White House Press Secretary Tony Snow

The White House doesn’t think the so-called Fairness Doctrine is needed, but it won’t be making many comments about individuals or groups who are lobbying for it, according to spokesman Tony Snow.

He’s said before that President Bush doesn’t believe the plan, which was federal policy for decades, is needed any longer. But he expanded on that comment yesterday, when asked to by Les Kinsolving, WND’s correspondent at the White House.

“Since you are the only White House Press Secretary who has ever been a talk radio host, I wanted to ask you about your reaction to an organization called Media Matters for America, which is financially supported by George Soros and is campaigning for returning the so-called Fairness Doctrine,” Kinsolving asked.

“Our views on the Fairness Doctrine are well known, which we don’t think it’s necessary,” Snow said. “I’m not going to comment on Media Matters because I haven’t seen their ads.”

Media Matters’ website describes the organization as a “web-based, not-for-profit …. progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.”

It says it hunts for “conservative misinformation – news or commentary that is not accurate, reliable, or credible and that forwards the conservative agenda…”

“What is the White House reaction to former conservative David Brock, who founded Media Matters for America, which has denounced talk show hosts Limbaugh, Savage, O’Reilly, Beck, Forts, Gibson, and Smerconish, among others?” Kinsolving asked in a follow-up question.

“I’m not going to get into David Brock-dissing,” Snow said.

The Fairness Doctrine was the policy that demanded that broadcast outlets give various political perspectives equal time.

Snow earlier told WND that Bush is not fan of the idea.

But several members of Congress have been pushing for a return to the old days.

“It’s time to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., 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,” Sen. John Kerry 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 plan to reinstate it.

That effort 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 has voted 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.

Do you have a tough question you’d like to ask the White House? WND’s MR. PRESIDENT! forum is your big chance.


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