You won't believe this. Today, I overheard a group of leading Republicans talking in the House about the greatest threats facing America.
And here -- made public for the first time -- is their list:
OK, so I made up the first four. But like the rest, the danger of the Fairness Doctrine coming back is completely imaginary.
Yet somehow that hasn't stopped 124 Republicans from pushing a preposterous piece of legislation -- as one of their first acts of the new Congress -- that would prevent the Federal Communications Commission from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, a policy that has been dead for 20 years.
The Fairness Doctrine was a longstanding, though seldom enforced, regulation that required broadcasters using the public airwaves to present contrasting viewpoints on controversial issues. It was abandoned in 1987, a move many credit for the rise of right-wing radio. Pretty much ever since, Republicans have been ominously warning of a plot to bring it back and silence them.
The "Broadcaster Freedom Act" -- sponsored in the House by Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), and in the Senate by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) -- is the latest effort "to keep radio airwaves free from government censorship and suppression" by marauding liberal ideologues.
Senator DeMint proclaims: "Democrats want to impose an unfair doctrine that destroys talk radio and silences the voices of millions of Americans who disagree with their vision for America."
So far the evidence for this conspiracy seems to consist of a lame joke Chuck Schumer made on Fox about "fair and balanced," an interview in which Jeff Bingaman pined for "informed discussion of public issues," and something James Inhofe overheard in an elevator. Dennis Kucinich is also rumored to be involved. The Da Vinci Code it ain't.
If I had a dollar for every time I've said it, I'd probably be a Republican. But here goes: The Fairness Doctrine is never, ever coming back -- and that's a good thing.
Let's review: It wasn't in the Democratic Party platform. No bill has been introduced in the Democrat-controlled Congress. No FCC rules are pending. And President-elect Barack Obama has stated unequivocally that he "does not support re-imposing" the Fairness Doctrine.
What's more, there is no movement among media reformers, the netroots, or the vast left-wing conspiracy to bring it back. Nobody wants it: not Free Press or Common Cause, Media Matters or MoveOn, DailyKos or the Daily Worker.
In fact, the only people actually pushing the Fairness Doctrine are Rush Limbaugh, George Will and the Republican Study Committee. It better be good for ratings and direct-mail donations, because the idea that the doctrine is a priority for anyone with any power to bring it back is completely delusional.
This new bill is a political stunt, pure and simple. But when the bill fails, as it surely will, all the same shouting heads will be all over Fox News and the AM dial claiming they're about to be gagged and that communism is on the march.
"If you really don't want to bring back the Fairness Doctrine," they'll ask, "why don't you support this legislation?"
Here's why: This is farce. And Congress has real work to do.
The economy is a mess. We're in two wars. Rod Blagojevich still has a job. Poverty. Crime. Cancer. Climate change. (OK, Inhofe doesn't believe in that last one, but still.) Osama bin Laden is still at-large. So's Dick Cheney. We still don't have a college football playoff! Need I go on?
And yet the Fairness Doctrine is supposed to be the top priority? Did we run out of post offices to name or something?
Here's a list of co-sponsors of the Broadcaster Freedom Act. Please call and ask them to get serious about the serious problems facing our country.
Rome is burning, boys. Time to put down the fiddles.