No one's talking about the Fairness Doctrine?

Today’s entry in the Los Angeles Times by James Rainey on the Fairness Doctrine presents a confused and contradictory dismissal of the concerns raised by Democratic members of Congress talking about its resurrection.  Rainey goes to great pains to dismiss these concerns as a “pigment of their imagination”. Really?

It’s a nice plot line, and lots of people seem to be expending tremendous energy fretting about it. But let’s just say that the imminent reimposition of the Fairness Doctrine is, as Archie Bunker liked to say, a pigment of their imagination.

Yes, a few Democratic lawmakers have recently talked about supporting such regulation, rules they say could be justified to protect a scarce public resource — the public airwaves.

In October, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) told a conservative Albuquerque talker that he supported the Fairness Doctrine. “I would want this station and all stations to have to present a balanced perspective and different points of view,” Bingaman said, “instead of always hammering away at one side of the political [spectrum].”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is another lawmaker who has expressed an interest in bringing back the rules. Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey (D-N.Y.) has considered reintroducing a media ownership reform law, to try to expand and diversify control of radio and television outlets. But it’s unclear whether that measure would include a Fairness Doctrine, as an earlier Hinchey proposal did.

What exactly does Rainey mean to say here? Should we just laugh off everything that Democrats say on policy because we think that a majority in Congress couldn’t possibly pass legislation beneficial to Democrats and expect a Democrat in the White House to sign it? It’s not as if it’s been mentioned by back-benchers on occasion, after all:

Rainey dismissed Bingaman’s support as philosophical only, and accuses critics of ignoring Bingaman’s statements that the FD wouldn’t be “politically feasible”.  Perhaps that’s due to the effort by conservatives, such as Rush Limbaugh, to continue to oppose it publicly, something Rainey never considers at all in this argument.  Also, Bingaman didn’t seem all that reticent yesterday (thanks to AP for the link): “Senator, a question on the Fairness Doctrine. In October, you told a station in New Mexico that you think the Fairness Doctrine ought to be revived. As far as WTNT here in Washington and WMAL, they have a pretty right-wing line up. Do you think the federal government should force them to balance out their programming?”

Bingaman: “Oh no, I think it’s fine. They can do whatever they want.” “But you do support reviving the Fairness Doctrine, correct?”

Bingaman: “Well, I just said that I thought it served us well when we had it. That’s all I said.” “But do you think the Fairness Doctrine would end up forcing them to balance out their programming?”

Bingaman: “I don’t know what the effect of it would be at this point.”

That wasn’t “all” Bingaman said on October 21st:

Villanucci: You would want this radio station to have to change?

Bingaman: I would. I would want this station and all stations to have to present a balanced perspective and different points of view instead of always hammering away at one side of the political –

Villanucci: I mean in this market, for instance, you’ve got KKOB. If you want liberal talk, you’ve got Air America in this market, you’ve got NPR, you’ve got satellite radio – there’s a lefty talk station and a rightie talk station. Do you think there are people who aren’t able to find a viewpoint that is in sync with what they believe?

Bingaman: Well I guess my thought is that talk radio and media generally should have a higher calling than just reflect a particular point of view. I think they should use their authority to try to – their broadcast power to present an informed discussion of public issues. KKOB used to be a, used to live under the Fairness Doctrine, and every –

Villanucci: Yeah, we played music, I believe –

Bingaman: But there was a lot of talk also, at least it seemed to me, and there were a lot of talk stations that seemed to do fine. The airwaves are owned by private companies at this point. There’s a license to private companies to operate broadcast stations, and that’s the way it should be. All I’m saying is that for many, many years we operated under a Fairness Doctrine in this country, and I think the country was well-served. I think the public discussion was at a higher level and more intelligent in those days than it has become since.

And let’s not forget that the Democratic Party platform explicitly called for a restoration of the FD in its 2000 platform.  They made it less explicit this year, but have this passage (page 23, emphasis mine):

We will encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints, and clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation’s spectrum.

So what’s to worry about, right?  Disregard the fact that Democratic leadership keeps talking about a reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine, or that the party platform continues to threaten broadcasters with more oversight.  Hey, if Markos Moulitsas doesn’t mention it on his blog, it doesn’t matter, right?

Bryan Myrick at Unequal Time also points out that the article subhead is flat-out untrue:

The sub-headline of the story reads:

Impose a mandate on broadcasters to balance their political views? That would be onerous indeed. But memo to Rush: Nobody’s asking for that.

I know Rainey didn’t write the headline of the sub-head.  Still, any readers not managing to make it past the bold print take away the notion that conservative talk radio hosts across the country are held in the grip of paranoid delusion.  But, in the commentary body, Rainey cites two senators – Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico) and Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) – as having publicly called for the so-called “Fairness Doctrine” to be reapplied.

Quite obviously, several Democrats are calling for that, and their platform signals that it’s party policy.  Will it pass?  I don’t think it would — but that doesn’t mean Democrats won’t try.  Rainey seems to be trying far too hard to dismiss calls from senior leaders of the party for the FD in order to unfairly paint the people who would suffer the most from its reimposition as somehow paranoid for responding to their public statements.