The main question in light of the coming election is “what will Barack Obama do?” Should he become president, great — and totally undesirable — change awaits America. Brian Anderson and co-author Adam Thierer in their newly released book, A Manifesto for Media Freedom, answer this question. The authors elucidate the impact a Democrat-dominated government will have on our personal freedoms. The portrait they paint is reminiscent of Titian’s Salome with the Head of John the Baptist — except the head of conservatism appears in John’s place. They warn that the damage to free speech arising from leftist domination of our government will be both severe and oppressive. Thankfully, Mr. Anderson found time to answer a few queries about our haunted future. Mr. Anderson is the editor of City Journal, which is among the most insightful and generative of conservative publications. Previously, he wrote Democratic Capitalism and Its Discontents and South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias.
BC: Congratulations on the release of your new book, Mr. Anderson. It’s your second release in a year’s time. First off, what is the Fairness Doctrine and how close are we to its becoming viable?
Brian Anderson: Thanks, Bernard. The Fairness Doctrine was an old regulation of the Federal Communications Commission dating back in various forms to 1929 and officially codified in the late 40s. It would rule broadcast media until Ronald Reagan’s FCC got rid of it in 1987, seeing it as suppressing free speech. It required radio and later broadcast television stations to cover issues of interest to the community in which it could be heard or watched and to provide airtime to opposing viewpoints. Lack of compliance meant potential fines and ultimately loss of license.
When the Fairness Doctrine was gone, talk radio exploded — going from only 100 or so talk shows of any kind in the early 80s to the thousands that exist today and that draw big audiences. It turns out that the doctrine did suppress speech on the airwaves. Stations didn’t want the hassle of government regulators looking over their shoulder and so they shied away from controversial opinion. Adam Thierer and I show in the book how, from the outset, the Fairness Doctrine was used by politicians to harass their critics on radio and TV. It is a too-tempting power to abuse.
Its reintroduction — an idea supported enthusiastically by Democratic Party leaders, including Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, and Al Gore — would destroy talk radio, the one medium that conservative and libertarian voices dominate. Obama claims not to want to restore it, but it is hard to imagine him vetoing a bill if Congress delivered him one. And the media reforms he does aggressively support, including imposing new local accountability measures on broadcasters, would amount to much the same thing. As sketched out by Democrats, stations would be subjected to renewing their license every two years, instead of eight, which is today the case, and would have to include in the re-licensing process the input of local community monitoring boards, which would swiftly be taken over by activists, since other people actually have to work.