Fairness Doctrine, R.I.P.

It seems almost quaint in retrospect. In the first two months of the Obama presidency, with the global economy still teetering on the brink of collapse, Republicans were preoccupied with a threat that didn’t exist: the return of the Fairness Doctrine.

Everyone from George Will to Dick Morris, National Review to the RNC, all said Democrats would very likely use their new power to impose strict new broadcast rules that would invariably kill the Republican Media Machine.

The apoplexy was terribly silly. Not only were there more important things to worry about, but Democrats had no intention of pursuing the policy that hadn’t been enforced in decades. The GOP freak-out was based on a largely imaginary threat.

As Republicans may have noticed, their cries were misplaced, and Democrats never made any effort to restore the policy. In fact, this week, the Obama administration scrapped the Fairness Doctrine altogether.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski called this perennial debate a “distraction” in a Monday statement on the commission’s site, in which he announced the elimination of the Doctrine and 82 other “obsolete” rules. […]

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee were quick to applaud the rule’s demise on Tuesday. […]

Of course, despite all the breathless reaction, the death of the Fairness Doctrine, which hasn’t been enforced in 20 years, is largely symbolic. “As I have said, striking this from our books ensures there can be no mistake that what has long been a dead letter remains dead,” Genachowski wrote on Monday. “The Fairness Doctrine holds the potential to chill free speech and the free flow of ideas and was properly abandoned over two decades ago.”

Dylan Matthews had a good piece detailing the history of the Fairness Doctrine, which is certainly worth checking out.

But the larger point to keep in mind is this: it’s gone. The Republicans who were hyperventilating about this were wasting their energy. I don’t doubt the conspiracy-minded activists on the right will be reluctant to believe the news — “Obama only wants us to think he’s scrapped the Fairness Doctrine to lull us into a false sense of security” — but for the rest of us, the debate is officially over.