GERSON FEARS FAIRNESS DOCTRINE…. We talked the other day about far-right bloggers’ irrational fear of the re-emergence of the Fairness Doctrine. Apparently, the same paranoia has reached Washington Post columnists. Here’s Michael Gerson, warning the President-elect about moves he might make that would “trigger explosive controversy.”
The second tripwire concerns the Fairness Doctrine — a federal regulation (overturned by the Reagan administration in 1987) requiring broadcast outlets to give equal time to opposing political viewpoints. Under this doctrine, three hours of Rush Limbaugh on a radio station would have to be balanced by three hours of his liberal equivalent. This may sound fair and balanced. But it is a classic case where the “unintended consequences” are so obvious that those consequences must be intended. It would destroy the profitability of conservative talk radio and lead other outlets to avoid political issues entirely — actually reducing the public discussion of controversial issues. This kind of heavy-handed approach is a remnant of a time when public sources of information — mainly the three networks and large radio stations — were so limited that government felt compelled to guarantee balance. Given today’s proliferation of media outlets, such regulation of speech is both unnecessary and Orwellian.
During the campaign, Obama signaled that he did not support the reimposition of the Fairness Doctrine. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders are big fans of this regulation. And talk radio is already preparing for a showdown. If Obama were to endorse this doctrine, even reluctantly, the resulting fireworks would obscure every other topic.
Gerson’s work is a constant source of disappointment, but this is quite odd. He’s warning Obama not to embrace a policy that he already opposes, and which Democrats have no apparent interest in pursuing.
Indeed, the timing of Gerson’s column makes it look especially foolish — today, the LA Times ran a detailed piece explaining that no one is seriously pushing the Fairness Doctrine, it has no realistic chance of passing, and “right-wing radio” is sounding a “false alarm.”
Why would a Washington Post columnist take his cues from far-right blogs and radio shock-jocks? Why lead readers to think the Fairness Doctrine is a legitimate concern when there’s no real push for the policy in the first place?