Friday, November 28, 2008

Fairness Doctrine Paranoia

There has been non-stop noise all over right wing talk radio and the conservative blogosphere since the election about how the evil, socialistic Democrats are going to re-institute the Fairness Doctrine through congressional legislation now that Barack Obama will be our next president; the only problem is: they seem to be the only ones talking about it:

Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and other friends have spent the past year screaming about the horrors of Barack Obama. And, while it's true that they talked ad nauseam about socialism and the Weathermen and Jeremiah Wright, careful listeners would have noticed a recurring theme of anxiety: that Obama was going to use the newly acquired levers of government to destroy them. Specifically, conservative paranoia over the possible reinstatement of the "fairness doctrine," a defunct policy requiring that broadcasters allow opposing points of view to be heard over the airwaves, has reached a fevered pitch. In September, George Will was warning his readers that, "[u]nless McCain is president, the government will reinstate the ... 'fairness doctrine.'" In October, The Wall Street Journal's editorial page chimed in, predicting that under the spooky-sounding "liberal supermajority," the fairness doctrine was "likely to be reimposed," with the goal being "to shut down talk radio and other voices of political opposition." And, two weeks before the election, the New York Post blasted: "Dems Get Set to Muzzle the Right."

On Election Day, conservatives found a new bogeyman in Senator Chuck Schumer, after Fox News host Bill Hemmer cornered him about the issue on the air. Schumer just smirked: "I think we should all try to be fair and balanced, don't you?" Rush Limbaugh seized on Schumer's comments as evidence that the Democrats would "do everything they can" to bring the doctrine back. Two days after the election, National Review's Peter Kirsanow tried to rally the troops to preempt the return of the policy. "Waiting until Inauguration Day to get geared up is too late. By that time the Fairness Doctrine Express will be at full steam--wavering Democrats will be pressed to support the new Democratic president, weak-kneed Republicans will want to display comity, the mainstream media will not be saddened to see talk radio annihilated and much of the public will be too enraptured by Obama's Camelot inauguration to notice or care."

To figure out who was causing such agitation, I went searching for the proponents of the fairness doctrine. I looked at Obama's position--and it turns out that he doesn't want the policy reinstated. Then I called the array of Democratic congressmen who had been tagged by conservatives as doctrine proponents. But they all denied any intention to push for its reinstatement. As some of the world's great egotists, it's not surprising that Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly believe they would be the first political prisoners interned in an Obama administration. But, the more I searched for actual evidence of the doctrine's return, the more I had to conclude that Schumer was just messing with their heads.

It seems pretty obvious to me that Shumer was indeed just fucking with them ("fair and balanced"=duh!) and at first glance these people rightfully seem like paranoid schizophrenics with persecution complexes, until you realize how they work: they have always and will always require an enemy; more to the point, they need some kind of amorphous bogeyman that they can rail against to their equally paranoid listeners and readers in the guise of fighting for their free speech rights, as if they actually care about the moral principles involved.

They don't oppose the doctrine out of any kind of elevated conscientiousness (in fact, they're constantly misinterpreting it's intent by confusing it with the Equal-time rule), they just want to make sure that they hang on to their own little pieces of the media money pie while the Republican party attempts to regroup and realign itself. Add to this the fact that lacking any realistic policy positions while demonizing an Obama administration and praying for the return of Ronald Reagan is hardly a positive, consensus-building party platform, so they have to remind their base at all times of the need to be very afraid of everything the new administration does from here on out, constantly looking over their shoulders and searching the corners for that encroaching liberal oppression that never seems to arrive.

I personally don't think there is any more need for the Fairness Doctrine in the 21st century media environment and neither have I heard anyone of importance on the left seriously suggesting that it should be any kind of priority for the next administration; let's face it: the failures of the last eight years have left Obama and team with more than enough problems to keep them busy for the immediate future, and then some. But as always it's easier for the right wing talking heads to knock down spooky straw men than to actually use their minds and engage in meaningful debate and policy making; it's one of the reasons that Limbaugh, O'Reilly and Hannity are the fantastically wealthy and successful scare merchants they are today. Bray on, assholes.

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