Three Republican Senators, John McCain, John Thune, and Norm Coleman have stepped forward to introduce the Broadcaster Freedom Act, as questions linger about comments attributed to Senators Hillary Clinton and Barbara Boxer regarding re-imposition of the so-called Fairness Doctrine on broadcasters. The Fairness Doctrine is viewed by many on the political left as a way to muzzle or silence conservative talk radio.
The battle for control of talk radio is on.
McCain said that the Broadcaster Freedom Act “would prevent the Federal Communications Commission from reinstating” the Fairness Doctrine. He said the federal government should not be required to “police the airwaves to ensure differing viewpoints are offered.”
The Broadcaster Freedom Act has been introduced in the House by Rep. Mike Pence with 111 co-sponsors. Pence’s amendment prohibiting funding of the Fairness Doctrine in fiscal year 2008, even though there is no chance of it being resurrected under the Bush Administration, has passed the House.
The current chances of getting the Broadcaster Freedom Act passed in the Democratic-controlled House and Senate are viewed as slim or none because it would stop a future Democratic Administration from re-imposing the Fairness Doctrine.
“Since President Reagan’s repeal of the ‘Fairness Doctrine,’ the number of talk-radio shows nationwide has grown from fewer than 100 to over 1,000 today,” McCain declared. “In addition to talk radio, Americans are able to find opposing viewpoints in more places than ever before, including the Internet. With the great number of media sources available today, divergent viewpoints do not have to be offered on the same radio or television show, but can be found simply by channel surfing, reading a newspaper or browsing an Internet blog.”
Inhofe Accuses Hillary
Senator Hillary Clinton, a presidential candidate, has taken no public stand on the return of the Fairness Doctrine. But she has been accused by a colleague, Senator James Inhofe, of supporting legislative action against talk radio.
On Thursday June 21, 2007, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) appeared on the John Ziegler evening show on KFI 640 AM in Los Angeles. Inhofe discussed with Ziegler a conversation he overheard, and then joined, with Senators Clinton and Barbara Boxer where they discussed the need for a “legislative fix” to “have balance” in talk radio after complaining about talk radio being “nothing but far-right-wing extremists.” The Inhofe and Ziegler interview can be heard here.
On June 22, 2007, Inhofe was on Sean Hannity’s radio program, explaining that he misspoke, and that he overheard the Clinton and Boxer conversation three years ago, not “the other day,” as he told Ziegler. But the date of the conversation was not as important as the conversation itself. Inhofe was saying that Clinton and Boxer wanted federal government interference in radio programming. The Inhofe and Hannity interview can be heard here.
Inhofe retold the story, which he said he had told “at least a hundred times,” about the conversation he overheard “on an elevator going up to vote.” He said he overheard Senators Clinton and Boxer saying, “All we ever hear is extreme right-wing stuff on these radio shows. We got to do something about it, there’s got to be a fix to this thing.”
In response, Inhofe told Boxer and Clinton, “You girls don’t understand, it’s market driven, and there’s no market for your liberal tripe.” Inhofe then told Hannity, “Liberals don’t understand that there aren’t people out there who are just waiting for them to come up with a great liberal audience that can join in.”
On Hannity’s program, the conversation got more in-depth, with Hannity asking Inhofe about a report from the Center for American Progress, a George Soros-funded group, on diversity in radio programming.
Hannity noted that the group is led by “Hillary’s front man John Podesta,” who had served as Bill Clinton’s chief of staff. Hannity said the report included “a lot of recommendations, all government regulations, to intimidate radio owners and station groups,” adding, “there’s other talk about bringing back the Fairness Doctrine.”
Clinton and Boxer Issue Denials
Clinton and Boxer deny the conversation described by Inhofe ever took place, with Boxer saying, “Senator Inhofe either needs new glasses or needs to have his hearing checked because the conversation never happened.”
Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines responded, “Jim Inhofe is wrong. This supposed conversation never happened, not in his presence or anywhere else.”
Inhofe said he wasn’t really surprised that the two would deny the conversation took place. But he said that he hears Democrats complaining about conservative talk radio all the time.
When asked by Hannity if he believed the Fairness Doctrine would return, Inhofe asked “Do these people want to do the same thing with CNN? Do they want to do the same thing with the networks?” He then added, “I don’t think there’s a chance it would pass because you guys are going to do your job and make sure there is such a thing as the First Amendment.”
