Conservative Talk Radio is the Fairness Doctrine

“A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood
in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”  —  John
F. Kennedy

What ever happened to liberals’ support of free speech?  First, it was “lobbying reform” that targeted grassroots communications. Then it was “hate crimes” legislation that tries to figure out what we are thinking. More recently, it’s “card check,” payback to the big labor unions that would take away the right of employees to secret ballot elections on unionizing the workplace.  

Worst of all, however, have been the recent calls by liberal congressmen to re-instate the Fairness Doctrine, the ironically misnamed government regulation requiring broadcasters to present competing sides of controversial issues.  Enacted in 1949, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) put the Fairness Doctrine in place in order to “afford reason able opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views of public importance.”  

Though it never ruled decisively on the issue, the U.S. Supreme Court stated in 1974 that the doctrine “inescapably dampens the vigor and limits the variety of public debate.”  In 1984 the court again concluded that the doctrine was flawed and that the rule limited public debate.

Accordingly, in 1987, the FCC abolished the doctrine, insisting that it had grown to inhibit rather than enhance debate and suggested that, due to the many media voices in the marketplace at the time, the doctrine would be ruled unconstitutional.

But now, 20 years after its demise, the Fairness Doctrine has new life. Senator Diane Feinstein says she’s “looking at” bringing it back and Senator John Kerry insists it’s needed to correct the “imbalance” in the media.  Trent Lott, meanwhile, dismayed his conservative friends when he said we have to “do somethin g” about talk radio because of the criticism of the immigration bill from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham.

Those looking for ways to muzzle or render ineffective conservative talk radio have been bolstered by a new report from the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank funded by George Soros, which charges that 91% of weekday talk radio is conservative, compared to the nine percent that is liberal. Attacking the “right-wing domination of talk radio,” the report then ominously suggests that this imbalance is a violation of the license standards that require radio stations to act “in the public interest.” John Halpin, a senior fellow at the center, concludes, “There is little free speech or free choice in a market system that pushes out one-sided information 90 percent of the time on the radio.”

All this would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous.

The Left already dominates nearly every aspect of public life in this country, from the public schools and academia to the entertainment industry and every other media venue — the big three networks, cable, public radio, public broadcasting, newspapers, etc.  Another study last week showed that nearly 90% of political giving by journalists went to Democrats.  

The heavy-handedness with which liberals combat conservative supremacy on the airwaves stands in contrast to conservatives’ response to the near monopoly liberals enjoy in every other media venue.  When conservatives needed a response to the left-leaning network TV stations and liberal PBS and CNN, Fox News was created, and now it regularly receives much higher ratings than its competitors. When conservatives wanted to compete with National Public Radio, conservative talk radio was created to meet that demand.  

Indeed, while the Left’s animating philosophy has always been, “If you can’t beat ’em, regu late ’em,” Conservatives, clearly more confident in the persuasiveness of their ideas, simply told themselves, “if you don’t like the news source, make some of your own!”

It’s telling that liberal criticisms of talk radio come at a time when public confidence in the media establishment has reached an all-time low.  A 2005 Harris poll found three times as many Americans (62 percent) said they did not trust “the press” than did, with 58 percent revealing distrust of TV news.  In contrast, only a third of respondents (33 percent) said they did not trust the radio.   

While the Left tries to convince us (and itself) that conservative dominance of talk radio stems from some sort of structural problem or “market failure,” the truth is far more elementary.  Conservative talk radio succeeds because it is virtually the only place half the country can go to hear a conservative worldview.  It succeeds because conservative ideas resonate with many Americans.  

To put it another way, in a fundamentally conservative country where most of the media lean left, conservative talk radio IS the Fairness Doctrine.

Though it sounds absurd, the idea that the government should control political views expressed on the public airwaves could become law.  All it would take is for a Democratic president to appoint an FCC chairman who supported the Fairness Doctrine, giving liberals a 3-2 majority on the commission and enabling them to enforce any regulations passed by Congress.

That is why Congressman Mike Pence, himself a former radio talk show host, has unveiled legislation preventing the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine.  The Broadcaster Freedom Act would “prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from prescribing rules, regulations or policies that will reinstate the requirement that broadcasters present opposing v iewpoints in controversial issues of public importance.” Pence’s legislation would, in essence, prevent the government from rationing free speech, something Congressman Pence calls “an existential threat” to not only the conservative movement but also our First Amendment rights.

Earlier this week, liberal Senator Dick Durbin added his name to the fast-growing list of senators who support reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, smugly declaring, “I have this old-fashioned attitude that when Americans hear both sides of the story, they’re in a better position to make a decision.”  

I couldn’t agree more.  That’s precisely why the Fairness Doctrine must be defeated.