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Political Talk Shows, The Fairness Doctrine and Presidential Elections

By       Message Max Mastellone     Permalink
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Walter Cronkite
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Media consolidation has dealt a serious blow to the breadth of news and information offered to American listeners and viewers. Moreover, the loss of the Fairness Doctrine negatively impacted the diversity of viewpoints that consumers were exposed to. Together, these developments have resulted in news being managed by corporate purveyors to an unprecedented extent. And this is highly dangerous for a democracy.

In 1983 90% of US media was owned by 50 companies. By 2011 that same 90% was owned by just six companies* as a result of mergers and acquisitions. Before Ronald Reagan such combined companies would have been considered monopolies engaged in restraint of trade and, therefore, not likely to be approved by regulators.

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The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the Federal Communications Commission that was in place from 1949 until its elimination in 1987. The policy "had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials. The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented. The demise of this FCC rule has been considered as a contributing factor for the rising level of party polarization in the United States".--Wikipedia

The Beginning of the End of Free Speech in the Media

With the Fairness Doctrine out of the way networks and cable channels were free to present news "creatively", selectively and from a single point of view, if they wished. Channels like Fox News and MSNBC could not have existed in their present form when the Fairness Doctine was in force.

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Traditionally, the press in America has been considered the watchdog institution of democracy. The Forth Estate. In that role it informs the public of the goings on of government so that we may make corrections in the persons and directions of leadership. Prior to consolidation, especially in print media, the news media generally adhered to that practice. With consolidation came pressures to make "news" a profit center and, free of the rigors of the Fairness Doctrine, national broadcast and cable networks virtually abandoned the watchdog role. In its place they offered "infotainment", managed news and highly partisan content. Free speech in the news room has become constrained by corporate interests, the profit motive and political bias.

Single Point of View Channels

The demise of the Fairness Doctrine gave rise to right wing AM talk radio, with what seems like hundreds of outlets across the country. It also birthed the Fox News channel. Representing the left side of the political spectrum is MSNBC and Free Speech TV on cable/satellite, and Sirius/XM Progress 127 on satellite radio.

I am a regular listener of Progress 127, the satellite radio broadcaster's channel devoted to left-liberal points of view. In their promotional material they characterize the channel as "progressive" and dedicated to electing Democratic candidates.

Several years ago I watched MSNBC on a regular basis. Keith Olberman, Ed Schultz and later, Rachel Maddow were solidly liberal, intelligent hosts. Perhaps too much so, because NBC jettisoned Olberman and Schultz (Later, they hired Schultz back only to dump him again). Maddow continues to be a fairly steady liberal and principled journalist but Chris Matthews is such a Clinton boot-licker he nearly single handily drove me from watching.

The problem with single point of view channels is that pronouncements are not objectively challenged by anyone who is at least as authoritative as the host. Opinions can pose as facts and lies go unchallenged by a co-equal discussant. Certainly, sometimes callers disagree with the host, at times vehemently. However, regardless of the validity of the caller's argument, he usually remains in a one down position, subject to being managed by the host who continues the call at his/her discretion. Typically, the host's position prevails.

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There are Some Responsible Hosts

Only two hosts that I have listened to do not fit that pattern. Thom Hartmann, who can be heard on Progress 127 (and many other national and international outlets) and seen on Free Speech TV, is a brilliant and mature host who actually engages with his callers and guests on an equal plain. On numerous occasions I have witnessed him have his analysis of, or position on, an issue be swayed by a caller. And he is no pushover.

The second is Ed Schultz. This example goes back a couple of years, when Ed was still on Progress 127. I was disappointed at the time because Ed's original position on the Trans Pacific Partnership was favorable. Now, Ed is a very strong worker advocate and he honestly believed that the deal would be good for American unions and workers. However, over the course of a few months Ed came around to oppose the deal as he listened to callers, who were workers and union members, make their case against the TPP.

Both of these men are not on the air simply to sell their point of view and seek validation from their audience. They engage in honest dialogue that allows for movement on both sides of the phone line.

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A lifelong progressive activist, Max's interests include fighting for social and economic justice, opposing capitalism and the corporate takeover of our government. He had been a strong supporter of Bernie Sanders for president, and co-founder (more...)
 

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