The Un-Fairness Doctrine: Unevening the Playing Field, by Law

January 18, 2007

Beware of liberals using such words as “fairness.” In resurrecting the “Fairness Doctrine,” liberals are trying to kill conservative talk radio and restore their media monopoly. Period. The doctrine would selectively stifle free political discourse, which is essential for our representative government.

The Fairness Doctrine, an FCC regulation in force from 1949 to 1987, required broadcasters to present “both sides” of controversial issues. During that time, liberals had a virtual monopoly on the media.

Since the rule was repealed, conservative talk radio has exploded — Rush Limbaugh launched his syndicated radio show in 1988 — and other media outlets multiplied: the Internet, including blogs, cable and satellite TV and satellite radio, among others. The conservative viewpoint has fared quite well in the new media.

This is not to say that the government’s elimination of the regulation discriminated against the liberal message. The liberal viewpoint still dominates the mainstream media, cable TV, except for Fox News, and the overwhelming number of major print media outlets. Liberals also have equal access to new media outlets, though they’ve had enormous difficulty competing in the marketplace of ideas.

It’s instructive to remember that while conservatives grew hoarse complaining about the monolithic liberal message, they didn’t advocate suppression of liberal speech. Their remedy, instituted — fittingly — in the Reagan years, was to open up, not constrict or regulate the media market.

The results have been dramatic, with conservatives finally having a significant voice in the media, albeit mostly in the new media, though a singular liberal message still prevails in the old media, not to mention public broadcasting.

Liberals can’t stand the competition. Democratic Congressman Maurice Hinchey is sponsoring the “Media Ownership Reform Act,” whose proposed reforms include the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine. Hinchey denies wanting to muzzle conservative hosts. But, “This will ensure that different views … will also be heard. … People are being prevented from getting the right information.” Really? Latest polls show 60 percent of Americans are opposed to the Iraq war. Will Hinchey not be satisfied until it’s 90 percent?

This is nothing but abject sophistry. Different views are already heard — and not just in the mainstream media. There have never been more media choices. Nothing — except consumer resistance — precludes liberal entry into the talk radio market. But the First Amendment doesn’t require people to listen to and support your message.

Liberals had no interest in balance before the advent of conservative talk radio. They don’t have any interest in balance now; indeed we’re finally approaching a balance: new media versus old media. But to them “balance” means dominance, just like “bipartisanship” means Republican capitulation.

With the Fairness Doctrine liberals would use government to micromanage the content of talk radio, realizing that they simply can’t compete on an equal playing field in that medium. Notably, they aren’t advocating balancing the messages of the major print or broadcast media giants.

The reason liberals can’t compete in talk radio, besides their hosts being boring, oppressively cynical and pessimistic, is that their would-be audience is already fed through the mainstream media.

Conversely, conservative talk has been successful, not just because it is more entertaining, professional and optimistic, but because conservative audiences were starved for a likeminded message.

The liberals’ goal is not balance, but to destroy conservative talk radio by requiring that each nano-segment of every show contain the counterbalancing liberal viewpoint, instead of relying on other shows or other media to deliver that viewpoint. What will they demand next: that political candidates present both sides of every issue to ensure balance?

Such draconian hyper-monitoring would destroy those programs. Besides, there is no fair, sensible or practicable way to regulate content. Objectivity is impossible over such subjective matters.

What do the paternalistic proponents of the regulations mean by the representation of “all sides?” Would the terrorist viewpoint deserve equal time? Don’t laugh, many believe that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter and liberals routinely sympathize with tyrannical dictators like Fidel Castro and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

What is truly scary is that liberals believe that media outlets predominately presenting their viewpoint are not biased. To them, the liberal viewpoint is objectively correct — the only proper way to view the world — and the conservative one, aberrant and reality-challenged, not even deserving of First Amendment protection. Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but not much.

This arrogant mindset is what has troubled conservatives for years. It’s not just that the mainstream media has presented a monolithic liberal message; it’s that they denied their bias and purported to be completely objective in their selection and reporting of the news and commentary. At least with conservative talk, the hosts admit their bias and are honest about when they are editorializing.

The Fairness Doctrine must be stopped again, dead in its tracks.