Limbaugh on the Fairness Doctrine

by on February 20, 2009 · 23 comments

Here at TLF we often worry about government encroachment on the latest and greatest technologies.  It seems that federal regulators want to control everything that has to do with our beloved and still largely free Internet—how data moves around, whether or not we can encrypt it, how long it is stored, who owns it, and how we can get their hands on it.

But even relatively low-tech means of communication are under attack too, or at least are rumored to be.

Lately there has been so much clamor over the Fairness Doctrine—an abandoned rule mandating equal time for all sides of controversial issues discussed on broadcast radio & television—that the Obama administration has stated publicly that the President is against reviving it.

Even so, the mascot of the anti-Fairness Doctrine crowd, Rush Limbaugh, has voiced his opinion in an op-ed in today’s The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Limbaugh’s position is obvious: he doesn’t like the Fairness Doctrine.  Not because he’s against fairness or thinks that liberal voices shouldn’t be heard, but because, as he puts it, “The dangers of an overly timid or biased press cannot be averted through bureaucratic regulation, but only through the freedom and competition that the First Amendment sought to guarantee.”

It’s undeniable that the freedom of speech the founders spoke about in the Constitution was never meant to be construed and stretched so far as to mean that government should control our means of communications.  Though I don’t agree with a lot of the things Limbaugh opines about during his daily three-hour broadcasts, Mr. Limbaugh is right when it comes to the fairness doctrine.

But my agreeing with Mr. Limbaugh on this issue doesn’t matter much, as it seems many in Congress don’t see the issue in the same light.  As Mr. Limbaugh explains it in the Journal:

A number of members of [President Obama's] party, in and out of Congress, are forming a chorus of advocates for government control over radio content. This is both chilling and ominous.

Many accuse Mr. Limbaugh of hyperbole—a charge which he sometimes deserves—but in this case he’s not exaggerating.  Adopting the Fairness Doctrine would mark a fundamental change in America’s attitude toward basic freedoms.

Though the country suffered greatly under President Bush and his cavalier and often hostile attitude toward our Constitution and founding freedoms, our ability to criticize the administration and our government was maintained—if not sharpened—during Mr. Bush’s tenure.

It is my hope that Mr. Obama can reverse the “Guantanamization” of America while holding strong against his own party’s desire to undo the civil liberties they find inconvenient.

  • http://www.pbcliberal.com PBCliberal

    The Supreme Court has found pretty consistently since Brinkley v. FRC that broadcasting is not covered by the first amendment; there's a limited amount space in the electromagnetic spectrum, and either you let anybody broadcast anywhere anytime they want, or the government makes the decision who gets a channel and who doesn't.

    This isn't something Rush & Hannity's bosses want to change. They're real happy to have the government heavily involved in communication as long as its regulation for the other guy. That's a pretty standard Republican position for everything from banking to the bedroom.

    As usual, Mr. Limbaugh is playing the role of “entertainer” and not reporter. If he were sticking to the facts, he'd be noting that as head of the executive branch, Mr. Obama's consistent claim from campaign through 44th President has been to oppose reinstitution of the fairness doctrine.

    Those in congress who haven't rejected it out of hand have been lukewarm, and usually responding to questions. Like Stabenow, who even tried to change the name to not have to respond directly to a question from Bill Press, who clearly has a dog in the fight.

    There's no impetus for this. The hue and cry is coming primarily from right wing talkers controlled and promulgated by companies who own huge numbers of stations. I've speculated on why this is happening, but its pure speculation. It makes no sense for these guys to go into full attack mode against something that isn't a threat when we have so many real threats out there.

    It will be very interesting to see what the real intent of the right wing talker charade is when the thing they're really afraid of is introduced.

  • brian

    I'm curious, what exactly do you mean Mr. Blomquist when you say “Guantanamization”?

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Rush Limbaugh is a fascist hate monger of the worst sort of populism.

    Shame on the Wall Street Journal for catering to someone who enjoys inciting hate crimes.

  • http://www.wbklaw.com Mike Sullivan

    Cord, you do a pretty good job of setting up a straw man, but you apparently don't look at the links you include. You describe the Fairness Doctrine as “an abandoned rule mandating equal time for all sides of controversial issues discussed on broadcast radio & television,' but the wikipedia link for the Fairness Doctrine that you linked to makes clear that you are all wet.

