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Silencing the Message -- The Fairness Doctrine, The 1st Amendment and the Assault on Conservative Talk Radio

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By Gary Starr For The Neville Awards
Posted July 23, 2007

Just Added July 20, 2008 -- Related Article

Stealing Freedom: Democrat 'Media Reform' and the Fairness Doctrine

Amendment I (to the know...the U.S. Constitution)

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Could it be any clearer? Apparently many Democrats don't get it or haven't read it in a long time.

Then consider this from Kennedy Hack Bill Ruder:

"Our massive strategy was to use the Fairness Doctrine to challenge and harass right-wing broadcasters and hope the challenges would be so costly to them that they would be inhibited and decide it was too expensive to continue." --Bill Ruder, Democratic campaign consultant and Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Kennedy Administration

In 1987, the Federal Communications Commission stopped requiring broadcasters to adhere to the Fairness Doctrine. Broadcasters hated the Fairness Doctrine, which put their federal station licenses at risk if they didn't air "all sides" of an issue. The move is widely credited with ushering in the popularity of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the rise of

conservative talk radio.

Michael Harrison, who hosted a weekend talk show in Los Angeles from 1975 to 1985, said the Fairness Doctrine kept him from giving his opinions on controversial topics. "I would never say that liberals were good and conservatives were bad, or vice versa. We would talk about, "Hey, all politicians are bad," or "It's a shame that more people don't vote," said Harrison, who publishes Talkers magazine, which covers the talk radio industry. "It was more of a superficial approach to politics."

And it was boring. Prior to the end of the Fairness Doctrine talk radio was like any other media platform, largely liberal, bland, comfortable and predictable. Like network television and the print media, there was the occasional nod to the token establishment "conservative" who new not to offend. And therein lay the "balance".

Now, after conservative talk show played a significant role in sinking the wildly unpopular Illegal Immigration Amnesty bill, some in Congress have demanded a reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine to restore "balance" and, effectively, shut down those powerful voices.

Consider these gems from our liberal legislative geniuses:

Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey (D):
Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey says the rest of the media presents a balanced view of controversial issues, and the Fairness Doctrine would simply reimpose that requirement on talk radio. Hinchey is readying legislation to reinstitute the doctrine as part of a broad package of media ownership reforms. "It's important that the American people make decisions for themselves based upon the ability to garner all the information, not just on what somebody wants to give them," he said.

Sen. David Obey (D):
Democratic House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (Wis.) agreed with Republicans that the government should not regulate conservative radio hosts such as Limbaugh and Hannity.

"We ought to let right-wing talk radio go on as they do now," he said. "Rush and Sean are just about as important in the scheme of things as Paris Hilton, and I would hate to see them gain an ounce of credibility by being forced by a government agency or anybody else to moderate their views enough that they might become modestly influential or respected." (Bitter -- table for one...)

Sen. Dick Durbin (D):
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has said that the government should revive the Fairness Doctrine, a policy crafted in 1929 that required broadcasters to balance political content with different points of view.

"It's time to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine," he said. "I have this old-fashioned attitude that when Americans hear both sides of the story, they're in a better position to make a decision."

Sen. John Kerry (D) on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show:
Senator Kerry said he thought the doctrine should return. Calling it one of the "most profound changes in the balance of the media," he said conservatives have been able to "squeeze down and squeeze out opinion of opposing views. I think it has been a very important transition in the imbalance of our public dialog," he said.

Kerry joins what appears to be a growing Democratic push-back against conservative talk radio, which flowered after the FCC in 1987 declared that the doctrine was unconsititutional. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has called for the doctrine's return, and Senator Diane Feinstein (9D-Calif,) says she is looking into it.

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D) on FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace:
"Well, in my view, talk radio tends to be one-sided. It also tends to be dwelling in hyperbole. It's explosive. It pushes people to, I think, extreme views without a lot of information".

