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Too much Rush? Dems lose bid to regulate talk radio

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Rush will drone on, relatively unopposed, on the airways. So will Sean and Bill.

Overlooked Thursday because of the various political and media brouhahas caused by the defeat of the miasma known as the immigration reform bill and the release of additional stomach-turning Supreme Court decisions was the House of Representatives’ rejection of a Democratic attempt to impose the Fairness Doctrine on broadcasters who feature conservative hosts.

By a 309-115 vote, the House barred the Federal Communications Commission from requiring conservative broadcasters such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly to balance their content with liberal programming. Once again, the Democrats tried the easy road rather than the intellectually honest one.

A little history: The FCC established the Fairness Doctrine about eight decades ago in the belief broadcasters were trustees of the public’s airwaves and thus, if editorializing should occur, “had an obligation to afford reasonable opportunity for discussion of contrasting points of view on controversial issues of public importance.” During President Reagan’s sweeping 1980s deregulation of everything he could get his hands on, the FCC abolished the Fairness Doctrine. (See more here.)

The argument for FCC intervention:

Something resembling a “fairness” doctrine is needed because conservative viewpoints dominate over-the-air broadcasts. The public needs “balanced” viewpoints so it can make better-informed judgments about public policy.

So says Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.): “It’s time to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine. 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.”

Both? Sen. Durbin ought to know that the world of opinion has long since advanced beyond the notion of just two sides to a story. Therefore, who gets to define “balanced”? As it is, who’s defining “conservative” in the context of such broadcasts? If the House demands the FCC balance “conservative” with “liberal,” then “progressives” and “libertarians” and “greens” will demand their “fair” share of air time. And who defines “fair”?

The argument against FCC intervention:

In a world with so many media choices — newspapers, Web sites, blogs, cable channels, etc. — there’s plenty of opportunities for all sorts of programming to be experienced by virtually everyone. Therefore, regulation to enforce “balance” is unnecessary.

So says (of all people) House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio): “The best way is to let the judgment of the American people decide, and they can decide with their finger. [People] can turn it off or they can turn it on. They can go to their computer and read it on the Internet.”

(I’ve always had a suggestion for what most politicians can do “with their finger.” But we’ll leave that for another time.)

As much as I hate saying this, Boehner’s right. People can find commentary (and foolishness) that’s not “conservative” on the airways. Not much, mind you. The market for opinion has been dominated by conservative commentators such as Mr. Limbaugh. If drug charges didn’t kill Mr. Limbaugh’s ratings and get him off the air, then Air America ‘s programming certainly isn’t.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) touched on the notion of something called “the market” determining choice: “Rather than having the government regulate what people can say, we should let the market decide what people want to hear. That’s precisely why the Fairness Doctrine was abandoned, and that’s why it ought not to be revived.”

(I also doubt a newly constituted “fairness” doctrine would pass untouched through the newly conservative Supreme Tout, er, Court. It’s going to become a market-friendly court.)

If the “liberals” (or the “progressives” or the “libertarians” or the “greens”) want genuine counterpoint — and counter-programming — to that represented by Mr. Limbaugh, Mr. Hannity or Mr. O’Reilly, then they should consider this word: invest.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, GOP political consultants Roger Ailes and Lee Atwater understood that. They took a long view — literally a two-decades-long view of a conservative agenda later advanced by the ’94 GOP revolution of Tom DeLay and Newt Gingrich to place conservative thought in the minds of the masses in a familiar language (country and NASCAR) and a familiar medium (talk radio).

Liberals: Want better political programming choices? Invest. With time, money and talent. Undernourished attempts to get into the public’s mind like Air America and Democracy Now just aren’t sufficient. Stop hiding your intellectual and courage deficits behind attempts to regulate your way back into the public’s consciousness.

Get better ideas than the other guy, and then act decisively on them.

xpost: Scholars & Rogues and 5th Estate

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

June 29, 2007 at 2:58 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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