Fairness Doctrine Hysteria

Among the warnings of socialism and rampant gay marriage emanating from the right wing, there has been considerable hysteria over the Fairness Doctrine, with some conservatives claiming that if the Democrats won the election conservative talk radio and Fox would be shut down. This is despite the fact that Obama opposes the Fairness Doctrine and there is limited support for it in Congress. Matthew Yglesias writes:

Am I the only one who’s confused by all this conservative organizing against the re-imposition of the “fairness doctrine” on talk radio? I understand why they oppose that move, but why are they putting so much energy into blocking something that nobody is trying to do. A Fairness Act bill was submitted in the House in 2005, but it only 16 cosponsors. No such bill was submitted in the last conference. Barack Obama opposes reintroducing the Fairness Act. And speaking as a paid-up member of the vast left-wing conspiracy, nobody on our side is getting any marching orders about this.

I guess they need something to talk about on the radio shows, but I’d just focus in on Obama’s plan to turn the United States into a socialist dystopia.

Kevin Drum is as puzzled about this as Yglesias:

It’s true, as Matt says, that the gang at The Corner has been kind of obsessed lately with the idea that Democrats plan to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine after Obama takes office. Bye bye Rush Limbaugh! I started noticing this chit chat a couple of weeks ago and did a bit of desultory googling to try to figure out what they were talking about, but I couldn’t find much. It turns out that a few senators over the years have made occasional ritual calls to bring back the Fairness Doctrine, but the bulk of the conservative hyperventilating always eventually linked back to a single sentence in The American Spectator:

According to two members of the House Democrat Caucus, Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer have informed them that they will “aggressively pursue” reinstatement of the so-called Fairness Doctrine over the next six months.

So the Spectator, not exactly known for its deep sources with the Democratic Party, reports that “two members” of the House Democratic caucus claim that Pelosi and Hoyer are going to aggressively pursue reimposition of the Fairness Doctrine. Unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists, this was reported in May of 2007, and unless I missed some big news, Pelosi and Hoyer failed to make their big push.

So why are conservatives in such a tizzy about this? It’s a mystery. There do appear to be a few members of Congress who think it’s a shame we got rid of the Fairness Doctrine, but as near as I can tell, “few” equals four or five in the Senate and maybe a dozen in the House. There are probably more Republicans who believe in a return to the gold standard than there are Democrats who seriously want to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine.

Andrew Sullivan provides two plausible explanations, writing “An unhealthy longing for victimhood? Or pure paranoia? Neither explanation is encouraging.”

While not directly addressing this issue, Steve Benen provides a third explanation when he quotes David Brooks as admitting that Republicans have “no coherent belief system.” Lacking any coherent beliefs, or as I argued yesterday, lacking any arguments which resonate with the voters, they are forced to throw out whatever  muck they can come up with. Along with so many other conservative arguments, it doesn’t matter whether it is at all grounded in reality. This falls in the same category as the Republican warnings in 2004 that the Democrats would take away people’s bibles if John Kerry had been elected.

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8 Comments

  1. 1
    Fritz says:

    The “hysteria” might be because one of the Senators in favor of reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine is Chuck Schumer and one of the House members is Nancy Pelosi.  Given the power of those individuals, I think a certain amount of pre-emptive organization in opposition is reasonable.

    I think the Congress will first move to remove secret balloting from union certification, though.  There’s a big debt there to be paid.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Fritz,

    It doesn’t matter how influential any supporters might be if the majority of Democrats (as well as Republicans) oppose the measure.

    This isn’t really about pre-emptive efforts against something which there is a danger of happening. This is a typical strategy of the right wing to create hysteria and motivate supporters with scare tactics.

    Even Democrats who might have preferred that the Fairness Doctrine wasn’t eliminated would be unlikely to go along with restoring the act. It would be just too difficult to put it back into practice. It was one thing to make rules before radio became big as to what it could do. It is another thing to pass a measure which would have the government go in and force massive changes in how many established business operate.

