My "Barack and Rush" blog created a relative storm of comments and disagreements on the issue of reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. In that blog I wrote that Sen. Obama does not support reinstating it and that Rush Limbaugh would help Obama by criticizing John McCain. To which a guest blogger, Greg Todd, responded on my personal blog Media Curmudgeon:
I have a somewhat different view, since I regard Rush Limbaugh as a more serious menace than you probably do. To refer to him as a "wingnut" puts you in the camp of almost everyone I know in New York City, who regards him as a laughable fool. He is no fool, and he is far from laughable.
The political writers that the founding fathers looked to for guidance were all well versed in their classical history, and knew how quickly the democracies and republics of the classical world had been turned to tyranny and empire by the power of demagogues to sway the masses. Their ideas of government were designed to buffer the downsides of a true democracy with the stability of republican forms of government. And their assessment of liberty of the press was not the unilateral, no-restrictions-of-any-kind approach we now seem to take for granted in this country.
David Hume, in Of the Liberty of the Press, notes the risk of an unfettered demagogue to the republic -- but believes that the demagogue cannot take hold of the minds of the people because the demagogue's words will be read in the privacy of the library.
We need not dread from this liberty any such ill consequences as followed from the harangues of the popular demagogues of Athens and tribunes of Rome. A man reads a book or pamphlet alone and coolly. There is none present from whom he can catch the passion by contagion. He is not hurried away by the force and energy of action.
I read this as a QUALIFIED endorsement of the freedom of speech.
And I see the Fairness Doctrine as an attempt to rectify the dangers which Hume and the founders well understood -- because they knew their ancient history.
Americans today do not know their ancient history.
I have spent too many hours listening to Rush Limbaugh, and have heard too many smart, intelligent people parrot EXACTLY his words, not to understand the mind power exerted over people stuck in their cars, driving in traffic, angry at their fellow drivers and with their lot in life.
We are unwise to laugh at Rush Limbaugh. We have, in fact, too much freedom of the press in this country. The public figure doctrine needs to be revised, the Fairness Doctrine needs to be revived, there must be brakes and restraints on falsehoods and deception, otherwise they will propagate like bacteria through a population that we Upper Eastsiders rarely mix with.
Media Curmudgeon guest blogger Bruce Braun responded vigorously:
Guest blogger Greg Todd wrote: "The public figure doctrine needs to be revised, the Fairness Doctrine needs to be revived, there must be brakes and restraints on falsehoods and deception, otherwise they will propagate like bacteria through a population that we Upper Eastsiders rarely mix with."
Using Mr. Todd's reasoning, we would have to muzzle every elected and appointed member of our government. Actually, that is not a bad thought! I guess it depends upon what the meaning of is, is. How do we treat news outlets that mistakenly report an item or regurgitate governmental press releases that are false or wrong? What should we do with those who are deemed to be dangerous demagogues? Silence them? Ban them from any government licensed broadcasting station or public forum? Arrest them? Where do you draw the line when the line keeps moving? Should Al Franken, Jon Stewart or Randi Rhodes have greater rights to express their opinions and philosophies than a Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity? I doubt even the ACLU would condone that. The implied assumption in Mr. Todd's comments would say, yes.
I don't recall very much in the Constitution about "Qualified" freedom of speech. To my thinking, that sort of reasoning would call into question our other freedoms such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The Fairness Doctrine was a bust from the beginning. It was just another intrusion into our society by a bunch of power hungry politicians determined to silence those with whom they hated or feared. There was nothing fair about the Fairness Doctrine. The FD did nothing more than create yet another layer of government regulations upon radio and TV stations requiring them to hunt down or put on every single point of view on virtually any semi-political or controversial issue that was expressed on the station. Anyone who lived through the FD times can tell you that every nut ball and his brother were constantly banging on the station's door, demanding free time and threatening to report you to the FCC if you ignored them. What a country! Exempt from all of this were the print media. How was that fair? The Internet was not even a thought in those days.
Now that we are in the digital age, why shouldn't Congress renew and extend the FD to include print media and everything on the Internet? Are we all, not guaranteed equal protection under the constitution? Why stop with broadcast stations? Let's go find those bastards and shut them up! Let's go set up committees as to what is acceptable speech! Political correctness could soar to new heights.
Where should it stop? How far should it go? Just who is going to be selected and charged with the responsibility of 1) identifying the demagogic offenders, 2) determine what constitutes bacterial demagogic speech and 3) how to rectify those demagogues? Who decides what, according to Mr. Todd is deceptive, or a falsehood? The politically appointed FCC? A partisan Congress? A "citizens committee" made up of political appointees?
Are we to turn over the determination of what constitutes media free speech to the same people who gave us the IRS? Those same elected officials who continually refuse to simplify the tax codes and legislate heavy fines and penalties and even imprison any who violates those laws? Your personal privacy? What government agency knows more about every individual in this country than the IRS?
What about the great job Congress has done with Social Security? A system that started as a sham because the government figured that given the average longevity of the time, that the majority of contributors would never live long enough to collect for more than a short period of time. Universal Health Care? What should we call it when our right to choose our health care is taken away from us, in favor of a government run system?
Limbaugh and all the others, no matter what their political agenda is, and, I know this will stick in the throats of many, should be completely free to spew whatever they want. Otherwise, we put ourselves on the same road as the HUAC of the 1950's and the Chinese Red Guards of the 1960's.