The liberals' problem with Freedom of Speech: Why Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Michael Savage are correct on the Fairness Doctrine.

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Hey, that's one way to keep him off the OxyContin...

It's a rare event when I agree with the likes of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, and so on. But when it comes to liberals and prominent Democrats who want to revive the so-called "Fairness Doctrine," the now-20-year-dead policy of the FCC mandating that TV and radio stations using the public airwaves give opposing viewpoints equal time on controversial topics, I have to stand with the wing-nuts (sigh), as much as I may oppose them on everything else they espouse.

Now that the Dems have taken back Congress, there's a lot of talk from big gun Dems like Sen. John Kerry, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. John Dingell, Rep. Edward Markey, Rep. Dennis "Kooky" Kucinich, and others that talk radio, which is mostly right-wing, needs to be reined in because it's all one-sided and so skews the debate on important issues like immigration reform, the war in Iraq and so on. Bringing back the Fairness Doctrine, which was drummed out of existence by the Reagan administration back in 1987, would allow both sides of an issue to be heard, counter disinformation, and help check the consolidation of the media into fewer and fewer hands.

Talk radio's critics are correct when they point out that the industry blocks out certain viewpoints. I've experienced this myself when I've called into talk radio shows with an opposing viewpoint and not been allowed on the air. But when I call in pretending to agree with the host, I'm always green-lighted by the show's screener. Despite a few strident liberal voices, most of talk radio is right-wing. Though the Fairness Doctrine would hypothetically apply to TV too, make no mistake, it's right-wing talk radio that the liberals really want to muzzle. Rep. Louise Slaughter, a tireless proponent of FD's reinstatement by Congressional fiat, has stated that she would like to see FD applied to all of cable Television, and presumably to other forms of media, like satellite radio, perhaps even the Internet.

It's a slippery slope, and I think you can see where I'm going with this. Could feminists demand equal time from those who broadcast Tom Leykis, say, or from Sirius radio for Howard Stern's show? I don't see why not, if the FD is reinstituted and expanded in the manner Slaughter has proposed. (On the flip side, I reckon wing-nuts could look forward to free airspace from NPR and Air America, though they don't really need it.) Previously the argument was that the public airwaves belong to everyone, that no one "owns" them, so speech can be regulated on them, an exception to the First Amendment's prohibition on Congress passing any law "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." Actually, the Fairness Doctrine was not even a law in the past, it was an FCC rule. But once the FCC dropped FD, Dems tried and failed to codify FD into law. And they will likely attempt so again, especially if they win the White House in '08. Any such legislation would be vetoed by Bush in the interim, and the Dems don't have the votes to override that veto.

In late June, the House voted overwhelmingly to block any federal funding of the Fairness Doctrine through the end of 2008. However, as Cliff Kincaid, a columnist for the conservative organization Accuracy in Media recently pointed out, this was a temporary move, which even if it passes the Senate, "would do absolutely nothing to stop a Democratic president and Congress from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine." And broadening it, I might add.

Though I'm as liberal as AZ is hot in August, I tend to agree with Rush Limbaugh when he states,

We're dealing with a whole different environment than we were throughout the Eighties. Back then talk radio didn't have nearly the kind of audience it has today. We've got an army of millions of American voters that won't put up with it. We've got 2,000 radio talk show stations, or radio stations doing talk in this country. There's more divergent opinion in this country than ever, with the Internet. The idea that radio needs to be singled out is not going to fly.

Ultimately, I don't think it will fly either. Talk radio wields too much power in this country to allow itself to be neutered in this fashion, but I do believe the Dems will make a push for it, and I will oppose it. Why? Because I've learned the hard way that my fellow Dems are just as likely as Republicans to suppress speech that annoys, angers or offends them. For example, there's a strong, radical trend in the feminist movement that wishes to ban all pornography and any images or words that supposedly "harm" women. Such FemiNazis'd do away with Howard Stern and Hustler magazine tomorrow if they could. And it's not just extremist feminists. Look at the outcry over Michael Richards, the firing of Don Imus, and the NAACP's mock funeral for the N-word. All of these indicate a support for censorship on the left. Locally, legislators like Kyrsten Sinema wanted to ban trucker mud-flaps this year that were deemed sexist. Mud flaps? You know who defeated that unconstitutional bull? Local Republicans.

I know it sounds counterintuitive. My own old-school definition of liberalism includes a vigorous defense for speech that I despise. For instance, though I have frequently and will continue to denounce local white supremacists and argue that they must be battled at every step, I cannot get behind the efforts of certain local Hispanic groups who want to boycott businesses like Bashas that advertise on right-wing stations like KFYI. Certainly, pro-immigrant groups are free to do so, but such boycotts can have a chilling effect on speech if the owner of the targeted media outlet is willing to kowtow to such complaints.

Crackpots both on the left and the right have targeted me, demanded my resignation, and asked that merchants pull ads because of things I've written. Fortunately, I work for a place right now that has never asked me to censor or water-down my opinions. But I'm in a fortunate position. Whether animal rights activists or neo-Nazis are pissed at me, New Times allows them to comment, but does not allow them to get their way. In other words, New Times prints letters calling me an a-hole and urging my head be lopped off and placed on a pike. But the owners are not going to let a rabid minority dictate the content of their paper, nor should they, even if it wasn't my hide on the line.


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