Hundreds of TV viewers are taking up President Trump’s war with CNN by filing Federal Communications Commission complaints calling for the news network to be punished and taken off the tube, records show — even though the agency has zero authority over cable.
Since late June, viewers have filed more than 1,100 FCC complaints about news coverage of Trump. No other topic has consumed them as overwhelmingly as CNN, the news channel Trump has trashed more than any other.
Out of the complaints, about 750 call for CNN to be taken off the air or lose its broadcasting license, which the FCC cannot do. Nearly a dozen accuse CNN of broadcasting “illegal” content and committing “treason” or “crimes against America.” One says the station should face a $ 100 million government fine.
In hundreds of other complaints, viewers call the news channel “disgusting,” “fake,” “bogus,” “fictitious,” “communistic,” and a “danger” to the President.
The Daily News obtained about 1,200 pages of FCC complaints about 2017 Trump news coverage through a Freedom of Information Act request. The initial batch of complaints date between June 26 and August 2, and come from every state except Delaware, with complainants’ names not included. The FCC said there are thousands more complaints from this year that will arrive for the request.
Out of 1,161 initial complaints, more than 90% focus on CNN, and the term “CNN” appears more than 8,600 times. By comparison, complaints about NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox News total fewer than 100 combined.
Nearly all of these complaints are misplaced, because cable news is not regulated by any government agency and the FCC has no ability to police it. Several viewers even complained about The New York Times and Washington Post, two newspapers that are in no way regulated by the government.
CNN is “making up stories about Trump for Money and ratings,” one viewer from Troy, Ohio, wrote in a June 27 complaint.
“They need to be taken off the air. Along with ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC. Also NY TIMES, WASHINGTON POST…DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!!!!!!”
Since his campaign, Trump has singled out CNN as one of his biggest media enemies, blasting it as “fake news,” “pathetic” and “dishonest.” He and his aides have repeatedly clashed with CNN anchors during live briefings.
But his feud took two pivotal twists in June, which seemed to set off a floodgate of viewer complaints to the FCC.
On June 26, three CNN editorial staffers resigned over a retracted story about the Trump campaign’s suspected Russia ties. CNN said the anonymously sourced story, which alleged that Anthony Scaramucci met with a Russian oligarch before Trump’s inauguration, did not meet “editorial standards.”
The next day, the right-wing stunt journalism outlet Project Veritas dropped the first of several undercover videos showing CNN employees deriding the station’s pervasive coverage of Trump’s Russian scandals. The clips showed CNN staffers, including anchor Van Jones, calling the Russia reporting “a nothing-burger” and “bulls—.”
Both of those events sent TV viewers haywire, with more than 800 FCC complaints pouring in over the next five days. The term “fake news” appears 968 times in the complaints, and “Russia” is mentioned nearly 1,800 times.
“I AM INCREDIBLY DISTURBED, UPSET, DISAPPOINTED AND FEEL ABSOLUTELY MANIPULATED BY CNN’S reckless, intentional DECEPTION about our President in order to capture higher ratings,” a viewer from Folsom, Calif., wrote June 27.
“I AM SO SICK TO MY STOMACH THAT CNN AND OTHERS HAVE THE AUDACITY TO USE THEIR PUBLIC PLATFORM TO BLATANTLY LIE to their viewers. DID YOU HEAR ME? THEY LIED, THEY LIED, THEY KEPT LYING, THEY KNEW THEY WERE LYING, THEY LIED, THEY STILL LIE AND YOU HAVE DONE NOTHING TO STOP THIS INSANITY…I VOTE TO SHUT THEM DOWN. I feel violated and I’m sure you’ll have many others saying the same thing.”
A viewer in Elgin, Ill., said CNN “has risked a World War with continuous negative coverage of Russian interference into the Presidential Election.”
“This is unacceptable, it is dangerous and dishonest. CNN must have it’s license to broadcast news revoked, as harsh a punishment this would be it needs to set an example that Fake News to push a political agenda is not to be tolerated, especially with the fate of the world in the balance,” the viewer wrote.
The complaints took yet another twist after Trump on July 2 tweeted an edited meme showing him physically assaulting a man with a CNN logo for a head.
Many journalists saw the tweet as a call for violence against reporters, while CNN sparked its own controversy with its online reporting about the Reddit user who made the meme. CNN withheld the user’s name but said it “reserves the right to publish his identity” if he continued his inflammatory internet behavior.
That led to a new wave of complaints about CNN’s reporting, even though the FCC was still in no position to do anything about it.
About 30 viewers asked the FCC to punish CNN and make sure Andrew Kaczynski, the reporter who tracked down the Reddit user, be fired for supposedly “blackmailing” the user. A Walnut, Calif. resident wrote in a complaint: “CNN is Isis.”
The FCC regulates broadcast networks, since the airwaves are free and public. But cable channels, which rely on subscribers, viewers and advertisers, are beyond government control. Since cable runs through private providers, the FCC plays no role in issuing or revoking licenses, and it has no say on what the channels can air.
“The hook for (broadcast) content regulation…is the fact that broadcasters have government-issued licenses that allow them to use the airwaves, and that it’s freely available to anyone with a receiver,” said John Bergmayer, senior counsel at Public Knowledge, an intellectual property group based in Washington, D.C.
“This doesn’t apply to cable networks.”
It is unlikely that the FCC held any discussion at all with CNN about the complaints, and it is unclear if the agency spoke with any of the broadcast stations, either.
The FCC declined to speak about the complaints.
A CNN rep suggested to The News that the FCC complaints “could very well be a coordinated campaign by the Trump folks to attack CNN.” The station declined comment on the content of the complaints.
Few of the complaints focused on anything other than CNN.
Five viewers filed complaints solely about Fox News, with one ridiculing the station’s coverage of conspiracy theories about the unsolved murder of former DNC staffer Seth Rich.
“This news agency and particularly Sean Hannity filed this story NITELY and harassed the parents of this dead boy while KNOWING ALL ALONG it was FALSE! THIS STATION NEEDS TO BE REPRIMANDED AND SHUT DOWN FOR PROMOTING FALSE NEWS AND HARASSMENT!” the viewer from Prescott, Ariz. wrote Aug. 1.
Fox News, like CNN, is immune to FCC oversight.
Two viewers complained about “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert, who drew scorn in May for making a homoerotic joke about Trump’s affection for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Colbert’s show airs on CBS.
The FCC launched an investigation into Colbert’s crude joke, but closed it within weeks after finding “nothing actionable under the FCC’s rules.”
Nonetheless, a couple of people were still mad about it months later.
“Stephen Colbert continually uses profanity and disrespects Donald Trump,” a viewer from Las Cruces, N.M. wrote in June.
“He needs to be stopped, whether fired, sanctioned, etc.”
Nearly all complaints that mentioned NBC, ABC and CBS — broadcast stations that actually fall under FCC jurisdiction — did not single out any of those three channels, and instead lumped them in with gripes about CNN.