US President Donald Trump tore into the press and questioned whether broadcasters should have their licenses revoked after an unflattering story about his nuclear policy.
“It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should want to look into it,” Trump fumed as he met his Canadian counterpart in the Oval Office.
But the president — who has a history of being combative with the media — said he did not want to see formal restrictions.
“No. The press should speak more honestly, I mean, I’ve seen tremendously dishonest press. It’s not even a question of distortion.”
Trump was angered after NBC News reported he had asked to dramatically increase in America’s nuclear stockpile, calling it “made up.”
His secretary of defense backed him publicly.
“Recent reports that the president called for an increase in the US nuclear arsenal are absolutely false,” Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said in a statement.
“This kind of erroneous reporting is irresponsible.”
The US television network reported that Trump told generals and security aides over the summer that he wanted a “nearly tenfold increase” in the US nuclear arsenal.
“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!” Trump tweeted.
The US Constitution is understood to guarantee press freedom, but television networks rely on access to broadcast frequencies granted by government agencies.
Citing three officials who were in the room, NBC said Trump’s response came when he was shown a slide showing the steady reduction of nukes since the 1960s.
After the briefing, the secretary of state is alleged to have called Trump a “moron,” although Rex Tillerson’s spokeswoman has denied that allegation.
Trump denied requesting more weapons. “I never discussed increasing it. I want it in perfect shape. That was fake news,” he said.
Such a move would abrogate key international arms control treaties and upend decades of non-proliferation policy, with deep ramifications across the globe.
“Right now, we have so many nuclear weapons I want them in perfect condition, perfect shape. That’s the only thing I have discussed,” Trump said.
As president and candidate, Trump has often mused aloud about America’s nuclear weapons power, saying there is no point in having them if you do not use them.