Shortly after Bush was re-elected, the left, in an effort to fix what they viewed was an imbalance in the viewpoints espoused in talk radio, proposed a revival of the Fairness Doctrine. Republicans, holding a majority in the Congress, opposed, and the legislation never got to the floor. Since then, we’ve experienced first hand the decidedly leftist-oriented, pro-Obama coverage of 2008, and 2012 election cycles. We’ve been able to contrast the fawning and adoring media during the Obama presidency against a backdrop of a hostile and confrontational media during the Bush administration. It’s time conservatives ask if in fact the left was right on this one, and whether it’s time to bring back the Fairness Doctrine.
This is about much more than mere balance on talk radio. In newsrooms and television studios across America, there is a serious diversity problem in which one strand of thought dominates and dissent is ridiculed, cast out, and crushed. News coverage, in its content, selection and even in its very premises, serves to perpetuate one view., and entertainment venues follow suit. It’s hard to find even one form of media, or even one venue, that isn’t rife with left wing talking points and premises.
My leftist friends will say that I’m blaming Romney’s loss on the media, when Romney was just a loser. Romney most assuredly was a loser, as he lost. However, it’s indisputable that left wing bias not only exists but is pervasive – prominent liberals even admit as much from time to time, The problem, as a 2008 Pew poll found, was that liberals in journalism are vastly over-represented, as compared to liberals as a percentage of our general populace. This lack of diversity and balance in our media has an effect on the populace, who are continuously exposed to an onslaught of one-sided liberal thought, and shielded from stories that might conflict with the liberal media narrative.
The leftists will claim that “Faux” News and the WSJ are Republican-leaning outlets, that if bias did exist, it doesn’t make a tangible difference, and besides, all is fair in love and war. But that’s not true. Fox News and The Wall Street Journal go out of their way to host liberals in virtually every discussion on the issues, and are much more balanced than MSNBC (or NBC even) is partisan. Taken together and adding the few boutique conservative magazines (The Weekly Standard, et alia) still pales in comparison to the massive liberal media complex. To quote the great Victor David Hanson:
When you tally together the cultural influence of The NY Times, The Washington Post, NPR, PBS, CBS, ABC, and NBC, and then consider the slant of a USA Today or People magazine, it all adds up. Worse perhaps are the biases of AP, Reuters, Bloomberg News, Google, Yahoo, and the other wire services that feed supposedly neutrally reported news to local affiliates that ensure their prejudices are aired as disinterested information.
I’d say it’s even worse than that; from television shows as innocuous as Good Morning America (co-anchored by former Clinton alum George Stephanopolous), children’s films like The Lorax, or even coverage of a Climate Change fundraiser in your local penny saver, bias is pervasive. And it does matter: the results of this imbalance can be observed in Obama’s re-election on issues of abortion rights amid record unemployment and a workforce that’s smaller than at any time in the last 30 years, and even though Romney wasn’t running on making changes to settled law. It’s safe to say that if George W Bush had presided over 7.9 percent unemployment on election day, the results of his re-election campaign would not have been the same (Unemployment during the 2004 election was only 5.4 percent – Geoge H. W. Bush lost re-election with unemployment at 7.4 percent).
Left-wing media bias exists, is pervasive and has an impact on the way people think about politics and policy. Quoting the great Abraham Lincoln, “Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.” Unfortunately, often times the people don’t know the facts due to media bias and the country is in a period of grave danger as a result.
The new Fairness Doctrine would involve a number of common sense regulations for our media to increase diversity and ensure Americans are getting truly balanced facts and news, done in such a way as to not unduly burden private enterprise, or infringe on free speech:
Labeling of News
On both sides of the political sphere, we all know that the line between what’s termed news and what’s termed entertainment has been blurred. Al Sharpton’s show on MSNBC is hardly news, and to be fair, neither is Sean Hannity’s show on Fox. In order for something to be able to live under the banner of news, it would have to meet certain regulatory requirements, such as ensuring that editorial staffing is ideologically balanced between the two major parties, based on their most recent voting record. So if you want to produce a newspaper like The Washington Post, all articles need to be edited by a staff that is split 50/50 between the two major parties, and this would be based on their last major (i.e. presidential) election vote.
Can’t meet that requirement? Then you cannot label your product “News” and must instead label it as “Entertainment.” Same goes for TV. Most newspapers do this now to differentiate advertorial from regular content; this would be a similar type of label shown at the header of an article, or at the beginning of a show.
Partisan Identification and Ranking
For op-eds and various opinion articles both written and in video, partisan ranking of the commentator must be presented at the outset using a standardized scale. Think of this as akin to an ingredient label on food. For example, if I wrote an article for The NY Times, they’d need to include my ranking at the outset of the text, which would indicate my party affiliation and degree of affiliation (I.E. GOP +5). Who would decide what ranking to use? Let the authors themselves choose their own ranking. Anyone who lied about their own political leanings wouldn’t be taken seriously by the public and would likely lose the respect of their colleagues.
Organizational Political Speak
As the Supreme Court found, corporations do have a right to free speech, as do unions and special interest groups like the Sierra Club and the NRA. However, any organization, be it church, union, or company, must disclose its political affiliation, and be required to pay taxes on any money spent or earned when related to political speech. Further, those funds must be attributed to the political party for which they are advocating. All organizations are required to make a history of such activism clearly available to the public. So-called non-partisan think tanks would be included.
None of these ideas slant the playing field in any one direction. They level what is currently a preposterously unlevel playing field today. These don’t curtail free speech in any way. If anything, they enhance free speech, by allowing the consumer of that speech better to understand its context. They don’t require the hiring of additional staff, just that existing staff represent the same diverse views found in our society.
Our framers focus was on ensuring the press was free from government coercion. However, they never expected the press to willingly advocate for a singular ideology. The media has ceased to be a referee of ideas and has turned into a maker of opinions, both obscuring the stories that are damaging to the narratives they favor, and promoting those that are not. If we can regulate every other industry to ensure it plays fair and by the rules, we should be able to ensure information being passed off as news actually meets the definition of fact-based, impartial reporting.