27 February 2009

"Fairness" is Forbidden: The Rush Limbaugh Protection Act of 2009

Conservative radio talkers can sleep at night. The U.S. Senate, a Democratic Party-dominated body, voted 87-11 in favor of a Republican bill that forbids the Federal Communications Commission from ever reviving the "Fairness Doctrine," the old rule that required radio and TV stations to air opposing points of view on controversial subjects. I remember seeing it in action when I was a kid, back when local stations would occasionally do on-air editorials. On many occasions these were followed by replies from people who disagreed with the station's stance. Now the issue is whether a station that airs a talk or call-in show of one partisan or ideological viewpoint should be obliged to air another of the opposite view. The problem seems to be that stations have adopted ideological identities as a marketing strategy, so that an obligation to political diversity would undermine their identity and hurt their bottom lines. The conservative talkers spread a notion that restoring the Fairness Doctrine would mean that the likes of Rush Limbaugh, no matter how popular they are, would be driven off the air. This was absurd as the belief that Democrats really wanted to reinstate the doctrine. It was a typical case of reactionary ego-driven paranoia on the part of people who need to believe that they are being persecuted. That need won't go away now that the Fairness Doctrine has been banished. I already hear talk about how the Democrats will destroy conservative talk radio by pressing the FCC to enforce more "localism," i.e. require stations to air more home-grown content. While this sounds like a good thing from an objective point of view, and would not exclude the hiring of local conservative talkers, it is again portrayed as a conspiracy by the hateful liberals to take the big dogs like Rush off the air. At some point, conservatives ought to realize that Limbaugh and his ilk, the Wal*Marts of talk radio, are less interested in defending conservative opinion as such than in preserving their own privileged positions in the broadcasting hierarchy. If conservatism has any popularity, it will continue to thrive on radio long after Limbaugh is gone. Why defend Limbaugh, then, unless these poor fools actually believe that Rush is a leader of their movement? Are they conservatives or "Limbaughts," or maybe "Rushans?" Is it fair to ask that question, or will Congress stop me in turn?

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