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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Fairness Doctrine Conspiracy Defeated!

Of all the dumb manufactured “threats” that have circulated via email and talk radio in recent years, one of the dumbest has been the repeated claim that evil bureaucrats or evil socialist politicians were on the very brink of suppressing conservative religious or secular opinions via a hoary regulation called the “Fairness Doctrine.”
For the uninitiated, the Fairness Doctrine is a relic of the 1950s and 1960s–a period when broadcast television and radio dominated American media to an extraordinary degree. The idea was that broadcasters had an obligation to present diverse points of view in their editorial expressions, meaning that in fairly egregious cases of imbalance, free time had to be offered to contrary opinions. It was never much enforced, but was bitterly resented, as you might imagine, by station owners and networks.
The Fairness Doctrine was formally repudiated by the Federal Communications Commission in 1987. The occasional politician–usually a Democrat–has talked about bringing it back, generally to rattle the cages of the talk radio industry with its complete domination by conservatives. There has been no serious threat to do so, however. And the lion’s share of the hysteria over the Fairness Doctrine has been since Barack Obama’s election, even though he made it abundantly clear during the 2008 campaign and afterwards that he opposed restoration of the Doctrine. Kevin Drum has helpfully offered up the results of a google image search of the subject, which harvested a large number of conservative cartoons inveighing against the totalitarian designs of godless liberals to use the Doctrine to suppress poor Rush and poor Sean Hannity and poor Glenn Beck, brave and helpless souls that they are. Anyone with an email account and conservative friends (or conservative friends of friends) has probably gotten alarmist messages on this same subject, many of them emanating from religious conservatives claiming the Doctrine is about to be used to ban Christian broadcasting altogether.
Yesterday the FCC expunged every vestige of the Fairness Doctrine from its regulations. Will this finally tamp down the conspiracy theories about the ongoing assault on the rights of conservatives to express their opinions? Probably not.

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