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President Trump and his wife Melania at an NBC event in 2012. Photo: Evan Agostini / AP

President Trump asked Wednesday morning when it would be "appropriate to challenge [NBC's] License." But NBC's main network doesn't have a government license, and Trump doesn't have the power to directly take away the licenses that do exist — for the local stations that run its content.

Why it matters: Trump has regularly attacked the press, and his threat here is serious: to try and take a broadcast network off the air because he doesn't like its recent stories. It's a tactic that echoes Richard Nixon, who targeted licenses held by the Washington Post. But it's legally more complicated than the president's tweet makes it seem.

The facts:
  • NBC the network doesn't have a "license." Individual stations do. Some of those are owned directly by NBC's parent company, Comcast, but even if the FCC revoked those licenses it wouldn't stop the network from producing content.
  • "There's no way the FCC can say, 'Saturday Night Live needs to go off the air,'" said Harold Feld, senior vice president at advocacy group Public Knowledge.
  • The FCC is an independent agency. Its chairman, Ajit Pai, is designated by the president. But he's not beholden to the White House's demands like executive agencies.
  • The president does have the ability to pressure the FCC chair. Trump's comments Wednesday are an example. It's still highly unlikely that anything would happen to the licenses, Feld said. "Trump can't order the FCC to do it, the FCC wouldn't want to do it, and even if they did poke around they couldn't really do anything other than poke around and demand documents based on what the precedents are," he said.
  • The FCC does have leverage over NBC owner Comcast, Feld noted. But any move to pursue the company would be out of step with Pai's industry-friendly agenda thus far.

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated 7 hours ago - Technology

A dark view of the future of autonomous weapons

A still from the video "If Human: Kill ( )." Image: Future of Life Institute

A new short film warns of the coming risks posed by the development and proliferation of lethal autonomous weapons.

Why it matters: Drones with the ability to autonomously target and kill without the assistance of a human operator are reportedly already being used on battlefields, and time is running out to craft a global ban of what could be a destabilizing and terrifying new class of weapon.

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus variant surveillance varies widely by state — Omicron cases confirmed in 5 U.S. states America probably won't lead the effort to understand Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters — Moderna loses patent battles tied to COVID vaccine — Pfizer could have vaccine data for children under five by end of 2021, CEO says.
  3. Politics: Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers — New Jersey GOP lawmakers defy statehouse COVID policy — Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate — Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come.
  4. World: WHO: Delta health measures help fight Omicron — COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming — Germany approves new restrictions for unvaccinated people.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Updated 13 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Prosecutors charge parents of Michigan school shooting suspect

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The parents of a 15-year-old accused of killing four students and wounding seven other people at a Michigan high school have been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, according to court documents.

The latest: Lawyers for James and Jennifer Crumbley told the Detroit News they are "returning to the area to be arraigned," after law enforcement officials announced a search for the Crumbleys had been initiated.