Rush to the 'Fairness' Doctrine

President Obama recently was reported to have warned Republicans that they should stop listening to conservative talk radio if they want to be part of the dialogue with the new administration.


“You can’t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done,” he is said to have told GOP leaders who had been invited to the White House to discuss the economic stimulus package.


Obama has made three mistakes with this statement. First he has elevated Limbaugh by talking about him, just as Obama repeatedly elevated conservative talk-radio host Sean Hannity by repeatedly mentioning Hannity during his campaign.


Second, Obama appears thin-skinned and weak by raising the name of his critic.  And he is assuming that Republicans listen to Limbaugh which many do not.


With the mention of Limbaugh, however, the issue of the so-called Fairness Doctrine is being raised again. The Doctrine, which was abolished by the Federal Communications Commission in 1987, required that broadcasters using the public airwaves must offer balance in their programming. And Limbaugh’s conservative-only views repeatedly have been targeted by liberals.


The Doctrine was introduced in 1949. Only one broadcaster has lost a license in the face of the Doctrine, WLBT Channel 3 in Jackson, Mississippi, which opposed civil rights and which lost its license in 1969. In a more unusual invocation of the Doctrine, George Takei of Star Trek fame once was running for a seat on the Los Angeles city council and his opponent cited Takei’s established notoriety in invoking the Doctrine.


Limbaugh’s success has come after the abolition of the Doctrine. His show commenced broadcast in Sacramento, California on August 1, 1988. But Limbaugh could well argue that first he is not suppressing any liberal speech and second that many more outlets are available for all types of speech than were available in 1949 and thus that, on both counts, liberals have had adequate opportunity to match his success but have not been able to.


Despite dominating most media types including print, television, film, the arts and pop culture, liberals now are complaining that their foray into radio has failed, particularly the much-vaunted and heavily-financed Air America which filed for bankruptcy on October 13, 2006, just two-and-a-half years after it was launched. Limbaugh started without such conspicuous financial backing nor the all-out media promotion that Air America received.


Since their radio shows have mostly failed – there are some remaining programs including Bill Press – liberals have decided to try to bring back the Fairness Doctrine to try and ban conservative radio. Press recently discussed the issue with Democrat US senator from Michigan Debbie Stabenow who said: “I think it’s absolutely time to pass a standard. Now, whether it’s called the Fairness Standard, whether it’s called something else — I absolutely think it’s time to be bringing accountability to the airwaves. I mean, our new president has talked rightly about accountability and transparency. You know, that we all have to step up and be responsible. And, I think in this case, there needs to be some accountability and standards put in place.”


Press then asked: “Can we count on you to push for some hearings in the United States Senate this year, to bring these owners in and hold them accountable?”


 And Stabenow answered: “I have already had some discussions with colleagues and, you know, I feel like that’s gonna happen. Yep.”


So will Congress hold hearings on the so-called ‘Fairness’ Doctrine?


Well, yes and no.


Congressional hearings generally fall into two categories: Inquisition or veneration. And with Democrats in control, liberals will be exonerated while conservatives will be persecuted for every parking ticket and overdue library book.


In the case of the Fairness Doctrine, of course, any proceedings before Congress will need to be carefully stage-managed. Limbaugh and Hannity, the big, juicy public targets of this inquisition, would not be called. Because liberals do not want any confrontation with smart conservatives who are unafraid of Congress. Clips of Limbaugh shredding congressional liberals would be embarrassing for the left and a rallying cry for the right.


The people who likely would be called to testify would be nervous station owners whose licenses would be threatened; failed talk-radio liberals; and media ‘observers’ and ‘experts’ who will comment on this opinion or that editorial by Limbaugh/Hannity, with words, phrases and sentences taken out of context to present the conservatives in the worst light possible.


In the meantime, Limbaugh certainly would publicly beg to testify and Congress would refuse to hear him. Because they are afraid of him and how he will expose them and crush them intellectually. Because any fair debate between a smart conservative and any liberal always will be won by the former. 


In fact the whole Fairness Doctrine threat is weakening like a ‘global warming’ conference during a Florida freeze. Obama’s presidency is off to a bad start. Even with huge majorities in Congress, Obama has appeared weak and rudderless on the stimulus package and on his cabinet nominees, and his popularity is suffering.


Thus Democrats may not wish to take on conservative talk radio at this time. They also may be interested in possibly waiting to get a fifth leftist vote on the Supreme Court before pushing to reinstate the Doctrine, which could take years. Swing-voter justice Anthony Kennedy probably would not support the Doctrine in a free-speech case considering the wide spectrum of media outlets available today compared to the relatively narrow range available in 1949.


And Limbaugh/Hannity would use the whole Fairness Doctrine putsch as a rallying cry for our basic freedoms and would hoist Obama up as a dictator and a crybaby. Imagine nationwide Rush Rallies and Hannity Happenings. Nothing would energize the right more. Then imagine Limbaugh calling for the shutdown of liberal talk radio and biased MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS… etc., etc.


Then we will see how much “fairness’ the liberals really want.


Please visit my website at www.nikitas3.com for more. You can print out for free my book, Right Is Right, which explains why only conservatism can maintain our freedom and prosperity.