FCC Rejects Call for Hearing on CBS "News Distortion"

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President Donald Trump has repeatedly suggested that the FCC should do something about so-called fake news. For instance, on Oct. 11, 2017, he tweeted that "network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked."

On Thursday, the FCC demonstrated some independence by refusing to go that road with CBS.

The opportunity to assess CBS' "character" came as a result of the merger between CBS Radio and Entercom. The transaction meant a transfer of licenses, which necessitated the FCC's review. Last November, the merger gained approval.

But then Ed Stolz, the head of Royce International Broadcasting, which owns some radio stations in California, petitioned for reconsideration in July. He previously attempted to throw a monkey wrench in the merger by highlighting something obscene that Stephen Colbert said on The Late Show, and this time, he had two additional reasons why CBS' fitness for holding iicenses should be up for review.

First, Stolz pointed to how the FCC had designated the Sinclair-Tribune merger to a hearing in a move that would soon kill that merger.

"This raises questions of fundamental fairness, where the FCC is investigating Sinclair, a right of center media organization, while giving a free pass to CBS Corporation, a well-known leftist media organization," stated the petition.

Second, and with specific nods to Trump tweets on the subject of license review, Stolz pointed to "intentional news distortion," which he submitted was backed by research by the Media Research Center. Specifically, he linked to MRC's studies on how television networks covered Trump's immigration crackdown, its "brazen double-standard on sex scandals" and how anti-gun activists overwhelmed gun rights advocates on television after the shooting in Parkland, Florida.

If the FCC wished to take Trump's invitation and be activist, well, it could have used any excuse. Instead, the FCC rejects the bid to designate for hearing CBS Corporation's basic character qualifications to assign its stations.

"Upon review of the Petition, we conclude the two developments Petitioners cite do not provide new evidence that would justify reversing our findings," states the order (see below).

The order doesn't see CBS and Entercom to be "similarly situated parties" as Sinclair and Tribune, which ran into trouble over the way it characterized its side-car deals and compliance with broadcast ownership rules. A footnote also rejects "speculation" that political orientation factored into the FCC's decision-making process.

And as for news distortion, the FCC echoes what it ruled in its prior order — that what television stations do or do not cover in their news programs bear no relevance on CBS' qualifications to assign or transfer control of its radio station licenses. The order adds in an important footnote there is no presumption that misconduct at one station is necessarily predictive of the operation of the other stations.

In other words, since each broadcast network is essentially a group of affiliated local stations, revoking licenses on the basis of "fake news" simply can't go down as Trump imagines.