In anticipation of ushering in a new age of Liberal Fascism House Speaker Nancy Pelosi let it be known recently that she plans to re-institute the defunct Fairness Doctrine, or as it is known to those of us who value free speech, the Hush-Rush bill. Human Events columnist John Grizzi reports here on a recent encounter with Pelosi.
At a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor yesterday, I asked Pelosi if Pence failed to get the required signatures on a discharge petition to get his anti-Fairness Doctrine bill out of committee, would she permit the Pence measure to get a floor vote this year.
“No,” the Speaker replied, without hesitation. She added that “the interest in my caucus is the reverse” and that New York Democratic Rep. “Louise Slaughter has been active behind this [revival of the Fairness Doctrine] for a while now.”
The reason for Pelosi’s excitement has nothing to do with “fairness” and everything to do with squelching opinion critical of her and her party. Her goal: the removal of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Glen Beck and the entire conservative talk radio industry from the airwaves.
Charles Sykes, a Senior Fellow of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute has written a terrific history of the Fairness Doctine and review of what is at stake should Pelosi and her fellow brown-shirts get their way.
The original Fairness Doctrine was written in 1949, when the Federal Communications Commission issued a rule that required broadcasters to devote a certain amount of time to discussions of public affairs “of interest to the community served by the particular station.”
In 1949 there was (for most Americans) no TV, certainly no hundreds of cable and satellite TV stations and no real computers from which an Internet could spring with its multiplicity of sites of every variety. Returning to a broadcast rule that was created in an era in which most Americans could only get their news from newspapers, newsreel footage in movie theaters and radio broadcasts is akin to fighting today’s wars with Revolutionary war muskets. What made sense in a long-along era does not make sense today.
Well, let me revise that: it does make sense if your real motives are less than pure as Pelosi’s certainly aren’t.
If the goal was to foster a more vigorous debate, the Fairness Doctrine failed miserably; if it was to chill the expression of inconvenient opinion, it was demonstrably successful. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, broadcasters, who were fearful of the time and the cost of compliance, simply opted to shut down controversial debate, avoiding whenever possible the discussion of issues that might trigger the regulatory nightmare. As a result, rarely did politicians have to worry about being pilloried or even criticized by radio hosts or even by on-air editorialists, whose weak and insipid commentary became monuments to the chilling effect of the Fairness Doctrine.
Under the reign of the Fairness Doctrine radio went silent on controversial issues and the AM band in particular remained a vast and neglected wasteland until 1987, when the rule was lifted.
Since 1987 radio has seen an explosion of opinion flourish, especially since the advent of the Rush Limbaugh Show as a growing national presence in 1988. One has to wonder how eager the Left would be to bring back the Fairness Doctrine if it had been say, Jim Hightower, Mario Cuomo, Al Franken or any one of the host of failed liberal talk show hosts who had spawned a whole new industry rather than Rush revolutionizing radio by making it the watering hole for conservative voices. Try as they might to succeed in it, talk radio is just not liberals’ medium. You might think they wouldn’t care so much, having a virtual monopoly in newspapers magazines, movies, network TV, etc. but then you would be underestimating their lack of respect for freedom of speech and their hunger for unfettered power.
The end of “fairness” :
In abolishing the Fairness Doctrine, the FCC acknowledged all of these logical and constitutional flaws. In August 1987, by a 4-0 vote, the FCC decided that:[T]he intrusion by government into the content of programming occasioned by the enforcement of [the Fairness Doctrine] restricts the journalistic freedom of broadcasters . . . [and] actually inhibits the presentation of controversial issues of public importance to the detriment of the public and the degradation of the editorial prerogative of broadcast journalists.[x]
Commissioners took note of both recent court decisions and the flood of new technologies: “[T]he extraordinary technological advances that have been made in the electronic media since the 1969 Red Lion decision,” the FCC declared, “together with a consideration of fundamental capital First Amendment principles provides an ample basis for the Supreme Court to reconsider the premise or approach of its decision in Red Lion.”
Most important of all, the FCC declared that “the constitutional principles applicable to the printed press should be equally applicable to the electronic press.”
Twenty years later that principle remains unchallenged, except by politicians anxious to use their clout to bring back the speech police with their tape recorders and stop watches.
A reliable measure of the actual impact of the Doctrine was what happened when it was repealed: a veritable explosion of outlets—radio, television, cable, wireless, and satellite —and the spread of over-the-air debate and exchange of ideas that would have been unimaginable under the smothering influence of the Fairness Doctrine.
But what would happen if Democrats do, in fact, succeed in restoring the Fairness Doctrine?
By the left’s own account, the regulators will be quite busy: the liberal Center for American Progress estimates that more than 1,700 radio stations around the country have some form of talk show, with 50 million listeners a week. Each weekday, they figure, more than 2,824 hours of political talk (most of it conservative) are broadcast on those stations.[xi]
On an annual basis that comes to 146,848 hours of regulated speech, requiring mountains of tape machines and stop watches—and an almost unimaginable explosion in the number of speech policeman needed to maintain “fairness.”
Fascism operates by using the power of the state to remove all opposition to the state. There could hardly be a more compelling example of this than Congress bringing back the Fairness Doctrine. It is an action only a fascist could love. By returning to it as soon as she can, Nancy Pelosi, with an almost certainly expanded Democratic presence in Congress would make a possible President Barack Obama very happy very early in his reign.
Let the new era begin. And watch what you say.
Cross Posted at Because I’m Right