August 21, 2009

For some time now we have heard about the possibility of the Obama administration reinstating the Orwellian "fairness doctrine" to regulate the content of talk radio. The argument has been that radio airwaves are public, and need to be regulated in such a way as to serve the interests of the people (read government) by presenting a balanced perspective with both sides of an issue receiving equal time. Curiously, this argument has not been floated to impose a fairness doctrine on television, which also uses public airwaves, newspapers or even the internet. It has been focused solely on one small area of communications – talk radio.

It is no coincidence then, that the one area our statist administration wants to regulate happens to be the one form of media dominated by conservatives. And this being the case, it is entirely "fair" to assume the only reason the fairness doctrine or some similar measure would be implemented would be to muzzle those voices offering the loudest criticism of that administration. Since they cannot come out and say this is their goal, however, we are fed an endless stream of falsehoods and straw men, as they seek to silence their opponents while making it appear they are acting for the public good.

The latest effort has come to light through the efforts of Iowa Republican Charles Grassley, who cited a report issued by the FCC’s new "diversity director," Mark Lloyd. This report makes a case for government intervention in talk radio to correct what Lloyd calls a “structural imbalance.” Of course, to anyone with a rudimentary understanding of economics, that “structural imbalance” is easily understood as a direct function of profitability. People tune in to conservative talkers en masse, while relatively few people listen to liberal talkers. More people equates to higher ratings, which leads to increased advertising rates and thus to greater profits. Stations do not generally decide what shows they will run based on political leanings, they choose their program lineup based on ratings and profits. Hence, we hear more conservative talk shows on the radio than liberal shows as conservatives bring in the bucks.

This is not a difficult concept to grasp, yet the statists are willfully ignorant of this as they attempt to paint some broad conspiracy that has Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Glenn Beck monopolizing the airwaves while causing their liberal counterparts to fail. How they manage this is a mystery, and the statists cannot make a meaningful argument to show how this happens, but in their world, it is accepted as cannon. And thus, the only possible solution is to bring in the government to level the playing field and promote liberal talkers in radio.

This is where it is instructive to consult with our Constitution. The first Amendment to the Constitution provides, among other things, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” In plain English, the government has no authority whatsoever to regulate the content of political speech. This provision was included by our founding fathers because they wanted to ensure the U.S. government could never silence its critics; a practice some of them were victims of under the British crown. It is not just that the Constitution protects Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity’s right to express their views; it is that the First Amendment was specifically written to ensure they could have their say without fear of government reprisal. Political speech is protected speech, and especially so when that speech which goes against the sitting administration. Just ask Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, John Kerry, or any of the other Democrats who spoke out against Bush and encouraged others to do the same.

For the numerous times his political opponents called Bush "Hitler" and the Republicans fascists, at no point did they attempt to silence dissenting voices. Throughout his term of office, Bush characterized those who viciously savaged him simply as people with a “difference of opinion.” He did not call them evil, he did not attack them in the same way they ripped into him, and he never tried to shut them up or shut them down. There was no talk of imposing a fairness doctrine for television news, much of which leans leftward. There was no attempt to force Comedy Central to silence or balance Jon Stewart. It was during the Bush years that Al Gore went around calling Bush a traitor and that he helped found the failed liberal talk station Air America. It is only under the current administration that we see government officials discussing the need to step in and level the playing field in an area of the media that happens to be dominated by their adversaries.

This cannot be allowed to happen through the fairness doctrine or any other scheme. If the government can successfully dictate the content of political speech on the airwaves, a precedent is set that can then be expanded upon. Already we have seen two of the top elected Democrats in the nation, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, declare dissenters "un-American" for their demonstrations against the government seizure of health care. If they are allowed to create a “balance” in talk radio, will they then cite the structural imbalance in political activism, and use that to limit the ability of the people to carry out their Constitutionally protected right to petition and peaceably assemble? Will they move on to the internet, and require conservative run websites carry a liberal counterbalance? As we have seen time and again, once the government gets a foot in the door, it is only a matter of time before it throws that door wide open. So it is now imperative that we keep our eyes open and be ready to act at a moment’s notice should the government attempt to rein in their critics. Just because this issue is not dominating the news cycle at this time does not mean we can afford to forget about it.

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.