White House Press Secretary Tony Snow
A number of prominent congressional leaders have begun adding the Fairness Doctrine, the long-discontinued policy that required broadcast outlets to give various political perspectives equal time, to their wish list, but they’ll get no help from President Bush, his White House spokesman said.
Tony Snow was responding to a question from Les Kinsolving, WND’s correspondent at the White House, in a special interview yesterday.
WND had asked: “Does the president agree with Sens. [Dick] Durbin [D-Ill.] and [John] Kerry, [R-Mass.] that there is a need for the restoration of the so-called Fairness Doctrine?”
“No. The president believes there’s no need to restore the Fairness Doctrine,” Snow told WND.
That conflicts directly with those in Congress who apparently are advocating for more government regulation of the content of genres such as talk radio.
“It’s time to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine,” Durbin has said. “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.”
Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., a former radio talk-show host, has been leading the opposition to the Fairness Doctrine chorus, arguing that the Federal Communications Commission should not reinstate the plan, which sometimes has been called the “the Hush Rush bill” because of its preoccupation with conservative talk radio as epitomized by nationally syndicated stars Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage and Laura Ingraham.
Others who have advocated for the return of the policy have included Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Trent Lott, R-Miss.; and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.
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.
“In my view, talk radio tends to be one-sided. It also tends to be dwelling in hyperbole,” Feinstein told “Fox News Sunday’s” Chris Wallace. “It’s explosive. It pushes people to, I think, extreme views without a lot of information.”
According to a Heritage Foundation report, President Richard Nixon, facing a hostile press, used the Fairness Doctrine as part of a systematic campaign of harassment of radio and TV stations considered unfriendly to his administration. But he wasn’t the first.
Bill Ruder, an assistant secretary of commerce in President John F. Kennedy’s administration, candidly recalled the way the doctrine was used in the early 1960s.
“We had a massive strategy to use the fairness doctrine to challenge and harass the right-wing broadcasters, and hope the challenge would be so costly to them that they would be inhibited and decide it was too expensive to continue,” he explained in Fred Friendly’s 1976 book, “The Good Guys, the Bad Guys and the First Amendment.”
That strategy was developed in 1962 when Kennedy’s plans for approval of a nuclear test ban treaty by the U.S. Senate were facing sustained attack from opposition broadcasters.
In the 1964 presidential campaign, President Lyndon Johnson and his Democratic machine prepared a kit explaining “how to demand time under the Fairness Doctrine.” The campaign produced 1,035 letters to stations and 1,678 hours of free air time for the Democrats, playing, in the eyes of the practitioners, no small part in Johnson’s landside defeat of Sen. Barry Goldwater.
While the House of Representatives voted last month 309-115 to deny federal funds to implement the Fairness Doctrine, the action is significant only through 2008. Should Democrats maintain control of both houses of Congress and gain control of the White House, the prospects are good for reintroduction and passage of the Fairness Doctrine.
The FCC ended 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.
In a second question, WND asked: “Since the president with all his other duties remains head of the Republican Party and will attend that party’s national convention next year, and since both Democrat presidential candidates Clinton and Obama were taped saying they wish the presidential candidates were smaller in number, question, does the president agree or disagree with them?”
“The president has no thoughts…. As president of the United States it’s his job to handle the executive authority of the federal government. The electoral process is something where voters are going to have their say in. You know as well as I do that sooner or later voters make a pretty quick call on which candidates are going to make it and which are not,” Snow said.
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