Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Trump FCC Honcho Ajit Pai: I Love the Press! (Kinda, Sorta)

Now that wasn't so tough, was it?

President Trump's newly-installed Federal Communications Commission chief Ajit Pai does not believe that news organizations are "the enemy of the American people," as Trump recently claimed.

Pai clarified his stance on the matter in a tight-lipped letter to Sen. Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat, after the FCC honcho annoyed lawmakers during a recent Capitol Hill hearing in which Pai refused to say under oath whether he agreed with Trump's incendiary assertion.

Pai's evasion alarmed free speech advocates, who questioned why it was so difficult for the nation's top media regulator to clearly and unequivocally state whether he agreed with Trump's rhetorical jihad against news organizations. (Pai justified his non-answer by saying he didn't want to "wade into the larger political debates.")

In response, a group of Democratic senators sent Pai a letter demanding that he answer several questions about his First Amendment views, including: "Do you believe the media is the 'enemy' of the American people?"

Pai's answer, contained in a letter to Sen. Nelson released Monday, was short and sweet. "No."

But Pai couldn't just leave it at that, and felt compelled to offer an odd caveat to his response. "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," Pai said. "However, the President has made clear that he was referring to 'fake news.'"

A FCC spokesperson told Motherboard on Monday that Pai was referring to Trump's recent comments at the Conservative Political Action Conference, in which the president said: "The dishonest media did not explain that I called the fake news the enemy of the people. The fake news. They dropped off the word 'fake.' And all of a sudden the story became the media is the enemy."

But Trump's statement was itself misleading. It's worth noting that the full text of Trump's tweet, issued before CPAC, was: "The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!"

As Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post pointed out: "Trump listed five mainstream media organizations—the New York Times, NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN—as the 'FAKE NEWS media' and declared that they are the enemy of the American people. By listing major media organizations as the enemy, Trump was clearly making a statement about the broader news media."

It's unclear whether Pai believes that the "failing" New York Times, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, and CNN—five of the most prominent news organizations in the country—are "fake news." The FCC spokesperson declined to comment on that question.

If this entire episode strikes you as juvenile, dear reader, you are not alone. It is inexplicable why it is so difficult for Pai to answer a simple question without some sort of equivocation or qualification. Last month, Trump announced that he had renominated Pai for a second five-year term at the agency.

In any event, Pai clearly wants to move on. "As Chairman of the FCC, I take my oath to defend and protect the Constitution seriously," Pai wrote in his letter. "And the preservation of the First Amendment is the foundation of that commitment."

Good to know.

from Trump FCC Honcho Ajit Pai: I Love the Press! (Kinda, Sorta)

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