Liberals are losing no time exploiting the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to weaken talk radio, Fox News and other obstacles to their total domination of the dispersal of information by resurrecting a relic of pre-Internet regulation of political speech: the Fairness Doctrine.
The Federal Communications Commission's package of regulations for broadcasters, which once required radio and television stations to provide opposing viewpoints, was jettisoned by the Reagan Administration in 1987.
In the computer age of the early 21st century, when anyone can blog or have a website and write or post to YouTube political diatribes that are then read or watched by tens or even hundreds of thousands of people, a Fairness Doctrine is as obsolete as Atari's Pong video game.
Democratic leaders in Congress and other liberals think otherwise, however. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the third-ranking House Democratic leader, chillingly suggested on Monday that "the shooting is cause for the country to rethink parameters on free speech." The former Congressional Black Caucus chief is pushing to enact a modern version of the Fairness Doctrine.
Clyburn is not alone. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman was one
of the first to blame conservatives like Sarah Palin for the shooting of Giffords, the shooting dead of federal Judge John Roll and five others, and the injuring of over a dozen more by a deranged U.S. flag-burning aficionado of "The Communist Manifesto." Like Clyburn, Krugman wants a new Fairness Doctrine to reshape talk radio and other media where the right has made inroads.
In an interview with the Online Review of Books & Current Affairs during the George W. Bush administration, Krugman said, "I would like to see the Fairness Doctrine return. Beyond that, we need some organized pressure to demand actual fairness in the media."
Krugman added: "For whatever reason, talk radio, which has become a major force in American politics, is overwhelmingly and outrageously right wing, so we need a counterweight."
President Obama was thinking about more aggressive FCC regulation of
speech at the very start of his administration. As Newsmax's Dave Eberhart reported in February, 2009, Obama senior adviser David Axelrod "indicated that the administration is mulling whether the controversial Fairness Doctrine will get a new lease on life," according to media industry sources.
The following month, CNS News reported that then-House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi backed an amendment to a Senate bill explicitly directing the FCC to "take actions to encourage and promote diversity in communication media ownership and to ensure that broadcast station licenses are used in the public interest."
It was around the same time when Newsmax's Jim Meyers reported that
Michigan "Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow says she wants hearings on
'accountability' in radio, suggesting Democrats are eying a return of the Fairness Doctrine."
Liberal radio host Bill Press had asked Stabenow if she favored bringing back the Fairness Doctrine. Stabenow answered, "I think it's absolutely time to pass a standard. Now, whether it's called the Fairness Standard, whether it's called something else - I absolutely think it's time to be bringing accountability to the airwaves."
As chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, a conduit between Senate Democrats and community leaders
throughout the country, Stabenow may have an especially influential role in promoting a new Fairness Doctrine.
The previous November, as Democrats enjoyed historic electoral victories, Meyers reported in Newsmax that Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer not only hinted at a return of the Fairness Doctrine, but compared talk radio of pornography.
"The very same people who don't want the Fairness Doctrine want the FCC to limit pornography on the air," Schumer told Fox News, adding that "you can't say government hands off in one area to a commercial enterprise but you are allowed to intervene in another. That's not consistent."
One unusual wrinkle in the intensifying debate on whether heated political rhetoric can be linked to deranged violence, and if government should step in, is that Rep. Clyburn's daughter is an FCC commissioner. At her Senate confirmation hearings, Mignon Clyburn testified that she opposed the FCC attempting to achieve balance in broadcast and cable news and information in "any way, shape or form."
The most powerful Democrats have long yearned to regulate the most effective sources of information and diminish conservative's growing
dominance in radio and cable. The coming weeks will reveal whether the taking of life in Arizona leads to the taking of First Amendment liberties in Washington.
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