Saturday, March 07, 2009

Reinstate the Fairness Doctrine - Silence Rush Limbaugh

The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that required the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was (in the Commission's view) honest, equitable and balanced. The Fairness Doctrine should not be confused with the Equal Time rule. The Fairness Doctrine deals with matters of public importance, while the Equal Time rule deals only with political candidates. According to Steve Rendall of the progressive media criticism group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, “The Fairness Doctrine 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.”

Under FCC Chairman Mark S. Fowler, a communications attorney who had served on Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign staff in 1976 and 1980, the commission began to repeal parts of the Fairness Doctrine, announcing in 1985 that the doctrine hurt the public interest and violated free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. According to Fowler, Ronald Reagan’s White House staff opposed the revocation of the Fairness Doctrine. The staff is supposed to have told Reagan, “the only thing that really protects you from the savageness of the three networks—every day they would savage Ronald Reagan—is the Fairness Doctrine, and Fowler is proposing to repeal it!” Ronald Reagan supported the FCC decision and vetoed an effort by Congress to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. George HW Bush prevented its reinstatement in 1991 when he promised Congress that he would veto such a bill.

The revocation of the Fairness Doctrine has had an effect opposite to that feared by Reagan’s staff. Reporting by broadcasters is typically biased. Fox presents the conservative viewpoint, opposes that liberal viewpoint and attacks liberal broadcasters for misrepresenting conservatives and their views. MSNB C presents the liberal viewpoint, opposes that conservative viewpoint and attacks conservative broadcasters for misrepresenting liberals and their views. Conservatives only watch or listen to conservative broadcasters like Fox. Liberals only watch or listen to liberal broadcasters like MSNBC. Their audiences don’t get an impartial view of any issue although I’m sure that both the conservatives and the liberals believe that the broadcasters that they tune into are accurate and unbiased. I’m sure that neither is totally correct.

Revocation of the Fairness Doctrine meant that stations could broadcast editorial commentary without having to present opposing views. Daniel Henninger wrote, in a Wall Street Journal editorial, "Ronald Reagan tore down this wall (the Fairness Doctrine) and Rush Limbaugh was the first man to proclaim himself liberated from the East Germany of liberal media domination." Before the Fairness Doctrine was revoked Rush Limbaugh (aka Rusty Sharpe and Jeff Christie) was a music radio DJ. After the revocation the Rush Limbaugh show was born.

The program gained in popularity and moved to stations with larger audiences eventually growing to over 650 radio stations nationwide. When the Republican Party won control of Congress in 1994, one of the first acts by many freshmen (calling themselves the "Dittohead Caucus") was to award Limbaugh the title of "honorary member of Congress" in recognition of his support of their efforts during this period.

(The preceding is from a Wikidpedia article on Rush Limbaugh.)

It’s an understatement to say that Rush Limbaugh is the conservative star of talk radio. In 2008, Limbaugh is reported to have signed an 8-year contract extension worth $400 million.

I agree that Rush Limbaugh has the right to say whatever he wants as long as he does not promote violence against any person or group. I do think that he and others like him come as close to that line as they can. He is vulgar and insulting and I believe that this is what appeals to his audience. During yesterday’s radio show and an attack on Obama’s healthcare reform plan Limbaugh stated, “Before it's all over, it'll be called the Ted Kennedy Memorial Healthcare Bill”; a suggestion that Kennedy won’t live long enough to see Obama’s healthcare bill become law. I’ve heard many excellent descriptions of Limbaugh but my favorite is by Alec Baldwin: “he will always be nothing more than a poorly educated, marginally talented buffoon who has developed a real talent for manipulating the G-spot of the neocon consciousness and massaging the hate gland of so many economically displaced white voters in America.” However, even Alec’s description misses what is most unacceptable about Rush; many of his tactics for promoting his ideology and his candidates are corruptions of our democracy. I don’t think that he is the only person guilty of such corruption but I do believe that he has more impact than anybody else and any such corruption is, in my opinion, unconstitutional.

The Fairness Doctrine should be reinstated. No broadcaster should be allowed to air his opinion without substantiating his claims and accusations or airing the rebuttal of his opponents. The revocation of the Fairness Doctrine is the only reason that broadcasters will carry the Rush Limbaugh and that is cause enough to reinstate the doctrine. Many of the shows on Fox television would not exist or would not exist in their current form if the Fairness Doctrine was reinstated. Other shows on other stations, liberal and conservative, would be affected along with the Rush Limbaugh Show. If you can’t defend what you say via a medium that reaches millions then you shouldn’t have the right to broadcast it.