    Here's what Wikipedia says in its introduction to the subject:

    “The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that required the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was (in the Commission's view) honest, equitable and balanced.
    “The Fairness Doctrine should not be confused with the Equal Time rule. The Fairness Doctrine deals with matters of public importance, while the Equal Time rule deals only with political candidates.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairness_Doctrine

    I honestly don't see what all the fuss is about the Fairness Doctrine. It was a well-intended rule that utterly failed to achieve its purposes. It has been gone for many years. Obama doesn't want to bring it back. Congress isn't about to bring it back. Even public interest groups aren't agitating for it. It ain't happening.

    Now the latest right-wing conspiracy theory is that even though Obama's not going to bring back the fairness doctrine per se, he's going to effectively do the same thing by pushing other policies, such as localism requirements and broadcast ownership limits. If that's the theory, then let's talk about those policies (which are very different from the Fairness Doctrine), not a policy that has had both a silver bullet and a stake put through its heart.

  • http://thevitaminkid.blogspot.com autodidact

    Since Mr. Limbaugh advocates smaller government with, broadly speaking, fewer powers and less control, I don't know how one could classify his philosophy as fascist, which necessitates near-total control over society.

    Since I listen to the show with fair regularity, I am puzzled about who you think Limbaugh is mongering hate toward. Certainly he uses ridicule liberally, but then so does the left. It is not necessarily hate. I don't think you listen to the show, and therefore I don't think you have the slightest idea what you're talking about.

    But even if one were to accept for the purposes of argument (without conceding) that Limbaugh was actually a fascist hate-monger, your calling him one does not exactly constitute a reasoned argument in favor of the fairness doctrine. All you've accomplished is calling someone names. Even fascist hate mongers are correct on some issues, just as a stopped clock is correct twice a day.

  • Robert

    The fairness doctrine didn't work, only in that broadcasters hated it, fought it, and got it overturned.

    What it accomplished was to limit the ability of private owners to use a government granted monopoly to -control- public debate for private ends. It wasn't glamorous, pretty or slick, the opposing opinions weren't works of genius, but it plainly made broadcasters more responsible — if only by causing them to reign in their own extremist tendencies — for fear they might have to air opposing views, cut into their commercial time, and backfire their political agendas.

    Where the doctrine fell short was that it went far too easily on broadcasters, permitting them to do the barest of minimums when it came to public service obligations. But under the current system, broadcasters have -no- obligations to speak of. And contrary to libertarian cant, powerful institutions must absolutely be obliged to the citizenry, legally as well as economically, or they become institutional tyrants. Which is what we have today.

    The fairness doctrine would not be suitable on the internet… because we have an open, neutral net. But if and when government allows service providers to control content… well let us hope we don't start having to look to the merits of an Internet Fairness Doctrine just to peek through to the outside world.

  • Robert

    The fairness doctrine didn't work, only in that broadcasters hated it, fought it, and got it overturned.

    What it accomplished was to limit the ability of private owners to use a government granted monopoly to -control- public debate for private ends. It wasn't glamorous, pretty or slick, the opposing opinions weren't works of genius, but it plainly made broadcasters more responsible — if only by causing them to reign in their own extremist tendencies — for fear they might have to air opposing views, cut into their commercial time, and backfire their political agendas.

    Where the doctrine fell short was that it went far too easily on broadcasters, permitting them to do the barest of minimums when it came to public service obligations. But under the current system, broadcasters have -no- obligations to speak of. And contrary to libertarian cant, powerful institutions must absolutely be obliged to the citizenry, legally as well as economically, or they become institutional tyrants. Which is what we have today.

    The fairness doctrine would not be suitable on the internet… because we have an open, neutral net. But if and when government allows service providers to control content… well let us hope we don't start having to look to the merits of an Internet Fairness Doctrine just to peek through to the outside world.

  • Pingback: The Fairness Doctrine fight is not over - Soren_Dayton’s blog - RedState

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  • ley

    you apprarently do not know Rush

  • ley

    you apprarently do not know Rush

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