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Book of Matthew: Even more panic in the Red States: Limbaugh and the Fairness Doctrine

Published: March 6, 2009
Section: Opinions

<i>PHOTO from internet source</i>

PHOTO from internet source

Heard about the Fairness Doctrine controversy lately?

Rush Limbaugh, conservative political commentator and “intellectual leader” (read: really loud voice) of the Republican Party, wants you to think that the Fairness Doctrine is coming back. On Election Day, after hearing Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) appear on Fox News to offer a defense of the Doctrine, he warned that the Democrats “are going to do everything they can” to ensure its return.

Thanks to Rush’s audience—which is about as large as his own enormous waistline (14 million listeners per week as of the end of 2008)—his claim spread rapidly in the days that followed. It was featured on countless conservative blogs, as well as on Fox News itself.

But before I get ahead of myself, I should provide some quick background information. For those of you who haven’t quite brushed up on your media history, the term “Fairness Doctrine” refers to an old FCC policy that regulated radio and television broadcasts. Established in 1949, the Doctrine had two major components. First, it required all licensed broadcasters to spend some time discussing “matters of public interest.” Second, it required those broadcasters to air “contrasting views” of each issue.

For nearly 40 years, broadcasters complied with these simple regulations. Then, the Reagan administration’s wave of deregulation hit hard. In 1985, the FCC, led by chairman Mark Fowler, released a report stating that the Fairness Doctrine was no longer working as intended. Two years later, the FCC stopped enforcement of the Doctrine altogether. From that point on, broadcasters were free to fill their airtime with whatever they wanted.

It’s an arrangement that Rush—who created “The Rush Limbaugh Show” in 1988—has used to his advantage. His unchecked conservative bias gained him quite the cult following among his own party (80% of his listeners identify as conservative), and he has been credited with assisting many Republicans win their Congressional victories in 1994.

He has fought tooth and nail to keep things that way. Several times in the years that followed the Doctrine’s demise, Congress attempted to reinstate it. Rush met each one of these attempts with stiff resistance, most notably in 1993, when he declared, “I, Rush Limbaugh, the poster boy of free speech, am being gang muzzled.” Not surprisingly, all of Congress’s attempts failed.

Which brings us back to his Election Day remarks. I have to give Rush some credit; he’s no flip-flopper on this issue. He’s never wavered in his opposition. However, consistency is not the issue here. Honesty is. And despite Rush’s claims, he has not been honest with his listeners.

Sure, there are some Democrats like Senator Schumer who would like to see the Doctrine back in full force. But that is irrelevant. If the hopes and desires of certain Democrats were all that mattered on Capitol Hill, we would have had the Doctrine back 20 years ago.

The fact of the matter is, President Obama, the leader of the Democratic Party, is opposed to the Doctrine, and because of this, Democrats in Congress have initiated no legislation calling for its return. The general consensus among party members is that they have more important issues to tackle.

If you think this whole thing is getting a bit ridiculous, you would be right. But the story isn’t finished. Apparently, despite his delusional appearance, there is a method to Rush’s madness after all.

On Feb. 26, a small amendment was added to the DC voting rights bill that was passed by the Senate. The Senator responsible was Dick Durbin (D-IL); the amendment’s purpose: “to encourage and promote diversity in communication media ownership, and to ensure that the public airwaves are used in the public interest.”

This amendment, I should point out, is not the same as the Fairness Doctrine. It won’t give the government the power to regulate content and to silence free speech. It will, however, allow the government to regulate the companies that own the airwaves, and to break up conglomerates that prevent smaller broadcasters from having their voices heard.

This is why Rush never stopped whining about the non-existent Doctrine, even after it became clear that the new Obama administration wasn’t interested in it. He is afraid (with good reason) that the government might try to break up the conglomerate that pays him his exorbitant, multi-million dollar salary. And so, for the sake of his pocketbook, he will continue to falsely portray necessary government action as something odious, something that will take away our basic rights. It’s the only way he can think of to rally the public onto his side.

Lies, deceit, and fear, all in the name of money… yes, this is the Rush Limbaugh we all know. But to be fair, a guy’s gotta eat. Especially Rush.