With recent suggestions by some in Congress to bring back the Fairness Doctrine to the radio industry, talk-show host Rush Limbaugh suggests the only way to have true fairness is to regulate what he calls the “Drive-By Media.”
“Liberals in the Senate have it half right when they talk about the lack of balance and the lack of honest reporting. They’re dead right when they talk about that. It’s just they’re wrong about where all these things are happening,” Limbaugh said today on his national program. “Let’s regulate the Drive-By Media. Let’s have a Truth Doctrine for them.”
Limbaugh uses the term “Drive-By Media” to describe most news outlets besides talk radio, including major newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today, as well as magazines and national television networks.
Previously, he used this description for them: “They are exactly like drive-by shooters, they pull up to a congested area, they spray a hail of bullets into the crowd. It causes mass hysteria, confusion, mistakes, and misinterpretation, sometimes people and their careers actually die, and then the Drive-By Media smirks and they ride away, unnoticed in the excitement. They’re never blamed, they’re never held accountable.”
Limbaugh says Americans are being manipulated by propaganda they see and hear from non-talk-radio sources, claiming “hard numbers that prove the point.”
“By any objective measure, ladies and gentlemen, our economy is one of the best in history. By any objective measure: low unemployment, record low unemployment, low inflation – at the same time! … We have a booming investment climate that’s benefiting everybody who is in the stock market. …
“Tax revenues are flooding the federal government! The federal deficit is going to be $205 billion. The “Deficit Monster” is in the process of being slain. There’s more money rolling into Washington, and at the same time affluence in the country is going through the roof like never before. These are all facts.”
Limbaugh then cited a recent poll from the American Research Group, which stated a total of 16 percent of Americans say that the national economy is getting better, 28 percent say it’s staying the same, and 55 percent believe it’s getting worse.
“This is not a measure of reality,” he said. “This is a measure of liberal Drive-By Media propaganda. …
“What these figures show is the impact of unregulated, left-wing propaganda repeated hour after hour, day after day, week after week by the unregulated Drive-By Media, the unregulated liberal newspapers, the unfettered liberal newspapers. Free speech is the lifeblood of our nation, my good friends, and if we’re going to do anything to modify it, let’s look at where the problem really is. It ain’t here on talk radio!”
In recent weeks, particularly during that immigration debate, Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Trent Lott, R-Miss.; John Kerry, D.-Mass.; Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, have all called for the Fairness Doctrine to be considered or reinstated once again.
As early as February, Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., attempted to introduce the Media Ownership Reform Act. MORA’s provisions included regulations that would prohibit consolidation and mass domination of broadcasting groups to serve the public interest. It also included the Fairness Doctrine.
Even though that quiet attempt to bring back the Fairness Doctrine failed, advocates of a more direct approach to reviving it see the potential to debate it openly and successfully in the near future.
The debate opened up wide following an interview of Feinstein on “Fox News Sunday” by Chris Wallace.
“In my view, talk radio tends to be one-sided. It also tends to be dwelling in hyperbole,” she said. “It’s explosive. It pushes people to, I think, extreme views without a lot of information.”
Pressed by Wallace about whether she is for bringing back the Fairness Doctrine, Feinstein said, “Well, I’m looking at it.”
Following that exchange, others were more direct.
“It’s time to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine,” said Durbin. “I have this old-fashioned attitude that when Americans hear both sides of the story, they’re in a better position to make a decision.”
“I think the Fairness Doctrine ought to be there, and I also think equal time doctrine ought to come back,” he said on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC. “These are the people that wiped out … one of the most profound changes in the balance of the media is when the conservatives got rid of the equal time requirements and the result is that they have been able to squeeze down and squeeze out opinion of opposing views and I think its been a very important transition in the imbalance of our public eye.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the Fairness Doctrine debate came when former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott made harsh comments about talk radio during the immigration debate – a debate in which he found himself on the losing side.
“Talk radio is running America,” he fumed, adding “we have to deal with that problem.”
Later Lott clarified his remarks to suggest the remedy he had in mind was better communication with voters, not governmentally imposed restrictions on free speech. But Lott actually has a history of support for the Fairness Doctrine.
In 1987, he opposed efforts by President Reagan and many of his own Republican colleagues to get it scrapped.
“We have unfairness now even with the Fairness Doctrine,” he said at the time. “Heaven knows what would happen without a Fairness Doctrine.”
The FCC did indeed end the Fairness Doctrine requirements in 1987. First enacted in 1949, the policy mandated that when a broadcast station presented one viewpoint on a controversial public issue, it must also counter with the opposing viewpoint. Repealed by a vote of 4-0, it was concluded the Fairness Doctrine had begun to inhibit political discourse rather than enhance it.
Congress tried to reinstate the doctrine but President Reagan vetoed the attempt. Again in 1991, another attempt to revive the doctrine failed when then-President George H. W. Bush threatened a veto.
Before 1967, the principles that make up the Fairness Doctrine were applied selectively. But that year the doctrine was incorporated into the rules of the FCC. The constitutionality of the Fairness Doctrine was initially upheld by the Supreme Court in Red Lion Broadcasting v. FCC, but a series of later court rulings – Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tormillo and FCC v. League of Women Voters – pushed in the other direction.
Maybe the most surprising development in the most recent kerfuffle over the Fairness Doctrine were those in the public eye – including some elected officials – who clearly had no idea what the debate was all about.
“Fairness Doctrine – I’m all for it, whatever it is,” he said. “I think everyone should be open to show the other side. That’s what you do every night on Fox. That’s great!”
When Hannity reminded Voinovich the Fairness Doctrine would establish government regulatory bureaucracies to enforce this balance, Voinovich quickly retreated.
“The Fairness Doctrine,” he fidgeted. “Hmmm. Let me think about that one. I haven’t thought too much about that. Come back to that question later.”