PJ Media

Shut Up, America: A Warning Siren for the Future of Free Speech

One of the many inaccurate memes running through the Bush years was that free speech was under constant attack. Meanwhile, more artists spoke out more often in more media outlets about the president’s policies.

Enter Shut Up, America: The End of Free Speech, Brad O’Leary’s alarmist tome about how the new Obama administration could clamp down on free speech. Is the fear of losing our free speech bipartisan? Not according to O’Leary, who lays out some pretty convincing arguments about what we might expect over the next four — or eight — years.

Like the left’s attacks on President Bush, O’Leary’s predictions may not come to pass. Recent headlines regarding a revival of the Fairness Doctrine — a radio regulation that would essentially shut down conservative talkers — ended without any such legislation passing. But Shut Up, America warns that many of the pieces for the Fairness Doctrine’s revival, as well as other attempts to clamp down on conservative chatter, are already in place. The death of the original Fairness Doctrine paved the way for Rush Limbaugh’s rise to prominence and, in the intervening years, the rise of Sean Hannity, Hugh Hewitt, and other like-minded gabbers. However, it’s not just talk radio that could be silenced. Net neutrality backers could work similar restrictions on the Internet, O’Leary posits, using sources from both sides of the political aisle to buttress his claims. A 1987 Washington Post editorial called the Fairness Doctrine “repulsive.” And none other than Dan “Memogate” Rather lashed out at the doctrine during testimony to the Federal Communications Commission.

The book begins with a quick summation of the media’s left-wing slant. O’Leary quotes the few brave mainstream reporters and editors who shared their shock at the one-sided, glowing coverage of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. The material isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s sufficient to set the stage for subsequent chapters. Plus, preserving conservative talk radio becomes even more important given the current media landscape. Who else — the book posits — will keep the powerful in check?

Next, the author serves up a concise history of the Fairness Doctrine, which demanded radio stations give equal time to both sides of major issues. The legislation was born during an era of limited media outlets, and even those who disagreed with it could understand a fraction of the rationale for its existence — even if they disagreed with it on principle.

Today, there’s no shortage of information outlets, and to single out talk radio for regulation is simply ludicrous and clearly a partisan effort. Can anyone honestly believe an effort to reintroduce the Fairness Doctrine would even be discussed if radio talk leaned to the left?

President Obama has stated his opposition to the Fairness Doctrine, but some of his Democratic allies firmly support the measure. House Speaker NancyPelosi, N.Y. Senator Chuck Schumer, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have all spoken in favor of the measure. Schumer went so far as to compare right-leaning “hate” talk to pornography.

The legislation could resurface under another name (code word: localism) or even in a slightly different form. Senators might dress it up in other terms like diversity or claim the country needs it to fight back against hate speech. Naturally, the “hate” in question only comes from the right, not the frothings of lefties like Keith Olbermann. And wasn’t it the former senator from Illinois, O’Leary argues, that sent his camp out during the recent presidential campaign to picket radio stations? O’Leary dismisses the uniformed rationale for conservative talk radio’s ascent, dismantling liberal attacks on the medium which say righty talkers aren’t as bright as their left-leaning colleagues and deal with only black and white issues.

While O’Leary relies too heavily on some sources, including media critic Adam Thierer, the book does wrap with a handy resource of organizations already battling any rebirth of the Fairness Doctrine.

It’s possible only a few of the free speech restrictions O’Leary paints in Shut Up, America will come to pass. So consider his easily digested book a warning siren. Freedom loving Americans better be ready to fight back should the Obama administration follow the lead of some more partisan and ignorant sources. It’s clear the mainstream press won’t be of much help should the Obama administration lead the charge for talk radio’s destruction.