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D) on Lou Dobbs:
"When it was first created in 1934, Lou, it said that all broadcast licensees should serve in the public interest, convenience, and necessity. The Fairness Doctrine derived from the public interest, and that is that there should be an uninhibited marketplace of ideas. That's what the First Amendment is all about. And so what I've asked is for our Committee's work to include a revisiting of the Fairness Doctrine in this year of 2007."

"There have been some real changes in media in the last 20 years, since we've seen the Fairness Doctrine go. We've seen 50 large media companies suddenly shrink to six. And so this idea of uninhibited exchange of ideas in the marketplace needs to be looked at in the era of media consolidation."

"One study said that only three news sources who opposed the war were able to get on the air, out of 393 in the study. What does that say? Was there an uninhibited exchange of ideas?"

"I think that this is an opportunity for America to revisit the issue of consolidation in the media, how it relates to whether the media is serving in the public interest. And so my Committee is going to have hearings on that."

Is Kucinich kidding? Is he really saying that CBS, NBC and ABC were unable to talk about the merits of going to war because they couldn't get enough information or were prevented from talking about it? Is he also saying that, because talk radio is so dominant, that somehow Congress couldn't make an informed desicion? Did the end of the Fairness Doctrine cause all of the media company mergers? What a joke. This all boils down to buyer's remorse. The war didn't end in a few months and now they want to bail out.

All of this is the usual idiotic liberal twaddle, of course. There is plenty of information that comes from talk's simply that Obey, Kerry, Kucinich, Durbin, Feinstein and the rest of the traitors on the left don't get to control the content any more. They can't compete in the open market. And that is what really drives the liberals nuts.

The effort to bring back the Fairness Doctrine is entirely about fear. In spite of winning both the House and Senate the Democrats are afraid that they have lost the debate. Either they want to shut down the forum rather than acknowledge they're own shortcomings or they want the government to dictate the content of political speech and they think you are too stupid to find differing points of view (I'm from the government and I'm here to help!). Anyone who claims that Americans can't access all sides on an issue is either being deliberately disingenuous or is hopelessly obtuse.

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), a former radio talk show host, proposed an amendment prohibiting the FCC from spending money to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine.

"The American people love a fair fight, and so do I," Pence said. "But there's nothing fair about the Fairness Doctrine."

On June 28, 2007 the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to prohibit the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from using taxpayer dollars to re-impose the Fairness Doctrine.

House Democrats truly found their inner "Jedi". By a vote of 309-115 on HR 2829, and coming on the heels of the defeat of the Amnesty bill for illegal immigrants largely caused by the influence of talk radio, House lawmakers amended the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill to bar the FCC from requiring broadcasters to balance conservative content with liberal programming such as Air America (now bankrupt).

It was a stunning rebuke to the aforementioned Democratic senators and policy experts who have voiced support for regulating talk radio. When faced with the partisan abyss the Democrats, as usual, caved like a house of cards. They don't have the stones to publically defund the war and they don't have the stones to publically restrict free speech. Cowards all.

Not to be out done by the House, on July 19, 2007 Senate Democrats, to a man voted for censorship. By a narrow margin of 49-48 the senate vote to "To prevent the Federal Communications Commission from repromulgating the fairness doctrine" passed.

All of this political posturing is academic because, if the next president is a Democrat, he (or she) could activate the Fairness Doctrine with the stroke of a pen. There will certainly be a legal challenge but the damage will be done while the case makes it's way through the courts.

The following is excerpted from the Neville Awards article entitled Benign Facism:

A long time ago, in a political galaxy far, far away there existed just three major television networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, and two major newspapers, The New York Times and the Washington Post, and two liberal weekly digests, Time Magazine and Newsweek. And all was well in the land. One message, no dissent. The news was tightly packaged and spun in the liberal manner with nary a conservative thought poking through. Yes, there were token conservatives columnists like George Will and Charles Krauthammer, tolerated by the liberal establishment, and trotted out on the Sunday chat shows to cater to the controlling authority of the Fairness Doctrine.

