Obama's Fickle First Amendment Advocacy

While many political experts are busy with their Election Day predictions, there’s only one prediction I’m making: Whether enraged (If Obama loses) or gloating (if Obama wins), the Left will make reinstating the Fairness Doctrine a top-shelf priority in the next Congress.  

You remember the Fairness Doctrine:  the policy that required broadcasters to present competing sides of controversial issues.  It was resurrected recently by congressional Democrats after studies showed 90 percent of talk radio programming is conservative.  

Of course, there isn’t a city in America where one cannot access a liberal radio or TV station.  And given its dominance of the print and television media (not to mention Hollywood, public schools, academia and the courts), one would think the Left might tolerate—even welcome—some dissenting opinion, if only to have something to point to when conservatives claim media bias.  But no.  The totalitarian impulse is just too strong on the Left, which seems unable to stand the idea that somewhere at the end of the radio dial a dissenting voice can be heard.    

In one sense, resurrection of the Fairness Doctrine is a compliment to conservative talk radio.  The Fairness Doctrine is the Left’s way of saying, “We give up.  We can’t compete with you conservatives on radio, and obviously you have too much influence, so we need to regulate you.”

Despite the ascendance of conservative talk radio, liberals still dominate the media.  A new Pew study finds media’s coverage of the presidential campaign has been three to one in favor of Barack Obama.  And studies have shown vast majorities of political reporters vote for, and donate to Democratic candidates.  

Polls show Americans believe reporters give Democrats more favorable coverage than they give Republicans, which is undoubtedly a cause of other polls that consistently rank the media as one of the nation’s least respected institutions.  A 2005 Harris poll found 62 percent of Americans said they did not trust “the press, with 58 percent revealing distrust of TV news.  In striking contrast, only a third of respondents said they did not trust the radio.

Barack Obama says he opposes re-imposing the Fairness Doctrine, a position which may or not be related to the $12 million his presidential campaign has received from the communications and electronic sector, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.  His stated position is almost certainly related to the results of a recent Zogby poll that found the Fairness Doctrine is opposed by independent and undecided voters, 49 percent to 40 percent and 50 to 17 percent, respectively.  

But its reimposition is a priority of Obama’s congressional allies.  Nancy Pelosi told Human Events’ John Gizzi over the summer that she supports re-instating the Fairness Doctrine, as do numerous other prominent Democrats, including Dick Durbin and John F. Kerry.

So, does Obama really oppose the Fairness Doctrine, and, if so, would he stand up to his party on free speech?

Judging by what we’ve seen on the campaign trail (his campaign’s suppression of critical media), and in Obama’s career (he has never stood up to his party on a controversial issue), it’s unlikely.   

Consider how the Obama campaign blacklisted a Florida TV station after one of its reporters asked Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden some tough questions.  Or the way the Obama campaign has tried to intimidate TV and radio stations that interviewed authors critical of Obama.  When author Stanley Kurtz, who has documented Obama’s ties with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, was set to appear on a Chicago TV program, the Obama campaign directed its supporters to flood the station with calls and emails pressuring it not to give airtime to dissenting opinion.    

In most cases the Obama campaign has not had to push the media to do its bidding.  Consider the way prominent print publications and radio stations have refused to run ads highlighting Obama’s unconscionable extremism on abortion or the current fury over the Los Angeles Times refusing to release footage of Obama praising a Chicago professor who was a mouthpiece for the Palestine Liberation Organization.  

Barack Obama says he does not support the Fairness Doctrine, but he does support numerous other problematic media regulations, including media ownership caps, network neutrality, public broadcasting as well as using government to increase minority ownership of broadcasting and print outlets.  Obama also wants to relicense stations every two years, instead of every eight years as the law now stands.  It seems Barack Obama supports the Fairness Doctrine in the same way he supports same-sex marriage — in all but name.  

Obama’s desire to give equal time to both sides of the debate goes only so far.  Given his 5-to-1 fundraising edge over John McCain and his 3-to-1 edge over McCain in television ads, it would be reasonable for Obama to support laws that require political candidates be given equal time to advertise in the media.  Oh wait, we’ve already tried that.  It’s called campaign finance reform, part of which involves public financing of campaigns, in which Obama at one time pledged to participate.  He broke his pledge when it became clear he could raise more money himself.  Barack Obama is a fickle friend of the First Amendment’s right to free speech.

When Obama broke his pledge and decided to forgo public funding of his presidential campaign, he said taking private money would allow him to run “the type of campaign that reflects…grassroots values.”  That’s an ironic claim from someone who supports regulating one of the only media venues through which grassroots values are truly reflected.