The following, from Wikipedia, are reminders of what Rush has done and will continue to do until the Fairness Doctrine is reinstated. The first citing is an example of an attempt to corrupt the democratic process during the 2008 primary elections. I consider these acts unconstitutional. I would permanently revoke any person’s or group’s access to the broadcast medium for the following or similar actions.

In an attempt to sow chaos and disunity among Democrats during a divisive primary battle, Limbaugh encouraged his listeners to vote for whoever was behind in the vote, an effort he dubbed "Operation Chaos". Limbaugh then began to advocate that his Republican listeners vote for Clinton, something the rules of the Texas primary permitted. According to a county volunteer, one voter declared "Rush Limbaugh sent me", another "I am voting for Hillary Clinton but I want to see the Democrats implode," and a great many others mentioning Limbaugh. In Ohio, Limbaugh similarly encouraged his listeners to re-register as Democrats and vote for Clinton. Although Ohio does not use an open primary, voters who change their registration must attest that they support the principles of the party to which they switch. About sixteen thousand Ohio Republicans switched parties for the election. The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections announced that, at the urging of Democrat Sandy McNair, the cross-overs would be investigated. Later, the Ohio Attorney General's office stated that it would be hard to prosecute anyone for falsifying a change of registration, because of the difficulty of proving a voter's fraudulent intent. Limbaugh has said that "The dream end of this [of Operation Chaos] is that this keeps up to the Convention, and that we have a recreation of Chicago 1968 with burning cars, protests, fire, and literal riots and all of that, that is the objective here."

On March 19, 2007 Limbaugh referred to a Los Angeles Times editorial by David Ehrenstein which claimed that Obama was filling the role of the magic negro, and that this explained his appeal to voters. Limbaugh then later played a song by Paul Shanklin, "Barack the Magic Negro," sung to the tune of Puff the Magic Dragon. Limbaugh had previously referred to Obama as "Halfrican American", a term which he also applied to actress Halle Berry. Limbaugh cited the Ehrenstein editorial, and said that the point of the comment was to highlight "race-obsessed Democrats", who had questioned whether Obama was black enough.

On January 16, 2009 Limbaugh read a letter on his radio show that he had received a request from a national print outlet:... "If you could send us 400 words on your hope for the Obama presidency, we need it by Monday night, that would be ideal." He responded, "I don't need 400 words, I need four: I hope he fails." He explained that he didn't want "absorption of as much of the private sector by the US government as possible, from the banking business, to the mortgage industry, the automobile business, to health care. I do not want the government in charge of all of these things. I don't want this to work." He continued, "what is unfair about my saying I hope liberalism fails? Liberalism is our problem. Liberalism is what's gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here." He also remarked that Obama's status as the first black U.S. President was part of the reason why there was pressure to accept his policies. Limbaugh later stated that it is President Obama's policies that he wants to see fail, not the man himself. Speaking of Obama, Limbaugh said, "He's my president, he's a human being, and his ideas and policies are what count for me." On January 27, 2009, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) created an online petition to express outrage at Rush Limbaugh for his comment, "he wanted President Obama to fail". On January 29, 2009, he followed-up his commentary with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal expressing concern about the Obama Administration's government intervention, proposing the "Obama-Limbaugh Stimulus Plan of 2009". On February 28, 2009, in a speech to CPAC, broadcast live on CNN and FOX NEWS, he addressed the controversy for a national audience. Among other things, he said, "I want Barack Obama to fail if his mission is to restructure and reform this country so that capitalism and individual liberty are not its foundation."

On March 1, 2009 CBS's "Face the Nation" asked chief-of-Staff, Rahm Emanuel: Who represented the Republican Party? He answered, it was Limbaugh. On March 2, 2009, Limbaugh responded to Rahm Emanuel. In remarks aired by CNN on March 1, 2009, Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele said that Limbaugh, is "an entertainer". Steele later telephoned Limbaugh and apologized. Limbaugh stated he would not want to run the RNC in its "sad sack state". On March 4, 2009, Limbaugh challenged President Barack Obama to a debate on his radio program, offering to pay all of Obama's expenses: travel, food, lodging, and security.

On July 14, 2003, ESPN announced that Limbaugh would be joining ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown show as a weekly analyst when it premiered on September 7. Limbaugh would provide the "voice of the fan" and was supposed to spark debate on the show. On the September 28 episode of Countdown, Limbaugh commented about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb's role in his team's 0-2 start to the season, as well as the media's coverage of McNabb: “Sorry to say this, I don't think he's been that good from the get-go. I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team.” On October 1, 2003, Limbaugh resigned from ESPN.

