Will FCC's elimination of the Fairness Doctrine convince conservatives Obama's not reviving it?
It happens often enough, that there should be a name for it: a political fight that at least one side never really wants to win.
The more cynical among us might look at efforts to end abortion during the George W. Bush administration as an example. Despite having control of both houses of Congress and the White House, conservatives never seemed to move decisively toward ending the practice. Perhaps because it was more useful as a rallying cry for conservative voters than an overturned law which growing numbers of Americans happen to support.
Which brings me to the FCC's move Monday throwing out 83 rules deemed outdated and ineffective by the commission, including the Fairness Doctrine conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have so strongly criticized.
The Obama administration has said for a while it has no interest in reviving enforcement of the Doctrine, which required broadcasters to balance political views expressed on issues with competing, contrasting views. Nevermind that the Doctrine required balanced across a station, not a particular show; right wing panderers like Limbaugh and Hannity quite rightly saw the Doctrine as a threat to their moneymaking shtick. Imagine the Obama administration with the power to determine whether radio stations employing longtime foe Limbaugh have featured enough opposing views to avoid a fine?
What the Doctrine might have done, is break up the long string of conservative-skewing shows filling right wing radio outlets such as WFLA-AM (970). But I think conservatives also inflated the idea that the Doctrine might be revived again, using the issue as a way to scare supporters into hating Democrats that much more (to be fair, Congressional leaders such as Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi once talked of reviving the issue).
Limbaugh railed against the doctrine with fellow pundit Glenn Beck in August 2009, saying "What they’re trying to do here to communications is simply stifle dissenting voices," he told Beck. "They’re trying to wipe out any opposition. If you look at Barack Obama and his track record as a politician, it is to clear the playing field. He doesn’t even like debating his opponents. He just wants to get rid of them." He made similar comments in 1993, even though conservative Congressmen such as Newt Gingrich had voted for the Doctrine, which was vetoed in 1987 by Ronald Reagan.
I wrote a column back in 2009 on why a Fairness Doctrine return wasn't likely (Obama didn't support it) and wasn't a good idea (government bureaucrats must decide what is "fair and balanced" on a news outlet). The furor over the issue reminded me of conservatives who go crazy buying guns, insisting that the Obama administration will soon pass draconian new laws about weapons, even though the president has repeatedly said he will not do so.
Here's what Obama appointee and Democratic FCC head Julius Genachowski had to say about the Fairness Doctrine in a statement Monday: "“The elimination of the obsolete Fairness Doctrine regulations will remove an unnecessary distraction. As I have said, striking this from our books ensures there can be no mistake that what has long been a dead letter remains dead. The Fairness Doctrine holds the potential to chill free speech and the free flow of ideas and was properly abandoned over two decades ago. I am pleased we are removing these and other obsolete rules from our books."
The only question left now: Will conservatives take "you're right" for an answer?