Trump Threatens NBC’s License Over ‘Highly Unethical Conduct’ on Spiked Harvey Weinstein Story

Questions about network’s handling of Ronan Farrow’s reporting have resurfaced in recent days

Donald Trump Smiling 2018
Getty Images

President Donald Trump directed his ire once again at NBC News, this time calling them out for their handling of Ronan Farrow’s Harvey Weinstein reporting, and threatening their broadcast license.

Trump tweeted on Tuesday: “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?”

Questions regarding NBC’s decision not to air the Farrow’s story on Weinstein have resurfaced in recent days. Farrow’s widely praised exposé on Weinstein was published in The New Yorker last October after he was initially doing the reporting for NBC News. Last week, Rich McHugh, a former producer of the NBC News investigative unit, told the New York Times that people at “the very highest levels of NBC” worked to quash the story at the network. NBC denied the accusation, calling it an “outright lie.”

NBC News chairman Andrew Lack sent a memo to staff on Monday, calling recent accusations that the news organization buried Farrow’s investigative piece baseless.

We spent eight months pursuing the story but at the end of that time, NBC News — like many others before us — still did not have a single victim or witness willing to go on the record. (Rose McGowan — the only woman Farrow interviewed who was willing to be identified — had refused to name Weinstein and then her lawyer sent a cease-and-desist letter.) So we had nothing yet fit to broadcast,” Lack wrote in the memo obtained by TheWrap. “But Farrow did not agree with that standard. Thats where we parted ways — agreeing to his request to take his reporting to a print outlet that he said was ready to move forward immediately.”

Farrow blasted back at NBC News chief Andy Lack on Monday for a memo that said Farrow’s bombshell reporting on Weinstein was not “fit for broadcast” when he was working at the network.

In a tweet sent hours after Lack’s memo to staffers became public, Farrow said the network’s account “contains numerous false or misleading statements.”

Farrow, who shared a Pulitzer Prize when his report on accusations of sexual misconduct against the Hollywood mogul was subsequently published by The New Yorker, disputed the network’s claim that after eight months of reporting Farrow “still did not have a single victim or witness willing to go on the record.”

This is the not the first time Trump has threatened to pull NBC’s broadcast license, a reference to the Federal Communications Commission license that allows broadcasters like NBC to use public airwaves to transmit their programming. The government has no control over programming transmitted via cable. But Trump’s attempts to challenge network news licenses aren’t based in fact.

For one thing, national television networks do not need government licenses, Georgetown University Law School professor Angela Campbell told TheWrap. Only individual stations have FCC licenses, she said. Also, the president isn’t in charge of the FCC.

“The president has no authority to direct the FCC to revoke a broadcast license,” former Federal Communications Commission lawyer Robert Corn-Revere told the Wrap. ” The FCC is an independent regulatory agency.”

But presidents can still exert influence — especially since they appoint all five FCC chairs. And the FCC may exert influence, too. But no one can say for sure how heavy its hand might be.