 billion takeover by AT&T through the antitrust process.
Despite all that, partisan critics weren’t willing to let the latest, coyly veiled threat of “license” action — or whatever Trump meant — pass without ringing alarms about the preservation of American liberties.
Even right-wing former congressman Joe Walsh, a nationally syndicated radio host, tweeted: “Look, I’m no fan of NBC, but you can’t have POTUS threatening to take their license away. That’s just wrong.”
Tweeted his fellow talker Glenn Beck: “This is not about politics. This is about the First Amendment! I may disagree with #NBC but I stand for their right. #1stAmendment.”