Monday, July 02, 2007

The Fairness Doctrine my be doctrine, but it's not fair

Sunday's Oakland Press explored the now-much-discussed resurrection of "The Fairness Doctrine" between two opinion columns. Rich Lowry wrote against the mis-named rule's return by stating the obvious, that conservative talk shows are successful because people listen to them. If liberal talk was a profitable enterprise then perhaps Air America, the gravitational center of liberal talk, might be more profitable.

Arguing in favor of the doctrine's return was nationally syndicated radio host Bill Press. As he puts it, ".. for every one hour of liberal talk broadcast, there were eight hours of right-wing propaganda." Mr. Press, hardly a disinterested advocate for liberal talk radio, seems to believe the public would be best served if every "controversial" political topic received as much spin from the liberal perspective as they do from conservatives. Of course, his argument avoids the inconvenient truth that commercial radio operates inside the free market system, and more people simply choose to listen to conservative shows than choose to listen to liberal ones.

Regardless, liberals' idea of fairness has to do with force-feeding more liberal doctrine on radio audiences than listeners have otherwise tuned-in to. But if they really wanted to be fair, as the doctrine's name suggests, why wouldn't they insist on equal time for socialists and libertarians as they demand for Democrats? What about the Green Party, Communist Party, or Worker's Party?

Heck, Mitch Albom has a two-hour show every afternoon from 5-7PM. WJR cuts-short Sean Hannity's show to make room for him. I've often wished that instead of Mitch's regular side-kick, Ken Brown, that I could have a mic -- either to counter Mitch's naivety or to hit him upside the head. That would be equal time (for me), but I'm not who listeners want to hear (not yet, anyway).

Toyota outsells Volvo, Windows outsells Apple, and Amazon outsells King's Used and Rare Books. I expect Volvo, Apple, and King's would each like the government to require their products be purchased in equal quantities to the market leaders. If it did, then they'd be relieved the burden of making their products competitive-enough for the public to choose them willingly. With The Fairness Doctrine, they'd be compelled to make their purchases "fairly."

But that's not what the free market is about. Ideas, like cars, operating systems, and books, must succeed or fail by the rules of capitalism. Or at least that's how it's supposed to work in The United States of America. Rumor has it capitalism works that way in Canada, the UK, and many other places as well.

Of course, if Democrats are really committed to The Fairness Doctrine, I expect them to push for it in Venezuela and North Korea as passionately as they seem to be advocating for it here.

Democrats are not about leveling the playing field to make things fair for all political parties. They only want it made more fair for themselves--which is to say their commercial radio hosts can't compete without government intervention.

If nothing else Democrats are consistent. Having failed the equal-opportunity test they promote a "fairness doctrine" to guarantee equal-outcome. Equal-outcome doesn't require that the skills are possessed, the experience had, the work done, or the tests passed. Equal-outcome doesn't reward hard work or risk taking, it rewards failure. Equal outcome dilutes success by meting it out in equal proportions so that no one's success can be greater than any other's. When that's the case, what becomes the measure of success?

Personally, I wouldn't bother watching a sporting event if there wasn't going to be a winner.
I wouldn't listen to Rush Limbaugh if I didn't find him simultaneously interesting and entertaining. I don't like listening to Sean Hannity because his manor seems arrogant and his arguments shallow. However, I keep listening to Al Sharpton, Mitch Albom and reading Free Press editorials not because they're persuasive, but because I find their rationalizations fascinating, and when they do say or write something I agree with I savor both the sense of surprise and the pride for having been there when it happened.


  1. So it shouldn't be a concern that nearly all radio stations in major US markets are owned by Clear Channel, Viacom/CBS and Cumulus?

    ...and that nearly 80% of Clear Channel executives' political contributions go Republican?

    ...or that even Sumner Redstone, of Viacom, said this: "I don't want to denigrate Kerry," he went on, "but from a Viacom standpoint, the election of a Republican administration is a better deal. Because the Republican administration has stood for many things we believe in, deregulation and so on. The Democrats are not bad people. . . . But from a Viacom standpoint, we believe the election of a Republican administration is better for our company."

    ...or that Cumulus Media country stations banned the Dixie Chicks after their controversial statements?

    What needs to be fair is not to allow the ownership and control of publicly-owned airwaves to concentrate in the hands of a only a few people - whether those people be conservative or liberal. You think that if the Kerry-Heinz family and the Kennedys owned all the radio stations that it would still sound the same?

  2. "What needs to be fair is not to allow the ownership and control of publicly-owned airwaves to concentrate in the hands of a only a few people.."

    Concentration of media ownership is a separate debate with its own remedies independent of "the fairness doctrine."

    The more interesting question might be what talk radio looked like before 1996. Did conservative hosts and hours on the radio still exceed liberal hosts?

    Does people really think that if there were a lot of money to be made from liberal shows that there wouldn't be more of them? Are liberal hosts really competing with conservative hosts or are they competing with ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other less conservative media outlets?

    There are more questions than there are answers, but I don't expect anyone to spend much time pondering them when there are political points to be made.