LIFE ISN’T FAIR BUT MEDIA SHOULD BE – Let’s restore the Fairness Doctrine
A couple of years ago the autos that were parked overnight in the streets of New York City were having their car radios heisted by agile crooks. Car owners were then removing their radios from their dashboards overnight and posting hand written signs in their windows announcing “No car radio” in the hope that they would avoid a broken window. After listening to Rush Limbaugh one day I put a sign in my old Volvo reading “No hate radio.” So my car was spared by some right wing thief. Somehow this form of thievery lost its luster, and the clever crooks found more lucrative forms of boosting; flat screen TVs, Prada handbags, Florida elections, hedge funds and sub prime mortgages. But the idea of no hate radio still appeals to me – or at least balancing the preponderance of conservative hate radio with other voices. I know that hate speech is protected as free speech by our Constitution. And no, I don’t advocate imposing love radio (a yawn inducing notion) on the world but creating a forceful plain-talking progressive radio, one that should have a place on our radio airways and television. No, not another Air America which floats about the ether, lost to anyone who tries to find it, but an effective, pervasive, easy to find voice for progressive views.
The truth is that hate speech can often be funnier than reasoned talk. And it has a long tradition in our democracy going back to the Founding Fathers, Andrew Jackson, and Lincoln with their savagely mocking, duel fighting and libel tossing opponents. Hate sells. Always has. Sadly, it always will. The trouble with its use during the McCain/Palin campaign was that it teetered on encouraging serious hate action by the desperate Republican candidates by demonizing our now President elect Obama as a secret traitor, and we all know what they’d like to do to traitors.
Rush Limbaugh, Oxycodone’s own Oliver Hardy, has been bringing joy and gladness to the Repubs for years by pounding on liberals relentlessly, and his rewards for doing so have been enormous. I say let him go on ranting and rolling. Let him have his ditto-heads, his mansions, his forbidden little pills and his fat cigars. Let him mock a critically ill actor, Michael J. Fox, let him rave on against the reality of Aids, let him declare war on the environment, not for me to stop him. And that goes for his fellow right winger Sean Hannity as well in that Hannity/Comes show where Hannity, the fast talking radical right guy with the gift for gab outshines the dim bulb that is his nerdy liberal opponent, Alan Colmes. A Foxy set up if I ever saw one. I must admit that I was troubled by the debates in this election which excluded Nader who was desperately running on the Egotist Party ticket, and Libertarian Bob Bar from at least one of the debates. I felt that their absence diluted the debates and diminished the discourse.
All of this is just a preamble to my view that we must restore the old Fairness Doctrine. From 1974 until 1987 under Ronald Wilson Reagan’s Presidency, it was the policy of our government to provide contrasting views over the public airways (remember that word – public – we the people as owners of the airways) so that we would have an informed electorate who voted on facts rather than rumors and lies. Equal time was not the issue, just the assurance that differing sides of an issue would be aired publicly. When Congress attempted to renew the Fairness Doctrine in ‘87 Reagan vetoed it. In his overall deregulation of democracy, Reagan used as allies for deregulating radio the notable Judges Bork and Scalia to rule that congress did not have to mandate the doctrine and the FCC did not have to enforce it. And so it ended. And just as the deregulation of our economy lead to this recession, unemployment and despair, so the deregulation of our airways has led to the crash of fairness and loss of intelligent debate and discourse. Rising from the sludge of deregulation was not only Rush and Sean but our Venus of the Right Wing, Ann Coulter, and her sister siren, Laura Ingram, members of the Clairol Confederacy.
And what have we gotten as a result of losing that doctrine? A lopsided view of our democracy in which the right-wing attacks and accuses and the left plays defense. I am not advocating any restraints on the Limbaughs and the Hannitys. Let them rant on. But it’s time for the Democrats to take a long and hard look at that old Fairness Doctrine, revise it and restore it for our times. Barack Obama ran on a message of change, but sometimes change has to look to the past for what was good and valuable that has been lost. And nothing better describes that loss than the Fairness Doctrine. Obama has not come out in favor of this restoration – he has far too much on his plate right now - but here he does not have to be our guide any more than he does in his reluctance to support gay marriage. Every leader has his limitations. For once Nancy Pelosi has it right in speaking about getting back that lost fairness, back to basics.
I am sure that in the coming years there will be more and more liberal voices making themselves heard even if this doctrine is not restored. I suggest it be restored not only in the name of fairness, but for the joy of giving the far right wing an old fashioned hot foot. It’s fun to watch Limbaugh and Ingram and their brothers and sisters scream about how persecuted they are. They have been screeching since the election that they will be undone if that doctrine is restored, that they will loose their programs if their networks are forced to air opposing views, and that the Fairness Doctrine is like the shark in Jaws, “it’s “baack!” They certainly won’t be undone if this doctrine is restored. There is always room in our Democracy for guys and gals with a talent for mockery and a swaggering anger to make a buck by abusing the truth, the sick, and the environment, but in serious times it is also necessary for thoughtful men and women to have the chance to express opposing views on the public airways. There are more smart progressives out there like Rachel Maddow waiting to add their voices to our continuing American debate. And I would like my three year old grand-daughter, and my new grand-twins to live in a world where all sides of an issue are heard so that they can someday become informed citizens. And while we’re at it how about restoring Civics as a subject in our schools so that the majority of the electorate understands that we have three separate but equal institutions, and then how about…, okay, okay, enough for today. You distract Rush while I strike the match and stick it in his shoe. Okay?