21 April 2009

"Traditional Values Coalition" vs. "Fairness" Part 2: The Survey

Along with a self-damning cover letter that spells out exactly how much Rev. Lou Sheldon expects to profit from his latest begging campaign, his major mailing against the alleged attempt to revive the FCC "Fairness Doctrine" includes a survey for me to fill out and return to the Traditional Values Coalition, preferably with a donation of at least $15. Sheldon's stated object is to compile the results and present them to the President and Congress as proof that politicians will suffer at the polls if they attempt to "silence" reactionary radio.

The survey is pretty much the same sort that any activist group, left or right, might send you. It includes the kind of questions that have only one plausible answer, though the TVC survey actually leaves more room for diversity of opinion than, for instance, Amnesty International's do. Maybe that's why Sheldon advised respondents, "Please don't spend too much time thinking about each answer. Your answers are more valuable if you give your first instinctive response to each question."

There are 14 questions in the survey, almost all multiple choice. It starts simply enough: "What is your view of the so-called "Fairness Doctrine" as proposed by Liberal leaders in Washington?" I suppose "Liberal" is meant as a trigger word to provoke a hostile response. Your choices range from Strongly Support to Strongly Oppose, plus Undecided. I chose "Support" rather than "Strongly Support" because I partly accept the argument that today's diversity of information sources lessens the need for political diversity in every source. On the other hand, I'm not thrilled about people being able to schedule their viewing, listening or browsing to receive only those viewpoints they agree with. A fairness doctrine might expose people of all ideologies to contrasting viewpoints, so it could be a good thing.

Question 2 asks "How do you think broadcast stations will comply with this regulation?" You may predict that many will cancel reactionary talk rather than lose money by having to carry unpopular liberal shows, or that stations "will be happy to comply...even if Liberal programs lose money." Your other options are "Not Sure" and a fill-in-the-blank "Other" line. I checked off happy compliance because I deny the opposite premise.

Question 3 asks us to speculate: "What do you think is the real motive of the Liberals pushing so hard for this law?" You are allowed to suppose that Liberals "are honestly concerned with having balance on the airwaves" or that they've "found an ingenious strategy to weaken (and if possible end) Christian and conservative talk radio." I went with the first choice. We're talking about Liberals, after all.

Question 4 comes in two parts. First, we must decide whether the Fairness Doctrine is "a threat to free speech in America." If you answer Yes (I didn't), you must grade the threat as "Somewhat Serious" or "Very Serious."

Question 5 is an objective query: "How much do you listen to Rush Limbaugh?" It's either more or less than two hours, or not at all. Question 6 applies the same query to Sean Hannity.

Question 7 asks "Which of these TV news outlets do you watch the most?" Your choices are the three major broadcast networks and the three major cable news networks, but "None of these" is also available. I honestly checked MSNBC, but I'm not comfortable with admitting this, since that network's pro-Democrat talkers are increasingly obnoxious to me.

Question 8 asks "Do you think conservative talk radio...is helping or harming political debate in America?" I was tempted to say "Hurting America" based on The American Conservative's critique of the radio talkers, but because I ignore these shows rather than listen masochistically like too many liberals, I checked "Neutral."

Question 9 asks, "Regardless of your political viewpoint, do you think the government should be regulating the content of political talk shows?" I'd be surprised if anyone answered "Yes," but regulating content of individual shows is even further off the table than the Fairness Doctrine itself. To my knowledge, no one has ever suggested requiring Limbaugh to have a liberal or leftist co-host or regular correspondent.

Question 10 requires me to identify my own "political leanings." I have to choose from a spectrum of ideology ranging from "Very Conservative" to "Very Liberal," or else write something in under "Other." I wrote "Radical."

Question 11 straightforwardly asks how frequently I vote. For some reason there's an "Other" option here.

Question 12 is most clearly meant for the President's attention. It asks, "How would it affect your opinion of President Obama if he were to move forward on his own (which he has the power to do) and shut down Christian and conservative talk radio by reviving the so-called 'Fairness Doctrine?' I chose "Undecided" because I don't accept the premise that the Doctrine would shut down reactionary radio. If Obama moved in some way specifically to suppress the reactionaries, then I'd take more of a negative stand.

Question 13 dares you to trust the President: "President Obama's spokesperson claims that the Obama Administration has no plans for the so-called 'Fairness Doctrine.' But many Christian and conservative broadcasters remain unconvinced. What do you think?" You may "completely believe" Obama or "not believe" him at all, or remain "Not Sure." I checked "completely believe."

Finally, Question 14 asks if I'll add a contribution to help the TVC "STOP the so-called 'Fairness Doctrine' -- which we are calling the 'Silence Christian and Conservative Broadcasters Law?'" For a while I was actually tempted to send Sheldon 88 cents as exact compensation for the alleged expense involved in mailing me this survey. But the thought that any of that money would be wasted fighting a phantom, or would go into Sheldon's pockets, convinced me to answer "No."

There's one final cute detail. In his begging letter, Sheldon suggested $15 as a minimum donation. On the back of the survey he gives a selection of donation amounts to check off. The smallest of these is $20. On the other hand, there's a separate box which you can check to signify that you'll send a sub-minimum amount of $10. You also get to signify your understanding that Sheldon will use your money to buy newspaper and radio advertising and prepare mass e-mails. You can apparently pay by cash or check, or you can give the Traditional Values Coalition your credit card number. Somehow that does not seem like a good idea.

I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for the results of the survey. I've never seen newspaper reports of the results of all those Amnesty International surveys, and I expect the media will threat this one the same way.

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