Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Fairness Doctrine?

It Isn’t Fair

Editor's note: What follows started out as a reply to a comment to newsmcnabb. Since I’ve already written more than 300 words, it seemed obvious that it was more than a comment. Reflecting on my previous post, “There is Still Hope”, the writer raised the possibility of reinstating the so-called “Fairness Doctrine” repealed by President Ronald Reagan. It basically required broadcasters to provide equal time to opposing views.

Another reader posted an opposing view of the Fairness Doctrine. “I don't care for the idea of a reinstatement of the "Fairness Doctrine", per se... but I am worried that broadcasting has lowered itself to appealing to its viewers/listeners guttural feelings.”

OK. Here’s my take: I am not interested in the Fairness Doctrine at all. I am opposed to government telling the independent media what it can and cannot do. I'm not sure how it ever got on the books in the first place as, to me, it was unconstitutional on its face.

Newspapers are not subject to a "fairness doctrine"--never have been.

In the market place of ideas, the truth should rise to the top. Nowadays, however, one must question what another calls truth. As I said in the most recent post, sometimes I wish I could grab some of these politicians and pundits by the face and force them to look at the truth, and it seeing the truth, require them write and/or tell the truth.

Politics has returned to the strategy of "the big lie" often aided and abetted by the media, unfortunately. Our elected members of Congress will stand in front of the colleagues and cameras and proclaim outlandish lies. Yes, lies, or perhaps half truths which can be even more hurtful sometimes. If someone challenges the liar, the changer is open to a personal attack. This kind of posturing has been going on since Congress was created. What is different now is that we have a multiplicity of means of acquiring information, and the viewing, listening, reading, consuming public can pick and choose their “truth”. Polarization widens.

The American people, beset by these big lies, misinformation, and disinformation, often don't know who to believe. A Rasmussen poll released December 26, 2009 said that only 30-percent believed that the economic stimulus helped while 38-percent did not believe it.

I'm no economist. As a journalist, however, I see that housing sales are up, the economy is growing at around two-percent, and people are making guardedly optimistic statements about a turnaround in the economy.

"The independent panel that oversees the government’s financial bailout program [TARP] concluded in a year-end review that, despite flaws and lingering problems, the program “can be credited with stopping an economic panic,” The New York Times reported December 9, 2009. If you don’t believe the Times because that newspaper is perceived as too “liberal” or whatever, believe the economists who oversaw program. The assessment was based an audit by the panel, chaired by Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, who by all accounts has been even-handed and effective in the job.

It worked, they said. It's the truth, they said. Can you handle it?

Well, that “truth” is then filtered through talk show hosts, bloggers, columnists, comics, and pundits. Then, we, the citizens must cipher the “real truth”. In this age it is the responsibility of the citizenry to read, watch, and listen to all of them to arrive at the truth. I’ve always said that more information is better than less. So, watch more than one newscast. Read more than one newspaper. Listen to more than one columnist. Read more than one blogger. We have the technology.

And, in this technological age, the Fairness Doctrine is an anachronism. It would not work, if it ever did.

© Jim McNabb, 2009


Anonymous said...

The Communications Act of 1934 decreed that broadcasters operate in the public "convenience, interest, and necessity" -- since the airwaves belong to the public -- not the broadcasters.

Due to limited broadcast spectrum -- even more limited today than it was in 1934 -- free, unrestricted public access to information is vital.

The Fairness Doctrine was designed to allow access to minority viewpoints during a time when broadcast ownership was in the hands of a few.

With non-broadcast alternatives now in place, the net, cable, and satellite, many might argue that the Fairness Doctrine is out-dated. Those airwaves are still constrained -- and given the number and seriousness of the problems facing us -- free and open public discourse is vital.

The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine created Rush Limbaugh. Many broadcasters claim that he saved AM Radio.

I'd maintain that his media monopoly has endangered and polarized the Republic.

Anonymous said...

The world needs more folks like you Jim. Where there might be disagreements at least you're willing to listen.


NewsMcNabb said...

Thank you, Gray

Anonymous said...

Attention Editor:

You're talking apples and oranges when you point out that there is no Fairness Doctrine for newspapers, so one is not needed for broadcasters.

We had a Fairness Doctrine because broadcasters were and still are using public airwaves, while newspapers don't. So it makes no sense to discuss newspapers when you talk about a Fairness Doctrine.

For the record, I don't believe we need to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, and neither does President Obama, who has no plans to seek its reinstatement.

