Saturday, December 13, 2008

Time to Codify the Fairness Doctrine

Ever wonder what happened to the late, lamented Fairness Doctrine, the federal regulation requiring broadcasters to treat issues with balance (though not necessarily "equal time," which was another proposition entirely)? Think Ronald Reagan, George Bush I, Robert Bork, Antonin Scalia and Reagan FCC Chairman Mark Fowler.

Each had a hand in eliminating or blocking the re-institution of the doctrine or parts of it between 1985 and 1991. It was pretty well killed in 1987 by Reagan-appointed FCC (4-0) and Reagan's veto threat later that year kept Congress from making fairness the law. People like Bork and Scalia, hard-case members of the federal bench in D.C., had nipped at it before then.

The elimination of the doctrine gave rise to Rush Limbaugh and a whole host of nutcases whose blather goes unchallenged by anything like rational human thought.

I'm not sure how Congress will react to bringing back the Fairness Doctrine--Democrats hold control of both houses and the presidential palace--considering how full a plate the Bush Administration is leaving (even as we speak, little Republicans are running around creating more destructive mischief). There are more crises per square foot sitting there awaiting attention than I can remember in my 62 years, and I've been paying attention.

My suggestion, however, is that codifying the Fairness Doctrine will effectively end the irrational, irresponsible reign of talk radio, an element of the rise of Bush II, The Official Worst President in History, that is vastly under-appreciated. Balancing--and not silencing--people like Limbaugh, making them responsible for what they say and giving those of us with opposing views a chance to respond to his distortions is fair and balanced.

Because I believe in free speech, even for morons, I would never even think of taking Limbaugh's or Hannity's or O'Reilly's microphone away. It's more about passing it around and including intelligence, rationality and reason in the conversation.

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