In his first bestseller, Limbaugh explicitly describes himself as conservative, and is sharply critical of broadcasters in many media outlets for claiming to be objective. He has loudly criticized political centrists, independents, and even moderate conservatives, claiming they are responsible for Democrat Barack Obama's victory over Republican John McCain in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election and inviting them to leave the Republican party altogether, while calling for the sincere and serious adoption of core conservative philosophies in order to ensure the survival of the Republican party.

Limbaugh is highly critical of environmentalism and climate science. Limbaugh has argued against the scientific opinion on climate change by stating that the alleged scientific consensus "is just a bunch of scientists organized around a political proposition. You can't have consensus in science... they think consensus is the way to sell it because, 'Oh, but all these wonderful people agree.’ Limbaugh has often used the term "environmentalist wacko" as a reference to left-leaning environmental advocates. As a rhetorical device, he has also used the term to refer to more mainstream climate scientists and other environmental scientists and advocates with whom he disagrees.

Limbaugh is sharply critical of feminism, saying that "Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society." He also popularized the term "feminazi", referring to radical feminists "to whom the most important thing in life is ensuring that as many abortions as possible occur."

Limbaugh supports capital punishment, having said "the only thing cruel about the death penalty is last-minute stays."

On the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal, Limbaugh said, "This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation... And we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day [referring to the U.S. Military service members]. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release?"

Limbaugh has asserted that African-Americans, in contrast with other minority groups, are "left behind" socially because they have been systematically trained from a young age to hate America through a widespread movement headed by figures such as Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers, and Barack Obama.

Limbaugh utilizes props to introduce his monologues on various topics. On his radio show, news about the homeless has often been preceded with the Clarence "Frogman" Henry song "Ain't Got No Home." For a time, Dionne Warwick's song "I Know I'll Never Love This Way Again" preceded reports about people with AIDS. These later became "condom updates" preceded by Fifth Dimension's song, "Up, Up and Away." In 1989, on his Sacramento radio show, Limbaugh performed "caller abortions" where he would end a call suddenly to the sounds of a vacuum cleaner and a scream, after which he would deny there was ever a caller, explaining that the call had been "aborted".


Averagejoe said...

Free speech is protected in the United States. Just because you don't like what's being said or agree with it, doesn't give you the right to censure it.

Joe said...

I didn't say he should be censored. I called for the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine.

Are you defending Rush or just Free Speech?

Averagejoe said...

The reinstatement of the fairness doctrine WOULD stifle free speech and censor but more importantly would give more power to beaurocrats and be left to the whim of the party in charge.

When it comes to free speech, I would defend Rush just like I would defend Olbermann.

Joe said...

It's my opinion that extremists, both liberal and conservative, should not be allowed to corrupt the democratic process by telling lies about political opponents. Anybody including candidates for public office can and often do say anything they want about their opponents. It doesn't have to be true and frequently isn't. If an individual or PAC has enough money they can saturate the broadcast and print media with false accusations, with no burden of proof and alter the outcome of an election.

The fairness doctrine does not limit what can be said, it would require the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that is honest, equitable and balanced. Fox and MSNBC could still carry O'Reilly and Olbermann as long as the content is honest, equitable and balanced.

Stations could be challenged to prove the content of their programs in addition to presenting both sides of every issue they cover. Limbaugh, Olbermann, O'Reilly and Maddow could say anything they want as long as they and their station owners are comfortable with defending their statements if they are challenged for proof. If the content of these programs is and has always been honest then the Fairness Doctrine would not be a limiting factor.

The burden of proof should be on the accuser not on the accused or the audience.

Averagejoe said...

Wrongfully defamed individuals can already sue under defamation of character statutes, so at best it's redundant.

On a side note, is there any thing in particular that you think Rush lied about? It can't be opinion. It is totally within someone's rights to say and think that Obama is a stuttering fool that is in way over his head.

Joe said...

The wrongfully defamed have often sued and won but the legal process takes too long to be of any use against false campaign ads.

If a station could lose its license to operate for repeatedly broadcasting statements whose validity cannot be proven there would a lot more truth is political advertising yet no limit on truthful statements.

I'm not opposed to negative campaign ads; I'm opposed to campaign ads that are not true whether they are false positive claims about one's self or false negative claims about one's opponent.

Most of the stations carry the statements of candidates, campaigners and political pundits without regard for truth and all too often the outcome of a race is decided by the effectiveness of the campaign lies rather than the truth.

If a candidate has enough money and a lack of ethics, he/she can successfully corrupt the democratic process. That should be unconstitutional.