In a response to Senate Democrats that was short on elaboration, Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he did not believe the media was the enemy of the people and promised to exercise his media regulatory authority impartially.
"As Chairman of the FCC, I take my oath to defend and protect the Constitution seriously And the preservation of the First Amendment is the foundation of that commitment," Pai said.
That came in response to Senate Democrats concerned by his answers in an oversight hearing regarding President Donald Trump's attacks on the media and characterization of them as the enemies of the people.
At a March 8 FCC oversight hearing, when asked by Senate Democrats whether he agreed or disagreed with President Donald Trump's characterization of the media as the enemies of the American people, Pai would not say yes or no, saying he did not want to get into that political debate and deferred to the White House about what he might have discussed during meetings with the President.
In response to a letter from Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Pai also said that he would not act in a manner that stifles or penalizes free speech "even if requested by the Administration; said he did not commit to any member of that Administration to do so in exchange for getting the FCC post, committed to respect the "absolute independence" of his agency from the White House, and committed to "of any attempt by the White House or by any executive branch official to influence your decision-making or direct you to take or not take any action with respect to media interests within your jurisdiction, including the license renewal applications for broadcasters (whether or not such contacts fall under the ex parte rules or other legal or ethical rules applicable to the FCC)."
Pai gave one-word "yes" or "no" answers to the six questions posed, but did elaborate slightly on his answer to the Trump "enemy" comment.
"I should note that at the hearing, I was asked if I agreed with the President that the media was the "enemy" of the people. However, the President has made clear that he was referring to 'fake news,' he said. "As I stated at the hearing, these comments are part of a larger political debate into which I will not be wading."
The President has indeed taken aim at fake news, but the category has appeared to be a broad one, encompassing critical stories from mainstream media outlets.
For example, on March 18, the President tweeted: "Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel..."
Then Monday added: "Just heard Fake News CNN is doing polls again despite the fact that their election polls were a WAY OFF disaster. Much higher ratings at Fox."