And for many years the Lord High Priest of the News, Walter Cronkite (CBS), and his minions, Huntley and Brinkley (NBC) and Howard K. Smith (ABC) imparted to the people the news that fit the agenda. And the Lord High Priest Cronkite thundered at the end of each broadcast "And that's the way it is". And it was so. For 40 years Democrat Party power in Congress went unchanged. Conservatives and Republicans knew their place and all was quiet on Capitol Hill.

And for decades all was quiet on the Network Front...

Then the evil Darth Vader President Ronald Reagan failed to renew the Fairness Doctrine legislation and the liberal world turned upside down.

There arose in the land a loud, brash conservative voice in the person of Rush Limbaugh and conservative talk radio was born. A great liberal cry was heard throughout the realm. To much wringing of hands, tearing of hair and rending of clothes, Limbaugh was reviled as the devil incarnate for daring to speak what many people of the realm felt in their hearts.

With the election of Bill Clinton in 1992 there appeared the legislative version of Rush Limbaugh, the evil Sith Lord Newt Gingrich, and he engineered the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. Gingrich and Limbaugh were hailed as conquering heroes and the talk radio format began to thrive.

And the people began to turn away from the Network News Church and Mainstream Press. Ratings and circulation suffered. Stories were embellished and made up from whole cloth to stimulate ratings. Anchor Rather, who didn't like President Bush, showed falsified documents about Bush's National Guard service. He was outted by a blogger in pajamas and dispatched from his anchor post on a very swift boat. And the people did loudly mock Anchor Rather and the ratings continued to decline. "What shall we do?" intoned the Keepers of CBS. Praying to the Gods of Cosmetic Diversity the answer was very clear. "Get me another liberal...a woman... with nice legs and a short skirt.". Thus was born the Era of Couric the Slight. And still the people turned away. "It's because I am a woman" cried Couric "that they will not watch." And frustration and anger smote the land of the liberal journalists.

The Democrats and the mainstream media no longer owned all of the media message and were devestated. They have been trying to demean and destroy talk radio ever since without success. In 2002 George Soros funded a liberal talk radio venture, Air America, which, inspite of four years on the air and countless favorable NY Times articles, failed miserably. They failed to compete in the market place because of the relentless Bush bashing and America hating programming... and America tuned out. This confounded and further enraged the liberals. How could Americans be so stupid...we have Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo.

With the return of the Democrats to congressional power (how could that happen if talk radio is so dominant) Democrats such as Dennis Kucinich, Hillary Clinton and Barbara Boxer (these two deny it) are openly talking of a legislative "fix" to end the conservative dominance in talk radio. You see, talk radio has been instrumental in tying up the "shamnesty" legislation which threatens the elites', both republican and democratic, agenda.

George Soros' Hillary front group, The Center For American Progress recently put out a report entitled The Structural Imbalance of Talk Radio detailing the extent of the talk radio problem and how it should be corrected. Of course, the report says nothing about instituting "balance and fairness" in the Mainstream media. A UCLA study entitled A Measure of Bias confirms the existence of liberal bias in the mainstream media. A recent MSNBC report "identified 143 journalists who made political contributions from 2004 through the start of the 2008 campaign, according to the public records of the Federal Election Commission. Most of the newsroom checkbooks leaned to the left: 125 journalists gave to Democrats and liberal causes. Only 16 gave to Republicans. Two gave to both parties." What a surpise. Now that the The Center For American Progress report is out Democrats on the Hill have their talking points. Sens. Kerry and Durbin are now openly talking about bringing back the Fairness Doctrine. Look for it's reinstatement should a Democrat be elected to the White House in '08.

All of this would be laughable if it weren't for the statements of some opportunistic Republican sellouts. Trent Lott ("Talk radio is running the country") and Lindsey Graham are now attacking talk radio because they are frustrated by talk radio's ability to get the message out about the Amnesty Bill. Without talk radio and the conservative blogs this bill would have been law by now. Ironically, these country club Republican sellouts were not complaining when they won in 1994, due, in large part, to talk radio getting their message out.

