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Or were Republicans sucker-punched?

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Fairness Doctrine Victory?

Or were Republicans sucker-punched?

A ban on the so-called Fairness Doctrine passed overwhelmingly in the Senate yesterday in the form of the Broadcaster Freedom Amendment offered by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) to the D.C. Voting Rights Act, which was later passed by the Senate.  The Broadcaster Freedom Amendment would prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from reinstating the so-called Fairness Doctrine, which was scrapped by the FCC in 1987 as unconstitutional.  The vote on the amendment was 87-11 in favor with 46 Democrats crossing over to vote with Republicans.

“Today’s vote slammed the front door on the so-called ‘Fairness Doctrine,’ which threatens to censor free speech and shut down talk radio,” said DeMint. “When senators were forced to vote in the open on this issue, they were compelled to side with the American people.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) had this to say, “The overwhelming bi-partisan vote in support of the Broadcaster Freedom Act shows that the American people reject the idea of reinstating the fairness doctrine. As one of the most outspoken members in the Senate against re-instating the doctrine, I am pleased to have supported Senators DeMint and Thune in their effort. Today is a tremendous victory for free speech and the First Amendment, and while I am sure liberals will continue to look for another way to attack conservative radio, I will be standing with my colleagues to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

But the result may be neither that strong or that clear.  First, the DeMint amendment may have been used by the Democrats to gain political cover: they can now say they voted against the Fairness Doctrine.  But a later amendment offered by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill) may give them all they wanted to begin with: an easy and quick path for the FCC to impose the Fairness Doctrine by regulation without further congressional action.

And that’s very likely what is going on.  Durbin’s amendment passed the Senate 57-41 with no Republican support whatsoever.  It instructs the FCC to take a proactive stance “to encourage and promote diversity in communication media ownership.”  Democrats can use this broad language to empower the FCC to impose everything from racial quotas on media ownership to, given the tyrannical zeal of the current Democrat leadership, eminent domain-type power over media ownership through enforcement of racial ownership quotas.  The White House would define what actions the FCC could and would take under this broad, new, proactive “diversity in communication media ownership” directive.

If they do so, radio station owners could literally have to sell all or part of their interest to others with different political views, resulting in changes in programming.  This sounds complicated, but given the Dems’ proclivity for hiding intentions in legislation — and turning it over to bureaucrats who naturally exert the maximum power they’ve been given — to do the dirty work.

DeMint saw through Durbin and issued a warning.

“Today was an important victory for free speech, but the fight is far from over,” DeMint continued in his statement after passage.  “Sen. Durbin’s amendment exposed Democrat intentions to impose radio censorship through the back door using vague regulations dealing with media ownership.  Sen. Durbin’s language was so broad, it could apply beyond radio to television, newspapers and the internet. All eyes are now on the FCC.  If they attempt to shut down free speech indirectly, we will fight to stop them.”

It will happen.  And Republicans will have to fight this fight again, and soon.

Democrats passed this amendment for a reason, and, as always with Democrats, one must examine their actions, not their rhetoric.  Durbin said yesterday, “Section 307(b) of the communications act requires that the FCC ensure license ownership be spread among diverse communities.  It’s there already.  I don’t think this is socialistic, communistic, or unconstitutional.  It’s in the law.”

Given this is already law, why the need to pass broader language directing action?  Durbin continued, “Second, the communications act requires the FCC eliminate market entry barriers for small businesses to increase the diversity of media voices.  That’s Section 257.  So to argue that what I’m putting in here is a dramatic change of the law, is going to somehow muzzle Rush Limbaugh, it’s not the case.  What we’re suggesting is that it is best that we follow the guidelines already in the law to promote and encourage diversity in media ownership.”

Dramatic change of law?  Why the change at all?  Because the Democrat goal is to control political speech by the breakup of ownership of the one broadcast media that is not dominated by liberal-speak:  talk radio.  The left cannot win the public debate in the arena of ideas and historically have sought to stifle all opposing voices.  Democrats won the majority in 2006 by fraudulently claiming the conservative mantle in some red states, and the White House in 2008 by talking tax cuts and fiscal responsibility, which are clearly conservative values.  

Radio talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have had an early and serious impact on this Democrat charade by daily exposing the fraud most recently evidenced by the out-of-control borrowing and spending of literally trillions of American taxpayer dollars in bailouts and Democrat constituency political payoffs.  Democrats do not in any way, shape, manner, form or action own any part of the conservatism they claimed to get elected.  This makes talk radio intolerable to those on the left who seek to silence these voices through any means necessary.  

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said this about both amendments, “It was reassuring to see the Senate stand up for free speech today and reject this anti-American policy.  However, I am troubled that as we killed the ‘Fairness Doctrine,’ Senator Durbin’s amendment brought to life a new threat to talk radio and other arenas of free speech.  Senator DeMint and I, along with others, will continue to stand up to efforts to limit the expression of differing opinions and free speech on talk radio, TV, and the internet.  With such an overwhelming vote in the Senate, I hope the Democrat leadership in the House does not block this provision when they consider this legislation.”

And that’s the other problem.  The DeMint amendment is likely to be stripped from the bill in the House-Senate conference.  The Dems won’t wait, won’t hesitate, and above all won’t retreat from their goal of destroying conservative talk radio.

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Connie Hair writes a weekly column for HUMAN EVENTS. She is a former speechwriter for Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.).

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