Trump suggests yanking NBC News’ license it doesn’t have

Donald Trump is apparently threatening the broadcast license of NBC News, which will come as a shock to a lot of people who didn’t know NBC doesn’t operate under a broadcast license.

NBC News is under fire for allegedly trying to stifle an investigation into rape allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood mogul.

But NBC News is part of a network that doesn’t have a broadcast license.

It’s true, however, that NBC’s parent company owns several TV stations that do operate under broadcast licenses, but each has its own news operation separate from the network.

NBC has something going for it in defending an attack on its station licenses, however. The FCC historically couldn’t care less about “serving the public interest,” the mission under which the licenses are issued. It’s watched from the sidelines as radio and TV stations have dismantled local news and programming and flipped the switch to satellite broadcasts. Another airing of “Freebird” on the radio is considered operating in the public interest. Go figure.

“You basically have to kill someone or be a child sex predator to lose your broadcast license,” Harold Feld, senior vice president at the Washington, D.C.-based digital rights group Public Knowledge, told Motherboard the last time the president suggested the government pull the NBC News license it doesn’t have.

A station here or there has occasionally lost a license. But a network? It happened once — 1987 — when the government stripped the licenses of the RKO General Corp., which owned 14 TV and radio stations and two radio news networks (disclaimer: I worked for the RKO Radio Network at the time).

It took 20 years to do it from the time of the first challenge against the network owners, General Tire and Rubber of Akron, Ohio, which at the time was one of the largest broadcast media owners in the country.

But the dispute had nothing to do with content. The broadcaster was cited for not telling the FCC that its parent company was being investigated for bribery of foreign government officials and illegal political contributions. Later, it was accused of phony billing practices with advertisers.

That, of course, before such businesses practices were celebrated as shrewd.