Fairness Doctrine Fears: A Fake Right Wing Firestorm

When things are looking up for them, it's no big bother to tune in to some radio talk at the lunatic fringe end of the right wing radio dial and hear about the battle between ideological opposites depicted in eliminationist terms. Yes, not as "loyal opposition" or "fervent debate" or even the more zesty talk of "permanent Republican majorities." No, no. When things are going well for purveyors of right wing radio, you're bound to hear chatter of how everyone left of the right is some sort of treasonous, anti-American criminal. And you know what they do with those, right?

You hear this same talk even when times are tough on the loony fringe -- but it comes with the added bonus of whinging terror as they assume that their own D&D-style revenge fantasies will soon be visited upon them.

And so, now, right wing radio is all a flutter with the notion that the Obama White House, working in combination with Nancy Pelosi and some magical Che Guevara tee-shirts, are set to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine and effectively muzzle the Limbaughs and Hannitys and Savages and all the lesser lights that populate that ever-declining medium known as terrestrial radio. The Fairness Doctrine, imposed in 1949, mandated that the scarcity of media resources made it necessary that FCC license holders allow competing points of view to have equal time and access. In practice, the Fairness Doctrine was always tricky to enforce, and so in 1987 is was done away with. In the immediate offing, right wing radio flourished. Of course, since then, the media has expanded to include satellite radio and cable television and the internet, eliminating the original "scarcity of resources" argument that underpinned the Fairness Doctrine in the first place, while greatly complicating a media sphere that the law couldn't handle well when it was implemented nearly sixty years ago.

Yet many people believe that the Fairness Doctrine is, for some reason, going to be making a return in 2009. George Will is warning his readers against it! Michael Gerson is advising Obama not to reimpose it! Kooky, episodic conspiracies are getting cooked up over it. And K. Lo at the National Review wants to come up with some new name to refer to it. Hey! How about the You All Are Totally Kidding Yourselves Doctrine?

Obama's official position is that he DOES NOT WANT the Fairness Doctrine reinstated. But it would be way too simple to leave it there, wouldn't it? So let's check in with Marin Cogan at The New Republic and take the pulse of the political will behind the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine:

Today, the doctrine has almost no support from media-reform advocates. According to Mark Lloyd, co-author of the CAP report, "I don't think there's any movement [to restore the fairness doctrine] at all. ... We don't support it. " Craig Aaron of the media-reform group FreePress says, "[I]n reality, the fairness doctrine as it existed is never ever coming back."

Responses from the offices of most of the Democrats who have been pegged as fairness-doctrine proponents -- Schumer, Dick Durbin, Dianne Feinstein, and others -- have ranged from a firm denial that the issue is a priority at all to disbelief at finding themselves at the center of a manufactured controversy. "Somebody plucked this out of the clear blue sky," says the press secretary for New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat who was questioned about the issue by a conservative radio-show host a few weeks ago. "This is a completely made- up issue." Senator Durbin's press secretary says that Durbin has "no plans, no language, no nothing. He was asked in a hallway last year, he gave his personal view"--that the American people were served well under the doctrine--"and it's all been blown out of proportion." In fact, as recently as last year, the House voted by an overwhelming three-to-one margin to temporarily prohibit the FCC from imposing the dead policy; 113 Democrats voted to support the move.

So: reformers don't support the Doctrine, and lawmakers -- when they aren't being weirded out by inquiries over an issue that's the furthest thought from their minds -- are choosing to vote against it in droves. I'm sorry, paranoid conservatives, but this dumbassed dog of yours simply won't hunt.

And look, why oh why would Obama, or the Democrats make some sustained drive to eliminate right wing radio now? The election is over, and the Obama campaign weathered the worst that right wing radio could throw at it. All that room on the radio dial seemed to have done more harm than good to their cause, so why would you want to muzzle it? Never interrupt your enemy when they are making a mistake!

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