Honor Rush By Spiking the Fairness Doctrine

On August 1, 1988, Rush Limbaugh started his national radio show from New York City on what is still his flagship station: WABC-FM, 770 AM, after a successful stint on the West Coast. Mr. Limbaugh was truly a pioneer in the field of talk radio. Over the course of his long and decorated career, we have witnessed the Rush Limbaugh Show become easily the most popular and widely heard program on talk radio.

Even today, Rush, as he’s known to his listeners, continues to cast the largest shadow over the talk radio business, and we salute him for his yeoman’s work in articulating conservative opinion about the world in which we live.

However, the freedom that Rush Limbaugh enjoys on the airwaves of America is under attack as liberals in Congress step up their efforts to restore the Fairness Doctrine.

As we have written before, the Fairness Doctrine is a dated regulation by which the federal government exerts control over political views expressed on the public airwaves. It is dangerous to suggest that a government bureaucracy would be a competent arbiter of free speech, yet under this rule, unelected FCC officials would have the authority to determine which speech is legal.

The Fairness Doctrine was created more than half-a-century ago under the notion that it would encourage policy discussion on the airwaves, but instead it stifled it and granted government officials in Washington, D.C. unprecedented power to regulate free speech.

When the Fairness Doctrine took effect in 1949, broadcasters responded by avoiding controversial issues completely, unwilling to jump through the logistical hoops and shoulder the financial burden of complying with such burdensome regulations. Talk radio was bland, monolithic and drew a meager following. Indeed, this was precisely the opposite of what a healthy democracy should want or expect from its radio press.

When the Reagan Administration finally repealed the Fairness Doctrine in the summer of 1987, no one could have predicted what would happen next.

Finally free from what Daniel Henninger of The Wall Street Journal called “the East Germany of liberal media domination,” broadcasters found near-equal footing in the First Amendment with other press mediums. The doors to an unencumbered exchange of ideas on the airwaves of America were flung wide open. Now, instead of having to heed onerous dictates of a bureaucracy that could levy stiff fines or revoke a station’s license for not airing the views regulators determined should be heard, producers of the talk radio industry needed only to comply with the desires and demands of the free market — control was wrested from the federal government and placed squarely in the hands of the American consumer.

It didn’t take long for radio personalities to take advantage.

As we approach the two-decade mark of Mr. Limbaugh’s dominant run in the post-Fairness Doctrine radio era, it’s worth noting just how many lawmakers want to shut down him and his colleagues — on the right and the left. The unambiguous reality is that some of the most powerful elected officials in Congress, including the Democrat leadership in both the House and the Senate, want to re-regulate the airwaves by restoring this Orwellian mandate of government control over what’s said on the public’s airwaves.

To enact a permanent ban on the Fairness Doctrine and to ensure that no President, present or future, will ever regulate the airwaves of America without Congressional approval, we introduced H.R. 2905: “The Broadcaster Freedom Act.” Yet, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would not allow our legislation to come to the House floor for a vote. She personally supports a revival of the Fairness Doctrine. The second most powerful Democrat in the House, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, also recently came out in support of reactivating the Fairness Doctrine.

Among those legislators who have taken to the press, pining for the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine are Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Representative Maurice Hinchey, and Senator John Kerry. On June 26, 2007, Senator Kerry told the Bryan Lehrer Show that “the Fairness Doctrine ought to be there.” According to Senator Kerry, free speech and free expression are apparently dangerous, but the reality is that the liberal Left reserves that designation only for speech with which they disagree.

Because Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer and the rest of the Democrat Leadership refuse to put this critical legislation on the calendar, we filed a discharge petition – which, if signed by 218 Members of Congress, would force an up-or-down vote on the Broadcaster Freedom Act.

It has been almost a year since we filed that discharge petition, and to date, almost every House Republican has signed the petition but not a single House Democrat has joined us. If 218 Members sign, a vote on this legislation would be forced, the bill would pass, and it would effectively stop the movement to bring back the Fairness Doctrine.

What should not be lost amidst this legislative limbo is that the course that the Democrat Party seems to be charting is the truly dangerous scenario: government bureaucrats empowered as judge and jury, sequestered away in some office in Washington, DC, reviewing endless tapes of any and all opinionated broadcasters such as the iconic Rush Limbaugh and rendering decisions on what is “legitimate” dialogue on what they deem to be “controversial” topics.

The scene above may seem dystopian, like something straight out of 1984, but we are reminded on the 20th anniversary of the Rush Limbaugh Show that we’re only two decades removed from such absurdity.

Should the liberals succeed in their effort to reimpose the ‘Fairness Doctrine’ they will inflict great damage on the First Amendment and send talk show hosts — left, right and center — packing. Freedom of speech is one of the most cherished pillars of our society and nowhere would its loss be more keenly felt than on the airwaves.

If the Broadcaster Freedom Act is brought to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, we have every confidence it will pass, because when freedom gets an up-or-down vote in the People’s House, freedom always wins.

On the 20-year anniversary of Rush Limbaugh’s radio debut, the best present we can give him is to spike the Fairness Doctrine once and for all.