However, as AIM has demonstrated, the chances of a Democratic President and Congress getting the Fairness Doctrine passed into law are actually very good. There are only 111 co-sponsors of Pence’s Broadcaster Freedom Act in the House. Only three Senate Republicans, McCain, Thune and Coleman, have endorsed it in that body.
But the Fairness Doctrine is not the only item on the liberal agenda. Another is opposition to “media consolidation.” This means they want to prevent conservative-oriented broadcasters from getting more powerful and influential―by putting limits on the number of radio stations and media properties they can own or control.
For his part, Hannity acknowledged that liberals will continue to push for the Fairness Doctrine and for more government regulation to force more liberal voices on the air. He talked of a “blueprint? to structurally shift through regulation ownership rules to silence talk radio, or to force stations to take programs that they don’t want…” Hannity added, “There’s a direct assault on the First Amendment from a lot of corners going on now.”
Also on Fox News, Alan Colmes wondered why, if what Inhofe alleged was true, Clinton and Boxer had not acted against talk radio. “What have Hillary Clinton and Barbara Boxer done in the last three years to advance this legislatively?” Colmes asked.
In fact, as AIM has documented, Clinton has relied on a front organization, Media Matters, to help advance her agenda in the media. Media Matters head David Brock has called for the return of the Fairness Doctrine. In fact, Brock’s Media Matters was reported to be behind a website, fairnessdoctrine.com, which was specifically set up in support of a bill by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. The website has since been taken down.
Writing about fairnessdoctrine.com, James Gattuso noted that the site was “co-sponsored by Andrew Jay Schwartzman of the Democracy Access Project, David Brock of Media Matters, and Tom Athans of Democracy Radio.”
Athans, co-founder and former CEO of Democracy Radio, is an interesting figure who may stand to benefit if the federal government mandates the sale or breakup of media properties. Athans, who also served as an official of the liberal Air America radio network, is the husband of Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow. He developed and produced the liberal Ed Schultz and Stephanie Miller radio shows.
Liberal McCain Booster
AIM discovered that fairnessdoctrine.com was registered to Nicco Mele, the webmaster for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign and co-founder of EchoDitto, an organization that creates “vibrant online communities.” Its projects include the Rosie O’Donnell blog and the Clinton Global Initiative website.
Ironically, Mele made statements in support of John McCain’s presidential run. “A lot of people are asking me about John McCain,” Mele wrote. “When I worked for Common Cause, I worked on the McCain-Feingold bill and worked closely with Sen. John McCain’s office. After Sen. McCain lost the Republican primary in 2000, I traveled with him as part of a group of campaign finance reform staffers as we criss-crossed the country working to secure support for the McCain-Feingold bill. I have long admired Sen. McCain’s work on campaign finance reform and his independent streak. If Sen. McCain runs for president, he’s got my support.”
Air America Sees Green
Meanwhile, the liberal Air America radio network has been re-launched, after going through bankruptcy, with support from such figures as Bill and Hillary Clinton. The network was sold in March to Green Family Media, run by the Green family. Stephen Green became chairman of the board and Mark Green became president of the new Air America.
Bill Clinton appears in the Air America “relaunch video” and Hillary was interviewed on the air when the new owners took charge. “You are really important,” Bill Clinton told them. “This is a big deal.”
Mark Green was on Fox News Sunday on July 1, declaring that progressives were really not interested in bringing back the Fairness Doctrine. He said, “I don’t want the government to mandate speech.” But he also said that a station should go through a “license renewal proceeding” and represent “diverse communities.”
Green’s comments were denounced as doubletalk by some conservatives. But his remarks were consistent with what we know about Democratic plans to bring back the Fairness Doctrine. They know they can’t get it back under the Bush Administration so they’ve figured that it’s better not to talk about it. That is why so many joined in the 309-115 vote in favor of the Pence amendment.
It’s better, from the liberal point of view, to use this time to talk about community involvement, diversity, and the licensing procedures for broadcasters which already exist. It also makes sense to hold hearings or conduct studies on the matter, such as what Rep. John Dingell is doing. Dingell, chairman of the House Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Pence Broadcaster Freedom Act, has requested a federal study of how broadcasters encourage “hate crimes.”
This process could lay the groundwork for bringing back the Fairness Doctrine or even mandating the sale of various broadcasting properties to people like the Greens and Tom Athans. But that will only happen when a Democratic president is in the White House and the FCC is safely in Democratic hands.
Liberals are biding their time, thinking that time is on their side.
It will be up to conservatives, especially conservative talk radio, to defeat them.