FCC Majority Mum on Harmfulness of Trump Press Attacks

But all stand up for First Amendment and freedom of journalists
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FCC building

The FCC's Republican majority declined to say whether they thought President Donald Trump's attacks on the media were harmful.

That came in an FCC oversight hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee Thursday (Aug. 16).

Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) pointed to the Boston Globe-backed effort Thursday to push back on those attacks, and asked each commissioner for a yes or no answer on whether Trump's characterizations of the press-fake news, enemies of the people, disgusting--was harmful 'to the values enshrined in the First Amendment."

Related: News Media to POTUS: We're Not Backing Down

None met that standard, though Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel came closest, saying: "This is simple. This is easy. Yes, it's harmful."

That came after the Republican members, led by the chairman, weighed in with fairly lengthy answers that got to the issue, but not the actual question.

Chairman Ajit Pai said he was "not going to make comments on people's political comments on either side of the aisle," though he did reiterate that he did not think journalists were the enemy of the people. He also said "this FCC has proven it will stand on the side of the First Amendment in all its forms." Hassan said she thought there were several reporters who would take issue with that.

Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said he thought that the First Amendment and the ability of the press and journalists to respond to the circumstances are stronger than any particular person's critique, no matter who they may be."

Hassan then asked whether that mean he did not think the President's comments were harmful. "I don't think it is appropriate for me to comment about the President of the United States in this context." Hassan pressed on, and O'Rielly added that he did not think the President's comment was accurate, but would not comment on its potential harm. Hassan said O'Rielly's failure to address the harm issue "spoke for itself."

Commissioner Brendan Carr said: "The First Amendment operates as a restraint on the government, that we don't put a thumb on the scale in favor of one speaker or the other. The purpose of the First Amendment is to encourage robust, perhaps rough in some situations, discourse. At the FCC, my job is to act consistent with the First Amendment in every single thing that I do consistent with the First Amendment rights of the media and journalists."

Hassan said she would continue to note the avoidance of the question.