Endgame: FCC abandons editorial-bias study

Been a while since we had an old-fashioned Friday afternoon news dump. This one was a cinch, though: The FCC’s been backing away from the newsroom study for more than a week, starting soon after Ajit Pai published his op-ed about it on February 10th and then accelerating after Fox News took up the cause this week. The FCC tried to compromise with Republican critics by pulling questions about editorial judgment from the study, but that was silly. After the IRS scandal, conservatives simply aren’t going to trust a federal agency to be non-ideological about a project like this. Spiking it was the only acceptable compromise.

Technically they’re suspending the pilot study in South Carolina until it can be re-designed, but the agency’s new statement stresses that “Any subsequent market studies conducted by the FCC, if determined necessary, will not seek participation from or include questions for media owners, news directors or reporters.” So much for Fairness Doctrine 2.0.

The Federal Communications Commission announced Friday that it was putting on hold a controversial study of American newsrooms, after complaints from Republican lawmakers and media groups that the project was too intrusive…

Commissioner Ajit Pai, who was one of the staunchest critics of the proposal, heralded the decision Friday as an acknowledgement that government-backed researchers would not be dispatched into newsrooms, as feared.

“This study would have thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country, somewhere it just doesn’t belong,” he said in a statement. “The Commission has now recognized that no study by the federal government, now or in the future, should involve asking questions to media owners, news directors, or reporters about their practices. This is an important victory for the First Amendment.”

Tim Cavanaugh at NRO wonders if the study was ever a priority for the FCC, and whether it might not be a distraction from a different type of agency interference with the market. No one in Columbia, South Carolina, the target of the pilot study, was ever contacted about it; in fact, the study was developed under the former head of the FCC, not current head Tom Wheeler. Could be it was more trouble to Wheeler than it’s worth. Especially if Cavanaugh’s right that the FCC’s more interested in developing race-based media ownership rules than a new Fairness Doctrine for viewpoints expressed on the air. Why antagonize the opposition party needlessly over a low priority when doing so is bound to get their backs up over a higher one? Especially when the midterms are coming up and they have every reason to use this as a rallying cry.

Actually, I wouldn’t mind the FCC grilling NBC on its editorial judgment in airing this. Good lord.