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Is it time to expand the Fairness Doctrine?

By Selwyn Duke
web posted January 31, 2011

In keeping with the demagogue's credo "Never let a good tragedy go to waste," some among us are extracting as much mileage from the Jared Loughner massacre as they can.  It is being used to raise money and reduce freedom, with the latter amounting to calls for gun and speech control.  And among these calls is the proposal to resurrect the Fairness Doctrine (FD).

The basic idea behind the legislation is that if a radio station airs some controversial opinion, time must be provided for the "other side."  And quite coincidentally, I'm sure, this is only to be applied to talk radio, an arena in which the "other side" happens to be the left side.

Conservatives, of course, are opposed to this, and, with their control of Congress, the FD won't emerge from that chamber.  But they are missing a grand opportunity, a chance to exhibit that much ballyhooed thing called bi-partisanship.  I suggest that we don't have to fight over the FD, as we can come together over the following proposal: Not only reinstitute the legislation – expand it.  

Here's how it would work: We'll apply the doctrine not only to radio but newspapers, television and the Internet as well.  Remember that when the FD was first introduced in 1949, TV was in its infancy and so was Al Gore (the Internet would have to wait).  But while radio was the big thing back then, it has now been eclipsed by the TV and the Web, which together inform – and misinform – many more minds than radio does (note: "Talk" is the format of only three percent of radio stations nationwide).  And isn't it preposterous to assert that only one form of media can peddle unbalanced information?  Fairness for all, I say.

And here's how this would work on the ground.  Imagine that a newspaper wanted to print a hit piece on Sarah Palin or, as is the The New York Times' wont, frequently feature a story on a sex crime committed by a Catholic priest (while ignoring the corresponding scandal in the government-school system).  Well, as the case may be, Palin, or the Catholic League, Opus Dei, or the local diocese, would be afforded equal time to respond.

But that's just the beginning.  As the left likes to say, everyone has a "perspective."  And as the left will also emphasize, it isn't enough to focus on the perspectives; we must focus on people.  We're told we must ensure that women and minorities aren't underrepresented in the media, otherwise the groups from which they're drawn will get short shrift.  Likewise, the other side will never get equal time as long as the media is dominated by one side.  So, by all means, institute policy that will force radio stations to hire Airhead America types, but the same forces must be brought to bear on the mainstream media.  After all, with 89 percent of Washington journalists voting for Bill Clinton in 1992, 92 percent supporting him in 1996 and with Democrat reporters outnumbering Republican ones by a 3-to-1 margin even beyond the beltway, discrimination obviously reigns in the media. 

What is the remedy?  It isn't enough to merely ensure that 50 percent of reporters and pundits are Republicans.  Remember that while 40 percent of Americans describe themselves as conservative, only 21 percent self-identify as liberal.  Moreover, leftists have long emphasized the principle of "proportionality" (such as when they want to apply it to Title IX).  Thus, I'm sure they will agree that our media contingents should reflect the ideological composition of the wider population. And this wouldn't be hard to achieve, either.  For instance, all a paper such as The New York Times would have to do is fire columnists such as Paul Krugman and Nicholas Kristof in favor of Selwyn Duke and S.L. Duke. 

Some will say this is silly, as there is no comparison between brash, hyperbolic radio men and the plodding press corps. And they're right – there's no comparison.

The fellow who hides his bias is much more to be feared.

I once explained why using the analogy of the barker and the shill, writing: 

[The barker and the shill] were carnival employees who both worked to entice customers into entering the mysterious realm of the sideshow, only, their methods were very different.  The barker – the correct terminology is the 'talker' – was a P.T. Barnum-like character, a bold salesman who sang the praises of the exhibits.  Although he was given to the hyperbole of marketing, he made no bones about his agenda: He wanted your business.

The shill was a very different animal.  His job was to stand amidst the crowd and pose as one of their number; he would then feign awe as he claimed to have seen the show and that it was truly a jaw-dropping experience.  He was trading on his illusion of impartiality, knowing it lent him a capacity to convince that eluded the talker with his obvious agenda.

… [Now] [r]adio hosts are the talkers; they wear their banners openly as they proclaim who and what they are.  …You know what they're sellin' and if you're buyin'.

The mainstream media, however, is a shill.  …They masquerade as impartial purveyors of information, almost-automatons who, like Joe Friday, are just interested in the facts, ma'am.  …and we are to believe God graced them with a singular ability to render facts uncolored by personal perspective.

In reality, though, the Shill Media are about as impartial as an Imam in a comparative religion class.

…  [And] [t]he Shill Media are infinitely more dangerous because of their illusion of impartiality.  There's a reason why we trust what Consumer Reports says about Buick a lot more than what Buick says about Buick.  And if we discovered that Buick's marketing arm was masquerading as a consumer advocacy magazine, we'd want the subterfuge revealed. Remember, brainwashing is only effective if you're not aware it's occurring.

The reality is that radio talk-show hosts are targeted partially because they commit a sin of which the mainstream media is rarely guilty. 

They're honest about what they are.

This is why I'm sure the Left will join me in promoting a truly fair Fairness Doctrine; call it FD 2.0.  I mean, you folks on the left actually want fairness, right?  After all, applying it only to a medium dominated by a particular ideology would be as crazy as, oh, I don't know, scrutinizing only counties dominated by a particular ideology during a vote recount.

Then again, we could take a different route.  We could understand that touting the importance of the "other side" reflects a naïve dualist mindset, the idea that the world consists of but two equal sides, right and left, when it actually consists of two unequal categories, right and wrong.  Why, taking our relativistic, modern, everything-is-perspective, other-side notion to its logical conclusion, we could hear God tell us that Satan is evil and then broadcast, "Tune it at 8:00 PM for the Devil's response."

Moreover, there is a reason why we say the Truth but a lie: "Wrong" is a category encompassing many lies.  No matter how much you mandate "equal time," there isn't enough time to give every "side" a hearing.  Will making room for the liberal or conservative side satisfy the communists or Nazis?  There is only one side we should be interested in: the eternal one. 

Of course, some will ask, in grand relativistic style, "Who will decide what's Truth!?" That is the question, isn't it?  In answering, consider that, despite slavery being one of the world's oldest and most widespread practices, we don't hear pro-slavery advocates on the radio.  This isn't because government banned such commentary but because the marketplace of ideas did.

This is democracy in action: Millions of consumers "voting" on what ideas will hold office in media nationwide through their use of radio tuners, remotes, computer mouse and money.  In contrast, those advocating government control would replace these "elections" with rule by oligarchic decree, placing judgments about what should be broadcast in the hands of a small group of bureaucrats.  It is profoundly undemocratic.

Is this to say that the market is an infallible purveyor of Truth?  Not at all.  Mankind has always toddled along in that regard, often stumbling, sometimes falling.  But I'll sooner trust the common man to ferret out common sense than I would the entire Oxford philosophy department.      

It's ironic that the people who recoil at historically present censorship – of obscene images, for instance – advocate the 1984 variety.  They have things exactly backwards: Censorship of unpopular political, social and religious commentary is the very thing the First Amendment was designed to forestall.  And what is "fair" anyway?  It isn't to give both godly and devilish ideas equal time.  It is to separate Truth from lies and hope that, one day, it will have all the time. ESR

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