George Clooney has talked about returning to the days when everyone had the same “fact level.” By that, he means he wants to return to the “good old days,” as he sees them, when “The News” was a neat package presented from on high by Walter Cronkite, who fed us the liberal line and disguised it as the only version of the news worth hearing and objective truth. What Clooney fears is the increasing number of news outlets geared toward news of interest to conservatives. These news organizations, on talk radio, on the Internet and some on cable news, have undermined the liberal media monopoly that used to exist.
Realizing they are losing influence and are on the defensive, liberals are moving to re-establish the Fairness Doctrine, a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule that required broadcasters to offer equal time to opposing views of those expressed on the airwaves. The result would be a government bureaucracy monitoring what goes out on the air and making broadcasters and commentators reluctant to discuss controversial political issues.
Accuracy in Media founder Reed Irvine had opposed the scrapping of the Fairness Doctrine, believing as many conservatives did at the time that it actually provided an opportunity for conservative voices to be heard. But after the Reagan Administration dropped it, conservatives were able to get their views out and succeed through de-regulation of the media marketplace. It was a tremendous victory for true media diversity and free expression. And that is what scares the liberals.
Indeed, the dumping of the Fairness Doctrine led to the boom in talk-radio, which preceded the Internet, the Blogosphere, and the success of Fox News, a mostly center-right leaning alternative to the mainstream broadcast and cable networks.
Brian Anderson, the editor of City Journal, the online publication of the Manhattan Institute, has written an outstanding article that examines the implications of so-called “campaign finance reform” and the efforts to restrict our speech, and access to the Internet and certain talk-radio shows, all in the name of fairness and equal access. It is chilling, it is frightening, and it can potentially happen, though ultimately I believe it will fail.
Anderson, also author of the book South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias, says that the “irony of campaign-finance reform is that the ‘corruption’ it targets seems not to exist in any widespread sense. Studies galore have found little or no significant influence of campaign contributions on legislators’ votes. Ideological commitments, party positions and constituents’ wishes are what motivate the typical politician’s actions in office.”
He says that McCain-Feingold, the latest incarnation of campaign finance reform, is a scary step toward the regulation of politics. It “makes it a felony for corporations, nonprofit advocacy groups, and labor unions to run ads that criticize?or even name or show?members of Congress within 60 days of a federal election, when such quintessentially political speech might actually persuade voters.” This ultimately led to the explosion of spending by the so-called 527 groups (for their IRS designation) and spending, by groups like MoveOn.org, in which the money is much harder to track, and the accountability is vastly reduced.
Anderson also explores the move to restrict speech, including talk-radio, perhaps Fox News, and even the Internet, by talking about “fairness,” whether as part of the Fairness Doctrine, or by utilizing the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) to determine what writings on the Internet might unfairly benefit one politician over another.
“What’s really happening,” says Anderson, “is that the Left, having lost its media monopoly, has had trouble competing in a true ‘marketplace of ideas’ and wants to shut that marketplace down.” To back this up, he cites Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, who in a 2003 interview railed against Rupert Murdoch, the head of Fox. Said Dean: “I believe we need to re-regulate the media…so we can be sure that the American people get moderate, conservative, and liberal points of view.” And Anderson cites another mainstream Democrat, Al Gore, who complained of the hollowing out of the American “marketplace of ideas.” He blamed it on the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine “after which Rush Limbaugh and other hate-mongers began to fill the airwaves.”
Part of the irony here is that Rupert Murdoch supported Al Gore for president in 2000, even helping to raise money for him at a high-profile fundraising event.
To demonstrate how real this is, Democrats introduced two bills in Congress last year to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. Louise Slaughter of New York state, who introduced one of the bills, said that “Fairness isn’t going to hurt anyone,” while she blasted conservative talk-radio and cable TV, calling them “a waste of good broadcast time, and a waste of our airwaves.”
The effort to regulate the flow of information is under way. In this case, liberals are trying to muzzle conservatives. The liberals are not so liberal when it comes to allowing views that trump their own.