Read Stephen's bio and previous columns
March 3, 2009
There Is No Fairness
Ever since Barack Obama was elected president, one issue has been a
consistent topic on right-wing talk radio, just as much as the stimulus
or the bailouts or the other issues – the imminent return of the
Now that the Democrats are in charge, the story went, they're going to
finally put back into practice the rule that until the 1980’s mandated
equal time on the radio to differing political points of view,
especially in the conservative-dominated medium of talk radio. This
move, as argued both on the shows themselves and in public service
announcements recorded by the likes of Edwin Meese, would be a way to
put much of conservative talk radio out of business, in order to
suppress dissent in the age of Obama.
This argument, though, has run into reality: The return of the Fairness
Doctrine isn't going to happen. Not this year, not next year, and
probably not ever. It wasn't ever really much a realistic possibility in
the first place.
President Obama made it official last week, as the president's spokesman
announced unequivocally that the administration opposes any move to
bring back the Doctrine. Indeed, Obama had never expressed even an iota
of support for the idea at any point during the campaign or after.
And while a handful of members of Congress – as well as former President
Clinton – had made noises about pushing for its return in recent weeks,
it never earned either a large amount of support or a high spot on the
list of Democratic legislative priorities. There was never much
grassroots liberal support for the idea, and the opposition of Obama,
who has considerably more important priorities these days, seems to seal
it. As does an act of Congress: Last Thursday, the Senate voted, 87-11,
to bar the Doctrine's reimposition, as part of an amendment to the bill
to add a voting delegate for Washington, D.C.
As pointed out last year in Rory O'Connor's book Shock Jocks, the
return of the Doctrine was always more a matter of Republican
scaremongering than anything with any possibility of ever happening.
There was never enough political will to do so, with thousands of talk
shows it would be almost completely unenforceable, and when the Doctrine
was in effect the first time, the FCC never once ruled on a case
involving political talk shows.
Leaving all that aside, should the Doctrine come back? I wouldn't
recommend it. There are significant First Amendment issues involved, of
course, plus it's not practical and I don't believe the government
should be in the radio programming business. Obama's FCC
chairman-designate, Julius Genachowski, hasn't even been confirmed yet.
When he is, I expect other issues, most notably the digital television
transition and issues of media ownership consolidation, will be much
more worthy of his time.
I can't think of any issue that has drawn so much attention, relative to
its actual chance of happening, as the alleged plan to re-enact the
Fairness Doctrine. Call it the left-wing version of one of those
right-wing phantom issues like the flag-burning amendment, or crackdowns
on violent video games – much as it gets talked about from time to time,
it's never actually happened, and probably never will.
North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
Click here to talk to our writers and
editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.
To e-mail feedback
about this column,
click here. If you enjoy this writer's
work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry
This is Column #
Request permission to publish here.