I got an email from a friend who has read this blog and wondered why I have such vitriol for the Fairness Doctrine. Although he is not a raging liberal, he doesn't see what is wrong with the doctrine since it would guarantee fair play and fair time.
The Fairness Doctrine was based upon the premise of scarce resources. When first implemented, the Fairness Doctrine was dealing with a world in which TV and radio and news sources were considered scare. The fact that people regularly got their news from other sources, i.e. newspapers complete with various biases, didn't seem to bother the FCC, nor apparently did the First Amendment. You remember the First Amendment, which reads in part, "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press." Newspapers, even in the early 20th Century had baises, known and unknown and it would have been unthinkable for the government to regulate the content in those news sources, but because the "airwaves were public resources," that somehow justified content regulation. Calls for the return of the Fairness Doctrine are really only targeted at a small, but admittedly vocal and power niche market--conservative talk radio, whom Harry Reid called "generators of simplicity."
Liberals fail to see the hypocrisy in their position.
They protest that the airwaves belong to the American people. They're right - which is all the more reason to keep grubby government mitts off of them. And if we're going to start dictating media content for the good of the proletariat, then there's no reason to stop with radio. (As Fox's Sean Hannity joked last week, "OK, then we want the 'no sex before marriage' channel to balance out MTV.")However, today, there is no scarcity of news and opinion sources--you are reading one now and problably will read dozens of others or listen to dozens of other sources sometime in the next 24 hours. The fact is, we don't have scarce resources and never really did.
In calling for the restoration of the Fairness Doctrine, Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada called conservative talk radio the "generators of simplicity." Presumably this differs from the high-minded debate that occurred over at Air America, where Randi Rhodes liked to say that "Satan is Bush's campaign manager" and routinely claim (why was unclear) that the Bush administration was full of repressed homosexuals.
And if talk radio is so simpleminded that it needs government manhandling, then the rest of the media needs it even more: A 2006 Pew Research survey found that Rush Limbaugh's listeners were the second-most-informed audience (after readers of political magazines) - ahead of NPR and the Daily Show. Generic talk radio ranked ahead of the PBS NewsHour, CNN and daily newspapers.
I abhor the Fairness Doctrine for one simple reason--I love the First Amendment.
Life under the First Amendment can be dirty, rude, ugly, even down right scary--but it is American. This is a nation founded upon the principle of government by and of the people. The people will make the decision what sources of news, information and entertainment they will respond to and consume. The government must respond to the people (as they did last week) or the government is no longer legitimate. The hamhandedness of a Fairness Doctrine is not about good government, but about illegitimate government trying to tell the people what to think.
So if liberals want liberal talk radio--you can't regulate your way into the market--you have to figure out how to compete.