Obama and the Fairness Doctrine


By Dennis Loo
In Salon.com on February 18, 2009 columnist Alex Koppelman writes the following in a story entitled: "Can We Stop Talking About the Fairness Doctrine Now?"
"For months now, the right has been in a frenzy over the supposedly imminent return of the Fairness Doctrine, an old FCC regulation that mandated equal time for opposing viewpoints on public airwaves. Recent statements by a handful of Democrats who said they support the idea of reinstituting the rule, or something like it, have only fueled conservatives' fear that liberals are planning to censor talk radio and the Internet.
"Of course, as I've pointed out before, the chance the doctrine will actually make a comeback is right around nil, as it has been since the first time this became an issue, back in the Clinton administration. Certainly the Legislative Branch is decidedly unlikely to do anything -- when I asked him about it in 2007, Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told me, 'To be honest, I barely even know what it is.' (A quote Manley gave to the conservative Washington Times earlier this year was even better; he told the paper, 'We have enough real problems facing this country that we don't need to invent ones that don't exist.')
"So lately conservatives have been focusing on President Obama and the FCC as the instrument through which the Fairness Doctrine will make its inevitable comeback -- nevermind that it didn't happen during former President Bill Clinton's eight years in office. But on Wednesday, a spokesman for Obama made clear that the administration has no such plans, telling FoxNews.com, 'As the president stated during the campaign, he does not believe the Fairness Doctrine should be reinstated.'
"Unfortunately, the latest news is unlikely to put an end to all this manufactured outrage..."
What Koppelman is doing here, of course, is aiming his fire at the GOP for making a mountain out of a molehill and he is congratulating Obama for his opposition to the Fairness Doctrine. But in "defending" Obama against the right-wing crazies, what Alex misses completely is the essence of what's going on.


The news isn't that the right-wing are worried about the Fairness Doctrine's restoration. They are, in fact, right to be worried about it because it does, in fact, pose a major threat to their influence.
The news here is that the Democratic Party and Obama in particular are opposed to the Fairness Doctrine. That is a HUGE problem.
Obama's and the Democratic Party leadership's opposition to the Fairness Doctrine (or utter ignorance about the FD) is as clear a sign as any of the nature of the Democratic Party circa 2009 vs. the New Deal Democratic Party. It is as clear a sign as any of how much like the GOP the current Democratic Party is. It is as clear a sign as any of why the solutions to the problems of our day will not come from following the lead of either the Democratic or Republican leadership and why the people must strike out in another, independent, direction and create a powerful mass movement in the people's and humanity's interest. 
The Fairness Doctrine, believe it or not, is actually properly named. It isn’t about censorship. It is the opposite of this. 
This is the letter that I posted at Salon in response to Alex's column: 
You've missed the point Alex
I'm amazed that you and many of the others who've posted comments here don't recognize the critical importance of the Fairness Doctrine, which for people like Reid's spokesman Jim Manley who says he doesn't even know what it is (shocking in its own right), is the 1949 law that requires broadcasters to air contrasting viewpoints.
As David Brock notes in his book, The Republican Noise Machine, the groups who pushed successfully for the Fairness Doctrine's repeal included the Heritage Foundation, NCPAC's (Nat'l Conservative Political Action Committee) Terry Doln, Richard Mellon Scaife's Landmark Legal Foundation and the so-called "Freedom of Expression Foundation" which "received money from the communications, tobacco, and beer industries, and from the Olin Foundation and Rupert Murdoch." The FEF was headed up by Craig Smith, former National Republican Senatorial Committee official who later served on the Bush Transition Team in 1988.
Getting rid of the Fairness Doctrine was absolutely crucial to the rise of the right-wing media empire. Fox News and right-wing talk hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage wouldn't exercise the influence that they do now and many of them probably would not exist as broadcasters (or only as very fringe "journalists") because they would be forced under the Fairness Doctrine to provide opposing views on their shows. This would, of course, destroy their ability to make up stuff and shamelessly distort. They can only influence the political landscape as much as they do because they don't have to be exposed to contrasting views on the spot. The Fairness Doctrine's restoration would be the equivalent in the political arena of having tobacco ads aired side-by-side with anti-tobacco ads.
The fact that Obama is opposed to restoring the Fairness Doctrine isn't the good news. It's the VERY bad news.
Reviving the Fairness Doctrine would probably be the single most important and effective means of curbing the power of the right wing extremists in this country. It would mean far, far more than any Democratic electoral victories (the significance of which pales, especially when you consider how very little different Obama is showing himself to be from the Bush White House) because it would mean that the frames that dominate the public policy arena that are now shaped profoundly by right-wing media outlets - which the rest of the mass media and the Democratic parties feel impelled to mollify and make concessions to, accepting as they do the major interpretive frames advanced by the right wing media and the GOP - would be dramatically altered.