The so-called "Fairness Doctrine," better called the Censorship Doctrine, has been the topic of much discussion the past few years. President Obama has pretty explicitly stated that he’s opposed to its return, while several Congressional leaders including Speaker Nancy Pelosi have endorsed the return of government control of political speech on the radio.
While opponents of the Censorship Doctrine’s return (including those of us here at the Center for Competitive Politics) have been writing about the dangers of this misguided policy and forming coalitions to battle attempts to bring it back, others have instead turned to mocking the concerns of millions of Americans who do not want to see government bureaucrats poring over the transcripts of radio talk shows to ensure that some political appointee’s definition of "fairness" has been met.
Generally, these comments take the position that return of the Censorship Doctrine is unlikely, or at least not a priority of the majority party, so all concerns are simply paranoia and delusion. A sampling of this commentary includes –
Fairness Doctrine Fears: A Fake Right Wing Firestorm, by Jason Linkins at the Huffington Post:
…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…
…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…
Bum Rush by Marin Cogan at The New Republic:
Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and other friends have spent the past year screaming about the horrors of Barack Obama… careful listeners would have noticed a recurring theme of anxiety: that Obama was going to use the newly acquired levers of government to destroy them. Specifically, conservative paranoia over the possible reinstatement of the "fairness doctrine," a defunct policy requiring that broadcasters allow opposing points of view to be heard over the airwaves, has reached a fevered pitch. In September, George Will was warning his readers that, "[u]nless McCain is president, the government will reinstate the … ‘fairness doctrine.’" In October, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page chimed in, predicting that under the spooky-sounding "liberal supermajority," the fairness doctrine was "likely to be reimposed," with the goal being "to shut down talk radio and other voices of political opposition." And, two weeks before the election, the New York Post blasted: "Dems Get Set to Muzzle the Right."
On Election Day, conservatives found a new bogeyman in Senator Chuck Schumer, after Fox News host Bill Hemmer cornered him about the issue on the air. Schumer just smirked: "I think we should all try to be fair and balanced, don’t you?" Rush Limbaugh seized on Schumer’s comments as evidence that the Democrats would "do everything they can" to bring the doctrine back…
…I called the array of Democratic congressmen who had been tagged by conservatives as doctrine proponents. But they all denied any intention to push for its reinstatement… the more I searched for actual evidence of the doctrine’s return, the more I had to conclude that Schumer was just messing with their heads.
We can certainly hope that Cogan and Linkins are correct that the Censorship Doctrine is nowhere on the horizon. But looking at the online comments of the Huffington Post and New Republic readers responding to these articles demonstrates a great deal of enthusiasm for the return of censorship in talk radio. A sampling of comments:
Diebold Hacker: FD should obviously be reinstated. Such a move would neutralize a huge portion of the Hate-right. Imagine the refreshing change to hear some random union organizer on your am radio on your drive to work.. The move to kill it was during Reagan’s watch, which should be all the evidence we need for reinstating it.
Kwalters: BULL***! Jason you are flat wrong. These are public airwaves… Why is the FAIRNESS DOCTRINE a bad thing? … there is NOTHING wrong with wanting to take back the public airwaves. It must be done!
These right wing nuts that control talk radio are brainwashing sheeple across the country. How is that in the public’s best interest? Having an opposing viewpoint on the same station isn’t such a bad thing. The reason we are so polarized in this country is we are inundated with hate radio… How else to counter the constant right wing spin? I think the Fairness Doctrine needs to come back. We need to… re-regulate the air waves…
Poboy: I say regulate [them] right off OUR airwaves. They have no right to OUR airwaves with their hate speech, which is ONLY harming OUR country…
Chaz: …you’re a fool if you don’t think Right wing radio isn’t destroying this country and will continue to destroy this country if nothing is done. Some thing has to be done and done fast.
RolloTomassi: Jason Linkins’ article is insultingly dismissive of the notion of restoring the Fairness Doctrine, yet as long as I’ve been posting here I’ve seen it discussed and argued about repeatedly…
Just by judging from the many pro-Fairness Doctrine comments posted at HuffPo, Mr. Linkins could surely have come to the logical conclusion that there is more than a mere scattering of support for reinstating the FD.
LemonMeringue: There are vast stretches in the midwest where the only radio in range is Rush Limbaugh and crazy preachers. Talk radio as it stands is a menace to America. Some standards must be applied.
Care4mypeeps: It is about time we had the means to reign in Talk Radio for the division and mob indoctrination that has given its listeners split personalities as it rounds up all the boarderline personalities and schitzophrenics. If the Fairness Doctrin were enforced the messages that cross the Air Ways can equalize the filthe that has shaped the demented part of this Country.
Separatingwheatfromchaff: If we don’t fight for it, you’re absolutely right, it won’t be reinstated…. The fairness doctrine would affect [the small network of progressive radio stations] too and then we could start having meaningful discussions on air with thoughtful research instead of bombastic pronouncements that stir up hatred. The right wing has too many stations …
We shouldn’t [allow] their successful brainwashing of a huge segment of the American people. It’s time to bring the Fairness Doctrine back so we can have a respite from all the fear/hate mongering.
DaisyDukes: … If Obama considers shutting up these idiots, he must not stop there. He must include big mouths like Lou Dobbs of CNN and his pal Drew Griffin as well. Anyone watched this lame duck Griffin on CNN yesterday where he was mocking Obama’s change message when he spoke to the lobbyists?
Paul: …so-called conservative fire-breathing trolls deserve to be taken out behind the wood shed and introduced to a shallow grave… I don’t have a problem with a law that holds media outlets responsible for their actions or requires "balance". These people have an impact on social discourse and public perception that is incalculable and they should be rigorously controlled.
Miajnde: The country should only be so fortunate as to reinstate the fairness doctrine. A small step, but civilization is the accumulation of tiny incrememnts.
Thibodeaux41: Shut them Down!! The noise that almost ruined our Nation needs to STOP!! I know you can’t just end it, but at-least thin it out. They spout the most evil, vial, lack of substance propaganda there is.. they are dangerous and must be muzzled.
Aaron: …TNR is… attempting to sell the idea that media fairness is dead. We the American people own these airwaves! Ignorant ranting (by the Limbaughs of the world) do nothing to move debate or the flow of ideas forward. They only support an inarticulate and ignorant society. Bring back the fairness doctrine!!!
While some seek to dismiss those of us concerned about the return of the Censorship Doctrine, it’s pretty clear that there’s reason to worry. As my father used to say, even paranoids have enemies.