Accuracy in Media

Despite President-elect Obama’s claim that he will not seek a new “Fairness Doctrine” to silence conservative voices in the media, commentators are bracing for a battle over their free speech rights under the First Amendment. Indeed, the battle is already underway and the enemies of free speech have made it clear that their censorship campaign will initially be based on claims that conservatives do not reflect “local” and “diverse” viewpoints. The so-called Fairness Doctrine may come later. 

Ominously, Obama has chosen as his transition chief John Podesta, who is president of the George Soros-funded Center for American Progress (CAP), a liberal think tank that produced a report attacking conservative talk radio. But there is reason to believe the attack that is expected to come from an Obama-controlled Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will not come, at least immediately, in the form of a new push for the Fairness Doctrine. The attack, which is actually now underway and building, comes in the form of demanding “localism.” This is an effort by “progressives” in various cities to object to conservative talk radio being aired by local radio stations.

The situation is that some broadcast companies own several stations in different cities or provide programs on a national basis. They can bypass the need for having to hire local staff or broadcasting talent in the cities they serve. This approach enables national conservative talk-show hosts to have a national audience by appearing on stations across the country. The power of talk radio, as demonstrated over the years, has included challenging a congressional pay raise, stopping illegal-alien amnesty, and objecting to the Wall Street bailout. This can occur because of the national reach of conservative talk radio.

The problem is that this broadcasting approach cuts down on overhead but also costs some local jobs. That has understandably raised the ire of some broadcast professionals and in some cases has made it more difficult for young talent to break into the business. You may call that inevitable “progress,” but the concern on the part of aspiring talent is only natural. I started my own broadcast career at age 18 at a small radio station in a town then of about 5,000.

While there is a legitimate concern about local talent being shunted aside, in a preference for national programs, this cry of “localism” is now being used by the “progressive” activists as a wedge to get popular nationally-known conservative talk-show hosts off the air.

One has only to look at a report put out last year by Podesta’s Center for American Progress to see how they intend to exploit this. “The disparities between conservative and progressive programming reflect the absence of localism in American radio markets,” the CAP report declared. Hence, “localism” has become the bizarre claim that conservative voices should be replaced by liberal ones, and that the liberals are more in tune with local communities. These “new” voices will, of course, toe the Obama line. 

What this campaign ignores is the fact that the conservative voices, even if they are national in scope or based in other cities, better reflect the views of local citizens and residents of the communities they serve. That is why conservative talk radio is so popular. Even the CAP report admits that the combined news/talk format “is estimated to reach more than 50 million listeners each week.” In other words, conservative talk radio serves the public interest and the numbers prove it.

Ignoring the fact that conservatism is far more popular than the far-left “progressive” viewpoint (Remember that Obama used some conservative sounding rhetoric, including “cutting taxes” to get elected), the Podesta report recommends greater local accountability over radio licensing and the fining of those broadcasters who continue to air conservative media voices that are perceived to be out-of-step with “local” needs. The money generated by the fines would be turned over to support liberal-dominated and taxpayer-supported public broadcasting.

But the existence of public radio and TV is itself one of the reasons why this “progressive” push is so insidious. The liberals already have plenty of outlets for their views. Conservatives only have talk radio.

The forces on the “progressive” Left have pursued this strategy for months because their own liberal radio networks, as well as other attempts to provide “Limbaughs of the Left,” have failed to attract significant audiences. Rather than leave conservatives alone, the liberals want to dominate this medium as well, even if they have to use the FCC to force their way into local markets and force conservatives off the air.

In addition to “localism” being a cover for silencing conservative media voices, the report of transition chief Podesta’s liberal think tank called for “ownership diversity.” This is actually a demand for handing over media properties to selected liberal minorities of the Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson variety.

A variation of this theme was noted by conservative activist Jim Boulet, who tells the story of a complaint from some Somalis in the Minneapolis area about not being served by local programs. This will be another weapon in the arsenal of the would-be censors―the claim that the conservatives in the media do not reflect the “diversity” of the communities they serve and, therefore, should be replaced by other “minority” voices. 

Incredibly, even before Obama takes office, the Bush FCC has proposed regulations based on the dubious premise that radio station “programming―particularly network programming―often is not sufficiently culturally diverse.” This is directly playing into the hands of Podesta and his ilk.

Conservative icon Paul Weyrich, himself a former broadcaster, wrote a column quoting FCC sources as saying that the “diversity” push was not meant to silence conservatives. They told him, “This is in no way a back door to the Fairness Doctrine. It is simply an attempt to get at big companies that are not fulfilling their requirements to use the public airwaves just like there are indecency rules. You have to have some relationship with the area in which you are licensed to serve.” These sources added, “We are still a long way from making permanent decisions, but this has absolutely nothing to do with the Fairness Doctrine.” 

Weyrich was not convinced. He challenged the FCC to make it clear that it had no intention of reinstating the Fairness Doctrine in any way, shape or form. No such public assurance has been given. 

Weyrich is not alone in his concern that a push for “diversity” or “localism” could be laying the groundwork for the eventual return of the Fairness Doctrine. In a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, House Republican Leader John Boehner expressed the view that “Under the rubric of ‘broadcast localism’ it is clear the Commission is proposing no less than a sweeping takeover by Washington bureaucrats of the broadcast media.” Boehner added that the proposed rule amounts “to the stealth enactment of the Fairness Doctrine, a policy designated to squelch the free speech and free expression of specifically targeted audiences.”

All eyes are now on the time when Obama will be in a position to appoint the chairman of the FCC, giving the Democrats a 3-2 majority and enabling federal bureaucrats to enforce “diversity,” “localism” and even “fairness.”

Clearly, the “progressives” are bracing for the time when they can file complaints with a liberal-dominated FCC over conservative programs. Chris Plante of WMAL in Washington, D.C. had a caller who told him, “I hope they bring on the Fairness Doctrine and get you off the air.” The caller was probably a member of a local Democratic Party activist group that is monitoring the program in order to eventually file a complaint with the FCC.

In another development that also raises concern, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer declared, “The very same people who don’t want the Fairness Doctrine want the FCC to limit pornography on the air” and added, “That’s not consistent.” Of course, pornography is not banned, only restricted, and, in fact, saturates our society. What’s more, the failure to distinguish pornography from political speech was too much for conservative talk show host Mark Levin, who denounced “Schmuckey” as “a menace that undermines my country.”

The attack on talk radio was anticipated and outlined in AIM’s 2007 book, The Death of Talk Radio?, by AIM editor Cliff Kincaid and talk show host Lynn Woolley. Kincaid attended and covered leftist “media reform” conferences where “progressive” groups, such as the Soros-funded Free Press, openly articulated their pro-censorship plans.

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