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Fairness: The Fake Debate

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Someone needs to explain why it is that conservatives continue to insist that liberals want to reinstitute the FCC’s 1949 Fairness Doctrine. While it is true that the old regulation is brought up from time to time, it has no traction in either the House of Senate. The administration is opposed to it. The Supreme Court would rule against it. Still, conservative talk radio continues to chant about the "Hush Rush Bill" as if it were a real threat that has real backing. It isn’t, it doesn’t, and it’s not going to happen. Nor will the sky fall.

Before you start to write your commentary about Nancy Pelosi, stop for a moment. The Speaker of the House has been quoted as saying she supported the Fairness Doctrine by John Gizzi, Political Editor of Human Events, which calls itself the “Headquarters of the Conservative Underground.” He asked a yes-no question and she said yes at a Christian Science Monitor luncheon they both attended. She also said no, she didn’t think it would come to the floor for a vote. It is an issue on which the Speaker does not express a majority opinion.

Perhaps someone can also explain how it is it that conservatives (“disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change”) use the word "liberal" as an adjective of derision as in the term liberal media or liberal socialist agenda such as “state aid for the betterment of the working classes.” That socialism is some kind of evil.

How could mainstream media be anything other than liberal (“favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, esp. as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties”)? Being liberal minded requires reporting both sides of any issue, which defines fairness in and of itself without any regulation to be fair.

The conservative mantra that their champion Ronald Reagan struck down the Fairness Doctrine is incorrect. His son Michael claims in his blog, Michigan Redneck II, “My dad, President Reagan, killed the ‘Fairness Doctrine.’ As a result, this rule change allowed Rush, Hannity, and me to have radio talk shows — that’s why the new proposal to bring it back is being called the ‘Hush Rush’ bill. Now the liberals are dying to shut us up.”

No, the president did not. The FCC overturned the regulation. What President Reagan did was to veto a congressional attempt to make the regulation a law. The Supreme Court set the stage for the FCC to dump the regulation in 1984 (FCC v. League of Women Voters, 468 U.S. 364). The regulation came up again in 1993 and failed. Neither Congress nor the Clinton administration supported it.

There is a difference between a regulation and a law. Section 315 of the Communications Act of 1937 was federal law passed by Congress. It required broadcast stations to offer "equal opportunity" to all legally qualified political candidates for any office if they had allowed any person running in that office to use the station. The Fairness Doctrine was simply FCC policy, a regulation the FCC dumped as unconstitutional in 1987. After Meredith Corp. v. FCC, the Supreme Court declared that the Doctrine was not mandated by Congress and the FCC did not have to continue to enforce it.

For the record, as an independent regulatory agency, the FCC has the power to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine at any time without action by either the executive or legislative branches. It should not be confused, but often is, with the Equal Time rule. The Fairness Doctrine deals with matters of public importance, not political opinion. The Equal Time rule only deals with political candidates.

Nonetheless a fake debate about the Fairness Doctrine continues. “In 1980 there were fewer than 100 radio talk shows nationwide. Today there are more than 1,400 stations entirely devoted to talk formats. Liberals, not satisfied with their domination of academia, Hollywood and most of the mainstream media, want to kill talk radio, where liberals have been unable to dent conservatives' dominance,” George Will wrote in the Washington Post.

media companiesWill’s colleague Michael Gerson wrote that “three hours of Rush Limbaugh on a radio station would have to be balanced by three hours of his liberal equivalent. This may sound fair and balanced. But it would destroy the profitability of conservative talk radio and lead other outlets to avoid political issues entirely — actually reducing the public discussion of controversial issues.” They also both wrote that in 1987 President Reagan “eliminated” (Will) or “overturned” (Gerson) the 1949 FCC regulation.

About Tommy Mack

Tommy Mack began his career in broadcasting and is a US Army graduate of the Defense Information School. He worked in Army Public and Command Information and earned a BS in Liberal Studies from the State University of New York, Albany. A marketing communications executive, Tommy became a business management consultant for a major international consulting company and its affiliates before establishing Tommy Mack Organization, a business consulting practice specializing in organization and communications management. A professional writer and blogger, he writes about politics, business, and culture.
  • handyguy

    Well, Doc, there’s also Hair, which ends with the death of one of the characters.

    And it has lotsa great songs.

  • handyguy

    Cindy, I was basically kidding…you can revel in all the corn you please. I was not lucky enough to see Stomp. I love the movie of Cabaret, the play not as much.

    Oh, and Doc…there is also Sweeney Todd! Not a happy ending in sight! And maybe the greatest of all musicals.

  • Cindy D

    oh handy…i love, love, love Hair

  • Cindy D

    look at that, they have the full 2 hours online free

  • Clavos

    West Side Story

    I still get choked up at “Somewhere.”

    Of course, a story by the Bard is helpful.

  • Baronius

    Senator Stabenow just came out in favor of some form of the Fairness Doctrine. Gear up, Tommy; the time is coming to take a stand against the political “liberals”.

    I saw Stomp. Excellent show.

  • Cindy D

    awww, good, Clav is an icky-sticky-cornball like me :-)

  • Clavos

    “I’m as corny as Kansas in August,…”

    Another great musical.

  • Cindy D

    Baronius! yay Stomp!!! best show i have ever, ever seen.

  • Baronius

    Yup. I was interested in the musical side, and my date was a fan of dance. What neither of us expected was the odd, humorous storytelling in each set piece.

