October 18, 2017

Following President Trump’s Threats to Press Freedom, Senator Hassan Joins Colleagues Calling for FCC Oversight Hearing

WASHINGTON – Today, Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Tom Udall (D-NM), all members of the Senate Commerce Committee, called on the Chairman and Ranking Member of the committee to hold a hearing on President Trump’s attacks on the media and his latest threat to interfere with the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) television station license renewal proceedings.

In their letter to Chairman John Thune (R-SD) and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL), the senators outlined the escalating rhetoric the president has used to attack the press and undermine public confidence in the media by disputing the legitimacy of any reporting critical of his administration. 

Senators Hassan and Udall have also urged the Senate Commerce Committee to hold a hearing on the current state of the media landscape in the United States following the proliferation of so-called "fake news" and incidents of hostility against members of the press corps by members of President Trump's Administration.

A PDF copy of the letter is available here.

The full text of the letter follows:

Dear Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson, 

Since taking office, this Administration has made statements and has taken actions that suggest a troubling disregard for the First Amendment and the freedom of the press.   The President has referred to the media as “the enemy of the state”, publicly antagonizes specific companies for what he deems unfair coverage, and regularly undermines public confidence in the free press with unsubstantiated claims of “fake news.”

On October 11, the President escalated that attack by directly attacking specific, and real, network news operations based on reporting with which he disagreed, and threatening those operations through the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC’s) television station license renewal proceedings.

It took six days and pressure from Congress and the media for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to respond and Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr continue to remain silent on the President’s threats.  This silence is inexcusable on an issue that goes not only to the independence of the FCC, but also to the core of our democracy and the freedoms we value as Americans.  FCC Chairman Pai had previously defended his lack of response to the President’s earlier comments, saying the President was responding to “fake news” not to actual FCC regulated media operations.  The President’s latest actions have crossed that line with his blatant suggestion of interference with specific FCC licensees.  The FCC Chairman’s failure to quickly respond and denounce these threats is shocking and raises questions about the ability of the FCC to truly act independently under Chairman Pai’s leadership.

It is crucial that the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation exercise oversight in this matter. This Committee is the United States Senate’s committee of jurisdiction over policies that impact the media landscape, including through its oversight of the FCC, which is the only Federal agency that has express regulatory authority over broadcast and media companies.  Previously, you, Chairman Thune, committed to holding FCC oversight hearings at least biannually, but the Committee has yet to have a hearing with the newly fully appointed Commission.  Moreover, this Committee also has not held a hearing on the state of the media in the U.S. since 2009. 

We therefore request an FCC Oversight Hearing as soon as possible.  It is imperative that FCC Chairman Pai and his fellow Commissioners address this Committee and respond to the President’s stated desire for regulatory abuse of his perceived critics through the FCC.  We also urge you to move forward on the separate request made earlier this year asking you to hold a hearing on the state of the U.S. media landscape more generally.  A copy of the May 2017 letter is attached, and the topic of the state of the media is timelier than ever. 

Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter.