The Unfairness of Reviving the Fairness Doctrine

The original justification for the Fairness Doctrine was that the limited high-frequency infrastructure of the airwaves justified government control of content provided by licensed broadcasters. (That rationale became less tenable after the Reagan years of FCC deregulation and the subsequent proliferation of conservative talk radio programs.) Newspapers were not held to that same standard, as outlined in the U.S. Supreme Court's 1974 decision in Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo, which held that the print media were not hindered by limited bandwidth, and thus enjoyed virtually unlimited competition. There was no compelling governmental interest to regulate the content of broadsheet journalism.

Yet today's leftists make no such distinctions (in a sure sign of the Democratic-left's hunger for censorship and control). Both conservative talk radio and print outlets like Politico are condemned for their success. And if that success is deemed as violating the general interest -- or, in Matthew Yglesias' words, as ignoring the "public welfare" -- then the Democrats can claim an allegedly powerful case for renewed regulation of conservative views. Indeed, notice Lindsay Beyerstein's analogy holding conservative commentary as comparable to "crack" cocaine. In this formulation, a business model touting "performance pay" is dangerous, even criminal. This is the journalistic "drug rush" that goes too far. There ought to be a law -- hence, the demand for mass-media "drug-control" legislation.

Take Dave Neiwert's suggestion at the far left-wing Crooks and Liars, for example. Excoriating conservative talk radio heroes like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, Neiwert moves beyond content regulation to advocate corporate control of the media, suggesting that, "Rather than bring back the Fairness Doctrine ... it might be better simply to reform the structure of how FCC licenses are distributed and make diversity of ownership a priority."

"Diversity of ownership?" Yeah, right. As Betsy Newmark reported, what we're seeing is the emergence of "a new version of the Fairness Doctrine." Leftists know that the success of right-wing talk radio over the last couple of decades is proof of public demand for conservative opinion. Since they can't win that argument, leftists will venue-shop down to the local level, arguing for a compelling governmental interest in regulating state and local communications networks, perhaps even the Internet (oddly enough, given the left's entrepreneurial prowess on the web).

This tack is particularly pernicious and fundamentally dishonest. The focus on localism is of a piece with the stealth paradigm of Democratic governance under the new Obama-Pelosi-Reid regime. When facing conservative pushback on traditional big-government policies, Democrats stonewall, prevaricate, lie, and obstruct. The faux-debate of the new regime's economic stimulus-porkulus boondoggle is instructive in its Orwellianism.

The brutal truth is that the left cannot compete in the marketplace of ideas. The logical outcome of that competitive impotence is to simply remove the market mechanism itself. This is the essence of state-socialist ideological advocacy. An ideological truth -- socialism -- that is so frequently resisted by the slow-witted cattle of the leftosphere, is in fact being repackaged, ironically, as "robust, informed, and mature discussion" toward state violence and control of freedom of speech and commerce.

It's thus important to keep in mind that while some conservatives have argued that the right has bigger fish to fry, that the Democratic agenda is intent to have an orgy on "endless bailouts, runaway deficit spending, nationalized health care, card check," it all runs parallel. What better way to grease the wheels of big government than by redefining the success of conservative print and radio media as a violation of "public welfare," which should then be prohibited like "crack cocaine"?

If it's indeed time for "Some Straight Talk About the Fairness Doctrine," then let's put everything on the table, including the Democratic-left's demands for local content dictates, diversity-of-ownership smokescreens, and public-interest rule-based totalitarianism.