The Conservative Crack-Up Over the Fairness Doctrine & FCC Regulation

by on August 8, 2020 · 0 comments

There is a war going on in the conservative movement over free speech issues and FCC Commissioner Mike O’Reilly just became a causality of that skirmish. Neil Chilson and I just posted a new essay about this over on the Federalist Society blog. As we note there:

Plenty of people claim to favor freedom of expression, but increasingly the First Amendment has more fair-weather friends than die-hard defenders. Michael O’Rielly, a Commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), found that out the hard way this week.

Last week, O’Rielly delivered an important speech before the Media Institute highlighting a variety of problematic myths about the First Amendment, as well as “a particularly ominous development in this space.” In a previous political era, O’Rielly’s remarks would have been mainstream conservative fare. But his well-worded warnings are timely with many Democrats and Republicans – including some in the White House – looking to resurrect analog-era speech mandates and let Big Government reassert control over speech decisions in the United States.

Shortly after delivering his remarks, the White House yanked O’Rielly’s nomination to be reappointed to the agency. It was a shocking development that was likely motivated by growing animosities between Republicans on the question of how much control the federal government–and the FCC in particular–should exercise over speech platforms, including platforms that the FCC has no authority to regulate.

For the 30 years that I have been covering media and technology policy, I’ve heard conservatives rail against the Fairness Doctrine, Net Neutrality and arbitrary Big Government only to see many of them now reverse suit and become the biggest defenders of these things as it pertains to speech controls and FCC regulation. It will certainly be interesting to see what a potential future Biden Administration does with the various new regulations that some in the GOP are seeking to impose.

But all hope is not lost. There are still brave voices in Republican and conservative circles who continue to stand up the the First Amendment, freedom of speech, and limits on federal regulatory meddling with speech platforms and outcomes. Commissioner O’Reilly basically lost his job because he acted as the equivalent of an intellectual whistle-blower; he called out the ideological rot seen in recent statements and actions by the White House, Senator Josh Hawley, and many other Republicans.

There is nothing remotely “conservative” about calls for reinvigorating the Fairness Doctrine and FCC speech controls. That represents repressive regulation that betrays the First Amendment and which will ultimately backfire badly and come back to haunt conservatives down the road.

Read my new essay with Neil for more details. And down below I have listed all my recent writing on this topic.

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