It was thirty years ago this week that the FCC, wanting to “extend to the electronic press the same First Amendment guarantees that the print media have enjoyed since our country’s inception,” abandoned the Fairness Doctrine. Some liberals hoped that the Obama administration would retrieve it, but that didn’t happen. That was too bad, indicated The Washington Monthly’s D.R. Tucker in a Monday post. Getting rid of the doctrine, Tucker claimed, was a “destructive” move and “a shamefully successful effort to divide our public airwaves along partisan lines, a choice that made a few people rich while impoverishing our democracy.”
In Tucker’s view, Ralph Nader’s suggestion that the abolition of the doctrine would help conservatives proved “prophetic, as just under a year later…Rush Limbaugh’s Sacramento, California-based radio program was syndicated nationwide…and talk-radio stations across the country soon began to run right-wing agitprop from dawn to dusk, flooding the public airwaves with shameless demonization of Democrats and progressives -- and helping to create the media/political culture that allowed a candidate as vulgar as Donald Trump to seize control of the White House last November.”
The doctrine mandated that broadcasters “afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views of public importance.” Tucker’s not surprised that principle didn’t sit well with “those who dreamed of having the public airwaves broadcasting only Republican talking points.” He went on:
That dream has largely been realized (no, for the final time, NPR is not a progressive alternative to right-wing radio). Limbaugh himself damaged the right-wing radio racket five years ago after he attacked reproductive-rights advocate Sandra Fluke, but the atrocious arguments advanced on right-wing radio since the late-1980s took hold with millions of American voters -- and when Trump ran as the talk-radio candidate, those voters were willing to move heaven and earth to put him into the White House.
The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine hurt this country. That one action gave us three decades of radio programs that recklessly reaffirmed prejudices, smeared Democrats so thoroughly that some parts of this country have now seemingly become off-limits for the party, and set Americans at each other’s throats. Some legacy, eh?