    I also think that many Democrats will be less concerned about the Fairness Doctrine now that they are winning and don’t see right wing talk radio as keeping them out of office.

    I don’t think the union balloting will be the first measure they put through (unless they go the big bang approach and it is one of a huge number of items which go first together). I’m still not certain that the Republicans couldn’t block this with a filibuster. I believe it needed nine more votes last time and the Democrats didn’t pick up that many new seats. It might also be possible to peal off some Democrats. If George McGovern is out campaigning against this, there is the possibility that a few other Democratic votes might be picked up.

    Republicans need to concentrate on framing this as an issue of secret ballots as opposed to a battle between workers and big business. Democrats who get involved with trying to save the Detroit auto companies might also reconsider some of their views on unions.

  3. 4
    Aaron Rodriguez says:

    Ron: It doesn’t matter how influential any supporters might be if the majority of Democrats (as well as Republicans) oppose the measure.

     
    That would be odd indeed.  Both times that Democrats tried to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine in the 80s and 90s, it passed by a sizable margin.  However, both times it met a presidential veto or a threat of a presidential veto by a Republican.  So why, in your opinion, do you believe that the measure is sufficiently opposed?
     
    This isn’t really about pre-emptive efforts against something which there is a danger of happening. This is a typical strategy of the right wing to create hysteria and motivate supporters with scare tactics.

    Um, Congresswoman Slaughter wrote a Media Act in 2004 to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine.  This isn’t hysteria.

    Even Democrats who might have preferred that the Fairness Doctrine wasn’t eliminated would be unlikely to go along with restoring the act. It would be just too difficult to put it back into practice. It was one thing to make rules before radio became big as to what it could do. It is another thing to pass a measure which would have the government go in and force massive changes in how many established business operate.

     
    You’re right, it would be difficult to regulate all of the airwaves, but when did the Fairness Doctrine ever attempt to do that?  No, the Fairness Doctrine was only applied about a dozen times since its inception.  Therefore, it was used selectively to harass political editorializing during the Nixon and Kennedy administrations.  In my humble opinion, if the Fairness Doctrine was reinstated, it would only need to be used once, and that would be against Rush Limbaugh.
     
    I also think that many Democrats will be less concerned about the Fairness Doctrine now that they are winning and don’t see right wing talk radio as keeping them out of office.

    One would think so, right?  Wrong.  Liberals aren’t just about establishing power, but keeping it.  They aren’t whining about liberal bias in the print media, just talk radio.

  4. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    Aaron,

    There has been such considerable realignment and changes in the political parties that it makes little sense to say that a political party supports virtually anything due to a position taken by members of the party back in the 1980’s.

    This is especially true in the case of the Fairness Doctrine. To reestablish it soon after it was abolished and to reestablish it a generation later when the media has changed so much are two different things. There is virtually no support among current Democrats for the Fairness Doctrine.

    Slaughter attempted to reestablish this four years ago and there was little support. There is even less support now. This is purely hysteria by the right wing noise machine to get gullible people like you riled up, and to bring in donations. Sometime down the road they will then claim victory as the Fairness Doctrine was not reestablished, ignoring the fact that there was never a serious attempt to do so.

    It makes no sense to have the Fairness Doctrine and only use it against one show. This is just more hysteria for the ditto heads. If they tried to only use it against Rush it wouldn’t even have any impact. The stations carrying Rush could respond by having a show equal in length to Rush’s with an opposing viewpoint to satisfy it. Some of the stations might prefer not to do this, but this would hardly silence Rush. The only way that the Fairness Doctrine would have real impact if it was used across the board, preventing stations from having conservative shows on all day with no opposing views.

    Liberals aren’t about establishing power. One of the primary tenants of liberalism is to decrease government power. Whether the Democratic Party will live up to this is a different matter. When you claim that liberals will use this to maintain power you are basically projecting on to liberals what conservatives have actually been guilty of for years. It is the conservatives, not liberals, who have been trying to change the rules based upon what will increase their power as opposed to the public good.

