If ObamaCare Goes Down in Flames, Will Calls for the Fairness Doctrine Return?

As each day passes and President Barack Obama's health care proposal faces more and more opposition, some of the talking heads that appear on the cable news networks are looking for a "boogeyman" to blame for allegedly ginning up backlash. And that "boogeyman" has been conservative talk radio.

However, if recent history is any indication, there could be an effort to take silence conservative talk radio.

Some of the circumstances surrounding the current debate on "reforming" health care are eerily familiar to the 2007 bipartisan effort to "reform" immigration. In fact, the last big policy issue that was defeated when an upset constituency pushed back was the bipartisan 2007 effort to reform immigration.

However, it was thwarted when people flooded the switchboards on Capitol Hill. Some pointed at the power of talk radio to command action from voters, suggesting it was time to look at the Fairness Doctrine again.

Back on June 24, 2007, in the lead up to the ultimate defeat of the Senate's efforts to reform immigration, Chris Wallace, host of  "Fox News Sunday" and Sen. Dianne Feinstein had this exchange [emphasis added]:

WALLACE: But let me ask you about yourself. Do you have a problem with talk radio, and would you consider reviving the Fairness Doctrine, which would require broadcasters to put on opposing points of view?

FEINSTEIN: Well, in my view, talk radio tends to be one-sided. It also tends to be dwelling in hyperbole. It's explosive. It pushes people to, I think, extreme views without a lot of information.

This is a very complicated bill. It's seven titles. Most people don't know what's in this bill. Therefore, to just have one or two things dramatized and taken out of context, such as the word amnesty -- we have a silent amnesty right now, but nobody goes into that. Nobody goes into the flaws of our broken system.

This bill fixes those flaws. Do I think there should be an opportunity on talk radio to present that point of view? Yes, I do, particularly about the critical issues of the day.

WALLACE: So would you revive the Fairness Doctrine?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I'm looking at it, as a matter of fact, Chris, because I think there ought to be an opportunity to present the other side. And unfortunately, talk radio is overwhelmingly one way.

WALLACE: But the argument would be it's the marketplace, and if liberals want to put on their own talk radio, they can put it on. At this point, they don't seem to be able to find much of a market.

FEINSTEIN: Well, apparently, there have been problems. It is growing. But I do believe in fairness. I remember when there was a Fairness Doctrine, and I think there was much more serious correct reporting to people.

More recently, another player in Washington, D.C. has come out voicing concerns about conservative talk radio's position in the current media marketplace. Left-wing Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., went on MSNBC's Aug. 14 "Rachel Maddow" show - as liberal a forum as could be - and complained that the media outlets on the right were drowning the message out.

"I'll tell you what else we need to do," Sanders said. "We need to understand that it is very, very hard for the president or anybody else to take on not just the Republican Party, that's the easy part - to take on all of right-wing talk radio, which covers 90 percent of talk show hosts, a whole Fox network which is nothing more than an arm of the Republican Party and the Democrats got to think long term. Why is there not a progressive television network? Why aren't we supporting good and effective personalities on radio as well and building up a network there so that we can that kind of political consciousness-raising that the Republicans, in fact, are doing so well right now."

Some members of Congress, including Sen. Debbie Stabenow, are still publicly calling for the Fairness Doctrine. And some have done it privately, according to Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. Inhofe said that then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (now Secretary of State) and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., had made references to it. But, even though it may have public and private supporters in the U.S. Senate, the Obama administration came out early on opposed to any revival of the Fairness Doctrine, as Fox News reported in February.

"As the president stated during the campaign, he does not believe the Fairness Doctrine should be reinstated," White House spokesman Ben LaBolt told FoxNews.com Feb. 18

However, Brett Joshpe, writing for the June 22 American Spectator, explained the Fairness Doctrine could still be applied to talk radio, but just under another name as stealth effort. He explained that the FCC has been discussing plans for it calls "locally-oriented programming," known as localism, to control content on conservative stations.

"If one thing is clear several months into the Obama presidency, it is that the administration is not afraid to empower bureaucrats at the expense of individuals," Joshpe wrote. "Maybe the Fairness Doctrine has, in fact, been sent to the dustbin of history, but we cannot be so sure about stealth regulations that will have a similar effect. Now more than ever, it is imperative that we carefully ask administration officials what the meaning of ‘is' is." 

Should a defeat of ObamaCare wind up being what Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. called the president's "Waterloo," it wouldn't take much for a Democratic-controlled Washington, D.C. to take another look at the Fairness Doctrine or some camouflaged version of it.