Earlier this month, senators asked Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai whether he agreed with President Trump that the media is the enemy of the American people. Pai demurred, saying he didn’t want to wade into political debates.
Thirteen days later, he finally answered the question. No, he doesn’t think the media is the enemy. “A free media is vital to our democracy,” he wrote in a letter to Senate Democrats who continued to press the issue.
It’s through the FCC that the federal government could perhaps do the most damage to the media.
It’s a remarkable thing for any civil servant to have to say. But in the Trump era, it needed saying. Trump once said he has a “running war with the media.” He has promised to “open up” libel laws to expose journalists to more lawsuits (something he probably can’t constitutionally do). He threatened to sue the New York Times for reporting allegations of sexual harassment leveled against him. He has barred news organizations that have run unflattering stories about him from press briefings. Meanwhile, he has expanded access for outlets that cover him favorably.
But it’s through the FCC that the federal government could perhaps do the most damage to the media.
The agency could, in theory, deny broadcasting licenses for organizations that are critical of Trump or fast-track applications for groups that are less critical. And it could change media ownership rules to favor the White House’s preferred media brands. The public needs reassurance, in unequivocal terms, that the FCC chair wouldn’t be a party to such shenanigans.