President Donald Trump has threatened to challenge media licenses for NBC News and other news networks after unfavorable reports.
The president took aim at NBC, which made him a star on The Apprentice, after the broadcaster reported he wanted to boost America’s nuclear arsenal almost tenfold.
President Trump labeled NBC report “fake news” and “pure fiction”.
NBC also angered the White House last week when it said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had called President Trump “a moron”.
Donald Trump tweeted on October 12: “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”
Welcoming Canadian PM Justin Trudeau to Washington later in the day, the president denied the NBC story.
“It is frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it,” President Trump said at the White House.
When asked if he wanted to increase the country’s arsenal, the president said he only ever discussed keeping it in “perfect condition”.
“No, I want to have absolutely perfectly maintained – which we are in the process of doing – nuclear force.
“But when they said I want 10 times what we have right now, it’s totally unnecessary, believe me.”
Donald Trump added: “I want modernization and I want total rehabilitation. It’s got to be in tip-top shape.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also disputed NBC’s story, saying in a statement: “Recent reports that the President called for an increase in the US nuclear arsenal are absolutely false.
“This kind of erroneous reporting is irresponsible.”
President Trump’s tweet about news networks provoked a free-speech uproar.
Walter Shaub, who led the US Office of Government Ethics under President Barack Obama, said it could lead to “the point when we cease to be a democracy”.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said President Trump’s comment was a poor example for other world leaders.
NBC News reported that President Trump told a top-level meeting at the Pentagon in July that he wanted to dramatically boost the American stockpile of atomic missiles.
The president reportedly made the request after seeing a downward-sloping curve on a briefing slide charting the gradual decrease in US nuclear weapons since the 1960s.
Attributing its report to three officials in the room, NBC said President Trump’s request surprised those present, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
NBC reported that President Trump had also called for additional US troops and military equipment.
The US has 7,100 nuclear weapons and Russia has 7,300, according to the US non-partisan Arms Control Association.
Media commentators say Donald Trump would struggle to remove broadcasters’ licenses if he wished to do so.
The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates broadcasters, issues licenses not to networks as a whole, but to local stations.
NBC owns nearly 30 local stations.