Accuracy in Media

The disarray in the Republican Party can be seen in the belated response to Democratic proposals to reinstate the federal Fairness Doctrine. Last January AIM reported exclusively and in detail on a “progressive” campaign to silence conservative media through the use of the Fairness Doctrine and other tactics. We covered a Memphis conference, sponsored by a liberal George Soros-funded group called Free Press, where Democratic politicians and Democratic members of the Federal Communications Commission endorsed more regulation of the media.

Almost seven months later, there is finally some movement by Republicans. Republican Reps. Mike Pence (Ind.), Jeff Flake (Ari.), and Jeb Hensarling (Tex.) have offered an amendment (PDF) to the Financial Services Appropriations Bill (H.R. 2829) that would prohibit funds in the bill from being used by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine on broadcasters. With support from Republican Leader John Boehner and Republican Whip Roy Blunt, Pence also plans on introducing a “Broadcasters Freedom Act” to try to accomplish the same thing.

Rep. Pence, a former radio talk-show host, is to be congratulated for taking this on. But a legislative approach has no chance of passing the House.

The legislative initiative, however, does serve to focus attention on the fact that the FCC could bring back the Fairness Doctrine on its own. It can and probably will do so when a Democratic president appoints the chairman of the FCC, giving the Democrats a 3-2 majority. Hillary Clinton’s backers in the Media Matters group want the return of the Fairness Doctrine so they can enlist FCC bureaucrats in the effort to control and influence the content of conservative talk radio.

So what is the current Republican-controlled FCC doing to counter this threat? Where are the FCC studies making the case for freedom in broadcasting? By making the case that the Fairness Doctrine is no longer needed, and that it would interfere with free speech rights, the current FCC could make it difficult for a Democratic-dominated FCC to legally justify the return of the Fairness Doctrine. Such studies could prompt the courts to throw out any new Fairness Doctrine emanating from the agency.

But FCC chairman Kevin Martin, a Bush appointee, doesn’t seem too concerned. In a recent interview with John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable magazine, Martin was asked about “talk of trying to re-institute the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine” and whether he would support that. His reply was, “No. The commission eliminated the doctrine in 1987. Doing so has made for a lot of opportunities in things like talk radio.”

That was it. Martin decided not to challenge any of the Democratic proposals to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine or to make a strong statement in favor of the First Amendment.

Unfortunately, in making the case for his own bill, the “Broadcasters Freedom Act,” Rep. Pence also seemed not to understand the partisan politics of the controversy. He quoted John F. Kennedy as saying that “We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”

As AIM has documented (PDF), the Kennedy Administration was one of the worst abusers of the Fairness Doctrine, using it to intimidate, harass and silence the conservative media of the day.

Another problem for conservatives is that some commentators and broadcasters play into the hands of the liberals by engaging in what they call “hate speech.” Ann Coulter, a frequent guest on conservative talk radio, is one of the best things the liberals have going for them.

In this context, Elizabeth Edwards’ confrontation with Ann Coulter on MSNBC-TV is already being exploited by Mrs. Edwards as part of a campaign to clean up the airwaves. She wants people to “speak out when they hear this kind of hate language” and cited conservative radio host Michael Savage as another objectionable figure.

Here you had a cancer-stricken mother and wife of a presidential candidate asking Coulter to refrain from making personal attacks on her family members. Edwards’ soft-spoken comments and pleas for civil discourse made for a sharp contrast with Coulter, issuing barbs behind dark glasses and stroking her long blond hair.

Coulter is promoting the paperback edition of one of her books, and the Edwards campaign has used the controversy for fundraising purposes. Both are trying to make money. But Coulter has, once again, become a poster child for the need to return to civilized political debate. This will hurt the conservative cause at a time when Senate Democrats such as Dick Durbin and Dianne Feinstein are openly endorsing or suggesting serious consideration of the Fairness Doctrine.

Coulter and her allies complain that she gets attacked for saying controversial things but that people like Bill Maher get spared from similar criticism. In fact, Maher was booted off network television and now has a program on a premium cable channel not available to ordinary cable subscribers. Maher began his career as a comedian and serves as a spokesman for the marijuana lobby. He is hardly a serious spokesman for the “progressive” point of view. Coulter, by contrast, began her career as a lawyer and apparently considers herself a serious conservative writer and thinker. Her comments that started the Edwards brouhaha, labeling the candidate a “faggot,” were made at a national conservative conference broadcast by C-SPAN.

By presenting people like Coulter on the air, without rebuttal, conservative radio hosts have run the risk of laying the groundwork for their own demise. They should clean up their acts before the government does so for them.

But you don’t have to be a conservative to be targeted.

Don Imus was the latest victim of this ongoing “progressive” campaign against “hate speech.” A political independent, he was a tough critic of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. He called her a witch and vowed never to have her on his influential radio and TV show. He was forced off the air after Media Matters, a pro-Hillary organization, made a public issue out of his racist comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Imus had made a career of saying shocking things. But crossing Hillary crossed a line and the Rutgers comments were just what Media Matters was looking for.

Carl Bernstein, in his new book about Mrs. Clinton, nails it, describing Media Matters as a virtual Hillary front group. In A Woman in Charge, Bernstein writes that “By 2007, as the season of presidential campaigning approached, Media Matters had more than fifty employees, and expended a disproportionate part of its effort to correcting stories about Hillary; so much so that the favor with which it treated her suggested it was almost an outlet for her ambitions.”

CNN’s Lou Dobbs, another independent, is another target, having been featured on a CBS “60 Minutes” broadcast as someone whose statements against illegal immigration were under scrutiny by a monitor of “hate groups.” Before that, Michael Graham was fired from WMAL in Washington, D.C. for calling Islam a violent religion. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) led the calls for his ouster.

The “progressive” campaign got a boost from a June 21 “study” posted by the Soros-funded Center for American Progress (CAP). “The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio” was written by CAP and the Free Press, the same group behind the “media reform” conference I covered in Memphis. But the report, in fact, says that the Fairness Doctrine won’t be enough to correct the problem of too many conservatives on the air. It called for further federal action to diversify ownership in the radio industry.

Needless to say, it did not call for an end to taxpayer subsidies to National Public Radio and its more than 800 affiliates. About one to two percent of NPR’s annual funding comes from federally-funded organizations, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). The CPB, which funds public TV and radio, gets about $400 million a year from the taxpayer.

It is significant that the CAP study identifies convicted liar Al Sharpton as one of the current “progressive” hosts on the radio. Sharpton, of course, led the campaign (with Jesse Jackson) to get Imus fired but is himself on the air in 21 media markets.

Would a Fairness Doctrine be applied to Sharpton’s program by a Democratic-controlled FCC? That’s about as likely as Sharpton finally apologizing for his role in smearing a group of white men as rapists in the Tawana Brawley hoax.

Against this onslaught, we have Republican Senator Trent Lott confirming Democratic complaints by saying that he believes talk radio is “running America.” On the other hand, he says he’s not for the Fairness Doctrine. But one has to wonder to what extent other Republicans secretly share his view that talk radio is “running America.” Could it be that politicians of both parties would prefer that they not be bothered with the forceful views of their constituents?

If so, conservative talk radio may soon be dead.  In this battle, Ann Coulter won’t help; she can only hurt.

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