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Restore Fairness, Return to Reality

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Forget Imus. All this fuss will be just so much wasted outrage unless we use it to direct public attention to the big picture: the way the media information cartel has rigged journalism in this country. We need to agitate to break up and re-regulate the media, beginning with restoration of the fairness doctrine.


Ever since the fairness doctrine went down for good in 1986, hate and misinformation have taken over the airwaves, beginning with Rush Limbaugh on the radio and spreading to TV. As Rep. Louise Slaughter said in a 2004 interview with Bill Moyers, after fairness was defeated,



AM radio rose. It wasn't even gradual, Bill. I mean, almost immediately. And I should point out to you that when we tried to reinstate [the fairness doctrine] again in '93, one of the reasons we couldn't was that Rush Limbaugh had organized this massive uprising against it, calling it "The Hush Rush Law."



Slaughter goes on to explain that the law wouldn't have hushed Rush-that would take more than an act of Congress, I'm afraid-but it would have mandated that time be given to people who represent other sides of any issue discussed by Limbaugh. The same is true for Hannity, O'Reilly, and even Imus. They just wouldn't have the airwaves all to themselves the way they do now.


The defeat of the fairness doctrine was followed in 2000 by the defeat of two corollary FCC guidelines: the political editorial rule, which required stations that editorialized against a political candidate to notify the candidate within 24 hours and allow him or her to respond; and the personal attack rule, which required a station to notify someone within a week of a personal attack made on the air and offer them time to respond.


Ask yourself, would Orrin Hatch have lied about fired US Attorney Carol Lam-he falsely claimed she was the southern California campaign manager for the Clinton campaign and had no previous prosecutorial experience-if he knew she would be offered a comparable Sunday morning time slot to rebut his claims? Doubtful.


The roll-back of fairness tilted the broadcasting playing field heavily to the right and led directly to the rise of Fox News and hate radio. Without constraints on how to present an issue, propaganda replaced real reporting-and became wildly popular. News suddenly became revenue stream responsible for generating ratings and earnings, and the race to the bottom in network news reporting began.

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Patricia Goldsmith is a member of Long Island Media Watch, a grassroots free media and democracy watchdog group. She can be reached at
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