Obviously, the Fairness Doctrine and so-called legislative fixes are blatant attacks on free speech and the First Amendment, but liberals and elitists have always complained about such inconvenient things as The Constitution.

In order to achieve a kind of cosmetic diversity some would artificially alter the nature of talk radio. The conservative version thrives in the free market because people want to listen. That attracts advertising bucks and ratings. Alter the model and the rules, water it down, and you've changed the model. People tune out, advertising dries up and the format dies. Air America went backrupt because people didn't tune in. It couldn't compete in the free market. It was artificially propped up by a ton of liberal financing and a slew of favorable press. None of it helped and Air America went the way of the dinosaur. When liberals don't get their way in the market, or in an election, they turn to government and the courts to "fix" the problem.

It's easy to find self-admitted conservatives in the media. They are proud of their positions. Amazingly, it's nearly impossible to find anyone in the mainstream media who will admit being a liberal. They always describing themselves as "reasoned" or "fair and balanced". There are no shades of gray when labeling conservatives. Anyone right of center is branded as extreme. Anyone to the right of "extreme" is a Nazi. And that is the crux of the problem. How do you prove liberal bias when the mainstream media is too embarrased to identify itelf as liberal?

Does anyone honestly believe that the new and improved Fairness Doctrine will apply to any media outlet other than conservative talk radio? Not for one second. The dinosaur print media will still maintain an 8-2 ratio or 7-3 ratio, depending on the survey, of liberal columnists to conservative columnists. The network news is so ossified that it can't even see it's own biases. If CBS really had thought outside the liberal box they would have hired a conservative to anchor the news after the Dan Rather fake document fiasco. CBS would be kicking "evening news butt" and their ratings wouldn't be in the toilet.

Circulation for the Washington Times, Investor's Business Daily and the Wall Street Journal is doing fine, in part, because of the conservative slant of it's editorial pages. Circulation for the LA Times and NY Times, The Washington Post, and most liberal publications around the country is dropping like a stone. Unless every investor in these publications' stock shares enjoys low to no growth, or every investor is a brain-dead liberal, they should rise up at the next shareholders meeting and demand a change in management...or sell off the stock...bigtime.

"Sez" Michelle Malkin: (and we at The Neville Awards couldn't have said it better)

Scarcity-obsessed Dennis Kucinich has recently introduced plans in Congress to revive the Fairness Doctrine, which once let government regulators police the airwaves to ensure a balancing of viewpoints, however that's defined. A new Fairness Doctrine would affect most directly opinion-based talk radio, a medium that just happens to be dominated by conservatives. If a station wanted to run William Bennett's show under such a regime, they might now have to broadcast a left-wing alternative, too, even if it had poor ratings, which generally has been the case with liberal talk. Sunstein also proposes a kind of speech redistributionism. For the Internet, he suggests that regulators could impose "electronic sidewalks" on partisan websites (the National Rifle Association's, say), forcing them to link to opposing views. The practical problems of implementing this program would be forbidding, even if it somehow proved constitutional. How many links to opposing views would secure the government's approval? The FCC would need an army of media regulators (much as China has today) to monitor the millions of webpages, blogs, and social-networking sites and keep them in line.

That leftist media critics start sounding so authoritarian is no surprise. In a media cornucopia, freedom of choice inevitably yields media inequality. "In systems where many people are free to choose between many options, a small subset of the whole will get a disproportionate amount of traffic (or attention, or income), even if no members of the system actively work towards such an outcome," writes Clay Shirky of New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program. Overcoming that inequality would require a completely regulated media.

When Rush Limbaugh has more listeners than NPR, or Tom Clancy sells more books than Noam Chomsky, or Motor Trend gets more subscribers than Mother Jones, liberals want to convince us (or themselves, perhaps) that it's all because of some catastrophic market failure or a grand corporate conspiracy to dumb down the masses. In reality, it's just the result of consumer choice. All the opinions that the Left's media critics favor are now readily available to us via multiple platforms. But that's not good enough, it seems: they won't rest until all of us are watching, reading, and listening to the content that they prefer.

