Diary

Why there will be no "Fairness Doctrine"---Under Obama or Ever

Many conservatives, including (and perhaps especially) those on the radio are worried about the return of “The Fairness Doctrine” in the future, but I consider this an unrealistic fear. Here’s why.

In our current political climate, the Fairness Doctrine is an archaic, absurd, and ultimately unworkable legal concept whose death would be assured as soon as anybody actually tried to codify and put it into practice in the modern media. Even its current advocates would have to realize this once they attempted to legislate it or subject it to judicial review.

In a nutshell: there are not “two sides” to every issue. And if you open the door to allowing everybody to legally demand that their side be heard, you’ll never reach the bottom. Every minute of air time on thousands of stations will have to be scrutinized, weighed, and judged by the authorities on a permanent basis. The number of claims, lawsuits, and appeals would be infinite.

In the abstract, you might say that there “are two sides to every issue,” but this is nonsense in practice. There are infinitely more than “two sides.”

If there are “two sides,” what are they? Is the government going to start conducting polling to determine them? What is the “other side” of a documentary about the American Revolution? What is the “other side” of a story about Martin Luther King?

If you remove these questions from the market and open the door to those who would demand “equal time,” then Nazis, Communists, and everyone else will be in court waving the “Fairness Doctrine” and demanding air time.

I simply don’t see how any Congress or any President will allow this to happen. Wanting to shut down your political adversaries, as Democrats want to do, would actually lead to every nutcase, fringe group, and minority group in the country availing themselves of the new legal framework in an effort to bully their way onto the public airwaves. If nothing else, it will tie the courts up in knots.

For example, if Rush Limbaugh were to go on the radio and criticize affirmative action, there is not simply one and exactly one “other side” to this question. The KKK has their “side of the story.” The Nation of Islam has their “side of the story.” It won’t be possible to codify in law this ridiculous idea that there are “two sides” to everything, that Republicans put forth one and only side and the Democratic party has a viewpoint which constitutes the sole “other side.”

If abstract “fairness” becomes the order of the day instead of a market of ideas enabled by large numbers of people who want to hear those ideas (and the advertising dollars that come with them), then everything will break down overnight. It’s simply not possible.