    Bias in the print media? There are far more newspapers owned by conservatives than liberals. There is nothing in the print media which is remotely comparable to the advocacy seen in right wing talk radio.

    There have been complaints about conservative bias from the print media from liberals, especially the media’s failure to present the evidence that Bush was lying during the lead up to the war.

    Bringing in print media is also irrelevant to a discussion of the Fairness Doctrine. Print media is not regulated in the same manner as the broadcast media. There is not public ownership of print media as there is public ownership of the airwaves. Anything comparable to the Fairness Doctrine would be a clear violation of the First Amendment if applied to the print media.

  5. 6
    lllphd says:

    the reason the republicans are so petrified of the fairness doctrine is that its demise correlates precisely with their meteoric rise to power.

    as the fairness doctrine was being dismantled in the late 80s, particularly the equal time provision, radio and tv networks were no longer required to provide – upon demand by the public (not as a matter of course) – equal time for anyone or any organization attacked on that network to defend themselves.  

    republicans have insisted this denies first amendment rights, but it does nothing of the sort.  nowhere does this deny anyone the right to say anything (except carlin’s 7).  what it requires is that you allow anyone you attack the time to defend themselves if a citizen demands it.

    now, think about that a minute.  all those times rush called hillary a lesbo and questioned kerry’s heroism and patriotism (insert any number of similar examples here), etcetcetc, do you really think they would have gotten so completely overthetop insane outatheirminds vicious and destructive had this requirement been in place?

    of course not.  the press was not perfect before the fairness doctrine went down, but it was a far sight better than it is now.  with its demise came the upswing of the shock jocks, the scourge of fear journalism, manipulative propaganda, sensationalist dumbing down of the masses.   the networks that have really taken advantage, such as fox and whatever networks enable rush and his ilk, have been a lot more like the media of nazi germany than that of a healthy democracy.  

    without the fairness doctrine regulations, the rightwing has been able to do its worst in playing to the worst among us, not just individuals but sentiments.  this atmosphere of divisiveness and perpetual panic has enabled the worst among us to emerge, again, both in terms of individuals and sentiments.  

    for a notion of what sentiment this regulation carries, consider how often you hear a (reasonably) bona fide journalist discussing the various reports from various sources about a specific entity, be it an individual or organization (e.g., robert gates or the dod).  if the journalist is a good one, they will make a point of saying that this entity was contacted for comment (and then will either share what that was or state that their calls were not returned or whatever).  this is the vestige of that sensibility of which i speak.  

    the importance of its place in the broadcast media is to keep our airwaves from becoming so much of what we see and hear anymore; dawgawful echo chambers that – because the listeners NEVER hear an alternative point of view on their own terms – allow the shock jocks to manipulate their minds the way a rock star manipulates the sway and noise of a crowd just by moving his guitar neck back and forth over their heads.

    we deserve better.  if these neanderthals want to use our airwaves, then i say they better damn well adhere to some rules of etiquette that have positive implications for the health of our democracy.  to hell with a bunch of cussword bans; ban the rampant behavior that contributes to mass hysteria and mindless hatred and the demise of healthy debate, the core of our participation in self-rule.

  6. 7
    jones says:

    Liberal media is pushing Jindal, anonother muslim who claims to be a Christian, for President. Why the push for so called ex-muslims?  Now liberals want the “fairness” doctrine to muzzle real America. The libs will fail. You can’t stop Sarah Palin in 2012.

  7. 8
    Ron Chusid says:

    It is fellow Republicans, not liberal media, which is pushing Jindal. Neither Obama or Jindal was Muslim, but even if they were why should that by itself disqualify them.

    Liberals are not pushing for the Fairness Doctrine. It is conservatives who are bringing it up as a scare tactic.

    Go ahead and nominate Palin if you want to finish off the GOP as a national party.

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