The following article by Lance Fairchok was posted on, July 8, 2008

"Our massive strategy was to use the Fairness Doctrine to challenge and harass right-wing broadcasters and hope the challenges would be so costly to them that they would be inhibited and decide it was too expensive to continue." --Bill Ruder, Democratic campaign consultant and Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Kennedy Administration

The usual suspects will be doing the dirty work. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) or Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) will likely resurrect the failed Media Act (Meaningful Expression of Democracy in America Act) intended to make political commentary unflattering to Democrats more difficult to deliver and easier to suppress through congressional oversight and, of course, litigation. They have been trying for years. The Media Ownership Reform Acts, H.R. 4069 & H.R. 3302, and H.R. 4710, the MEDIA Act, all tried to control ownership, force their definition of "diversity" and "localism" and reinstate the defunct "fairness doctrine" that was used until 1987 to suppress conservative broadcasters with tit-for-tat opposing view requirements. These became a prohibitive financial burden if a broadcast was challenged, so controversial topics were assiduously avoided and programming was lackluster and innocuous.

While challenges were filed from both sides of the political spectrum, the long-term effect was to discourage any meaningful discussion of issues by conservatives on the radio. Since the fairness doctrine repeal, Talk Radio has become a significant voice in today's media world, one the left wishes to silence. Luckily, attempts to reinstate "fairness" in recent years have not been successful, the legislative language was weak, and their justification a transparent exaggeration. The 2004 House Resolution 4710 (Media Act) was obviously not directed at CBS or NPR and it revealed an underlying pathology of the left; an inability to accept that conservative opinion is necessary within the national debate, it's very existence brings balance. However, balance is not really what they want.

(1) There is a substantial governmental interest in conditioning the award or renewal of a broadcast license on the requirement that the licensee ensure the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources by presenting a reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views on issues of public importance.

(2) Since the removal of the Fairness Doctrine standard in 1987, we have seen a polarization in America due to the dissemination of false and misleading information and the growing proliferation of highly partisan news outlets.

Conservative radio, to which a sizable minority of adult Americans listens to on any given day, infuriatingly exposes leftist schemes and is harshly critical of their agenda. Translated, "highly partisan" means "not in agreement with us." Just enough information gets through the stranglehold on the rest of the media that Democrats' dominance is not assured. Rush Limbaugh, in particular, puts them into a rage, as he is so effective at turning over the leftist stones to reveal the ugly ideological vermin underneath.

In a softball 2004 interview with the publicly funded leftist anti-American Bill Moyer of PBS, congressperson Slaughter revealed her prejudices while selling media reform to the socialist home team.

BILL MOYERS: Well, you know some serious people, including some liberals have said that one reason Rush Limbaugh has succeeded is because he is good entertainment.

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: Exactly. He doesn't make any pretense of being a news person or even telling you the truth. He says he's an entertainer.

BILL MOYERS: And you're saying that kind of discourse is dominating America right now.

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: Dominating America and a waste of good broadcast time and a waste of our airwaves.

BILL MOYERS: Not to the people who agree with him.

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: Well, they don't hear anything else. Why would they disagree with him? "Dominating America" is, of course, nonsense; most people still get their news from mainstream broadcast and print, which is overwhelmingly liberal, leftist and biased. The statement reveals just how important a show like Limbaugh's is. If it were not effective, they would not care. What Democrat socialists cannot win in an honest debate, they try to steal by removing their opponent's access to the public view, by suppressing discussion and by inserting propaganda. Their starting assumptions are simple: conservatives are liars, their beliefs are false, their criticisms are unfounded and they need to be controlled "in the public interest." They also believe that Americans are stupid. Rep. Slaughter's double talk in the interview continued along that vein.