  • Baronius

    Cindy, where do you stand on the Fairness Doctrine debate?

  • Cindy D


    This is something I read. Obama Does Not Support Return of Fairness Doctrine

    “He considers this debate to be a distraction from the conversation we should be having about opening up the airwaves and modern communications to as many diverse viewpoints as possible,” Ortiz added. “That is why Sen. Obama supports media-ownership caps, network neutrality, public broadcasting, as well as increasing minority ownership of broadcasting and print outlets.”

    That sounds like a better idea to me.

    BTW, you know what? I just found out that they had the first The First International Body Music Festival in San Francisco, just in December.

    I am very taken with the whole thing. It’s inspired me to write a short play? (only in my head).

  • Cindy D

    And those little stories you mentioned… It wouldn’t work for me half as well without them.

  • handyguy

    Baronius, you didn’t ask me, but:

    [1] I oppose any and all censorship

    [2] As Tommy Mack has eloquently pointed out in this article, it’s a Phony Debate. That’s why we resist taking a stand on the mythological Fairness Doctrine.

    If and when Senator Debbie and her husband manage to bring this to debate in Congress, I’ll join you in opposition. As will many/most other liberals. Including the POTUS.

    But it ain’t gonna happen.

  • Cindy D

    Ah, Clav. South Pacific. lol I thought that was the name of the musical “Kansas in August”. No wonder I couldn’t find it. It just dawned on me to reread your comment.

  • Baronius

    Handy, anyone is free to comment on the threads, even when those comments address the original article. I’m glad to hear your position. I don’t think that the Fairness Doctrine talk will ever amount to anything either – but I wouldn’t bet the farm.

  • Dr Dreadful

    ‘Kansas in August’. Boy, that would be a fun musical. Just how many different songs about things being flat and hot is it possible to write?

  • Cindy D

    LOL hahaha!!!

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Gotta chime in – I played a minor part in a community theater production of South Pacific – that was over twenty years ago and I still sing “Some Enchanted Evening” in the shower at least once a week…

    …and that’s a beautiful song when you’re lucky enough to know true love…

    And I’ll throw in one more, courtesy of Bloody Mary:

    Happy Talk,
    Keep talkin’ happy talk,
    Talk about things you’d like to do…
    You got to have a dream,
    If you you don’t have a dream,
    Then how you gonna have a dream come true?

  • Clavos

    I was away a bit, and just came back to the thread.

    While reading to catch up, a thought (not new, I’m certain) occurred to me: In one way at least, it’s good we have these “detours” in the threads from time to time, because, in discussing something other than the central theme (not meme) of the thread, we can sometimes find common ground, and thus a different perspective on each other.

    Case in point: With all due respect, thus far I’ve found little about which to agree with you, Glenn. That is, until your 219, and suddenly I see a side of you I never saw before, a side which casts you in a new and interesting light: not only do we agree as to South Pacific, but much to my delight I find we share (along with Doc Dreadful), an interest in live theater and in acting.

    And suddenly, I realize, “Wow, Glenn and I DO have something in common! Who’d ‘a thunk it?” :>)

    I’m serious about this; I think it’s important that occasionally we learn more about each other than just our varied (and various) political stances.

    Steps down from soapbox, glances about, embarrassed, and exits down right.

  • Cindy D


    I agree. On the site where my blog is, someone recently wrote a criticism of the site design. Here is a quote of my reply:

    The forum [where my blog is] seems uninviting. Sort of discouraging. Because of any site, this kind needs connection between users. The site I posted, Blogcritics, has 16 sections…They are all listed at the top left and easy to navigate. In each section, everyone can go to a person’s article and discuss it as a group. It’s nice too that they do not require staying on topic. It allows people to have fun and develop beyond merely debating.

  • Brunelleschi

    This site is unique and has a lot of good things going on.

    I give the editors and staff a lot of credit for letting people go off and not bother them, plus they can dish it out and take it as well.

    It seems like a really good place to develop your writing and get instant feedback and grief at the same time!

    I signed up to write and need to get my butt in gear and do it.

    It would be cool if you could pull a list of articles you are monitoring and see it flag the ones that have new comments.

    I made a BC folder in my favorites and save my own list of articles to do a quick drive-by and see if any have something new.

  • Cindy D

    You can use the rss feed Bruni. Then you just look in your bookmarks and it tells you when new comments are posted. It should be just below the article. The top feed says: “Comments on this article”

    (Of course this is the way it should work…I don’t subscribe to anything here. But that is the way it works for everything else I subscribe to.)

  • Brunelleschi

    Oh jeez, more geeky stuff to learn… Thanks!

    I just talked someone from my previous board life into signing up to write. Working on one more…

    My friend wrote a book last year called 100 Meditations, watch for it..

  • Cindy D

    It’s simple, I promise :-)

    Just click on that link (“comments on this article”), it goes to the subscribe page. leave everything alone there and just click the “subscribe” button. Then look in your bookmarks.

    Nothing to learn. :-)

  • sal

    Follow the money – talk about a conflict of interest. If you cannot beat the competition with your pathetic radio show/station then get your wife to do it for you. Oh yeah, while she is doing that go hire a hooker and then have her thrown in jail when you get caught. What the hell happend to this country!

  • lominac

    There are many AM stations. Rush is on one station and there is another guy on a different station for some of the day where I live. But there are many other stations, so I would rather a liberal just start a show on a different station. If they try to over regulate it, they will just put people out of business, but maybe that’s the point.