BILL MOYERS: What does your bill before Congress propose?

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: So far, it just reinstates [the fairness doctrine.] But you know, I've been giving some thought to it this week. I will in no way do anything to hurt the first amendment. I'd die for it. I certainly don't want to do anything about censorship or anything. I simply want equal time. As simple as we can make it is that we simply want to reinstate it. That people have an opportunity to give them an opposing view, that you can't own a radio station in the United States that simply gives one side all day long.

BILL MOYERS: So you're primarily concerned about radio?

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: No. I'm concerned about television as well. But radio is probably where we're going to get the biggest problems in trying to get this done, because people have the radio on all day. They listen to it. And I think that says a lot. I think we can see that reflected in what people are thinking and feeling today.

BILL MOYERS: You know people say well, "Yes, it is in principle true that the government, the people passed to the television and radio companies the right to use the airwaves, the public spectrum." But cable's a different baby altogether. Cable is unregulated.


BILL MOYERS: Are you proposing the fairness doctrine for Fox News or MSNBC?

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: You bet. I'll bet not. MSNBC will be fine under any new Fairness laws, as long as it tows the Democrat line. In the battle for America's mind, the socialist and radical left never rest. They know that whoever controls the information citizens see and hear has enormous influence on how they vote. In the tradition of those who care for party and power more than country, they work diligently to undermine the basic freedoms that guarantee dissenting voices are heard. They disguise their intentions under buzz words like "fairness" and "democratic expression" to appeal to the public's sense of fair play, all while funneling millions of dollars into false front "bi-partisan" think tanks and media "watchdog groups" designed to mislead millions with push-polls, straw-man studies, and outright disinformation. Organizations like the Center for American Progress, Media Matters, the Open Society Institute and dozens like them are intended to desensitize the public, to steadily chip away at the foundations of specific constitutional rights, those that do not mesh well with leftist progressive, socialist and communitarian dogma.

BILL MOYERS: You're saying that your fairness doctrine would simply mean that if a radio station or television station offers one position, like Rush Limbaugh, on a bill or a campaign of President or an election, they should also have people who disagree with Rush Limbaugh?

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: Absolutely. They should not be putting their own bias and their own feelings out on their radio station because they think they own it. It has to be done as a public trust and in the public interest.

BILL MOYERS: But the first amendment guarantees the right of free press.

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: If they owned the airwaves, then I'd probably have no complaint. But they don't. It belongs to us. Part of our democracy. It's part of the ability that we have to contact our citizens. It's a way that we want our children to grow up with some understanding of what this country is about and what it's based on and what their choices are. Rep. Slaughter's words are a rhetorical sleight of hand. She sets up the interview with the common leftist theme of "us versus them," painting the unspoken conservative "them" not as participants, but exploiters. She tries to make the bitter pill of media control taste sweet. "It belongs to us," she says. Who is "us" specifically? Are we to suppose that by the congresswoman's definition conservatives are not really citizens? Are they not Americans with an opposing view that also understand what this country is "about?" This is a clear "disenfranchisement" of a large number of Americans, to use their own slogan against them. For all their endless complaining about political polarization, Democrats readily contribute to it. A week or so ago, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi stated she supported the return of the Fairness Doctrine. Now that the Democrats have conservative talk radio in their sights again, new proposals will be more carefully crafted, full of convoluted language in an attempt to hide the substance of the legislation in long pages of distracters and patriotic phrasing. Who will define the "public trust" and the "public interest?" It is apparent the leftists in congress bet they will. If they succeed, media reform will inevitably morph from an attack on talk radio to an assault on cable, to new print "standards," and to broadcast "guidelines." It is all about control and the totalitarian instincts the socialist left gravitates to, they cannot help it, it is in their bones. This is not a slippery slope, it is a roller coaster ride to censorship and if the left defines the rules, the freedom of speech we enjoy now will be a thing of the past, buried in regulation, litigation and outright intimidation.
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