NewsMcNabb said...

Editor's Note:

Newspapers are now one faint voice in the marketplace of ideas. It's all apples or all oranges nowadays. I'm talking macro, not micro--the communications universe in the 21st century.

So, yes, the Fairness Doctrine was once meant to ensure balenced coverage, including all voices in the broadcast conversation mirroring Section 315 of the Communications Act of 1934 requiring broadcasters to offer political candidates equal time. Let me repeat the year: 1934. Then, the only information sources were radio and newspapers.

The airways belonged to the public and were subject to regulation. Newspapers were subject only to their ethics. Some had ethics.

When broadcast news was deregulated during the Reagan administration, there was no Internet. There was very little cable television.

Times have changed.

The playing field is level now. Newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations all have web sites, many wth blogs. You're looking at another voice in the marketplace.

I still don't think the Fairness Doctrine was ever effective, and it is not relevant in the 21st Century. No, President Obama isn't interested in bringing it back, but some senators are talking about legislation that could codify it.



Anonymous said...

I find it laughable that you say because the liberal NY Times quoted a liberal Harvard University Professor, the TARP is a success.

The Ivy League schools are what got this country into this depression.

Look at what other areas of business have said since late 2008. The quotes are something to the effect that its great to have access to high level graduates like the science and mathematicians from MIT now that Wall Street can't pay them millions to figure out new paper methods to wager billions in the marketplace

Please understand that there is no economic "engine" to revive this economy. Our country doesn't generate anything tangible. The USA generates hot air and paper. Half of the paper is unregulated - derivatives for example.

There is no other country on the planet who can lead the way the USA can. I mean economically and otherwise. However, at this moment, we've hurt ourselves possibly beyond repair.

More than half of the vacant houses aren't reported by the banks because they can't be sold and banks don't want to show the losses.

We could all blindly follow what the USG statistics tell us. Employment at 12% when in accounting people whose employment benefits have run out aren't counted, or those who have plain given up. Figures point to between a real unemployment rate of 17-20%.

I'd also like to point out that the extremely lazy media takes Government data and regurgitates it without fact checking.

They purposefully do not check the facts because these media outlets are afraid they will be lose access to people and stories.

If you don't believe that, you haven't been paying attention to the Fox News Channel versus Obama White House access battle which started in 2007 and only recently has reached some kind of stalemate.

FNC is the most watched 24 hour network in this country, yet this bickering behavior went on.

Even Helen Thomas said something about this "spat" during one of the WH press conferences. I think the video is posted on youtube.

There are areas in the country which are doing "just ok" economically, and there are others which have been wiped out.

Historically, small businesses (including small cap stocks) and tax cuts have led the way out of recessions.

Since 2008, policies have focused on big international banks like Goldman Sachs, AIG and Citibank.

This big bank focus across the present and previous administrations, is new, and so far, untested policy.

Citibank's stock has cratered since they tried to issue additional stock to generate revenue to relieve their USG obligations and pay themselves big bonuses a few weeks ago.

The reason that the Dow jumped from 7,200 in March to 10,000+ within this year is that Citibank was dumped as a Down Industrial indicator stock. Citibank's stock was at rougly 55 dollars a share in July of 2007. Now it'roughly 3 dollars a share.

Again, all I'm pointing out here is that the hypothesis that the economy is in good shape and that we're all going to be okay is incorrect.

We're at LEAST a W recovery pattern, where right now we're in the middle of the W.

I don't want to scare, just prepare yourself.

Also, please try not to project your belief system into economic reality. That's what got us into the dot com and real estate bubbles.

Reality isn't pretty right now.

NewsMcNabb said...

Editor's Note:

My goodness, Anonymous, you certainly know a lot.

I'm not entirely sure how to respond, because your comment is, well, all over the place.

Let's start here: The New York Times is not liberal. The Nation might be considered "liberal", but not the Times.

Beyond labels, let's talk about the economist quoted, Elizabeth Warren. She isn't just any economist. Appointed by Congress, she oversees the administration of the TARP funds, many of which are being repaid, and she commented on the audit of the program. Her assessment wasn't entirely glowing, but she said the program stopped "economic panic". Neither she nor I said that "all is well." I used the language: "guardedly optimistic".

An assessment of the economy was not the point of the post or my comments. It may be yours, but it isn't mine.

My point is that optimism often aids recovery. "Nay-sayers" have had the floor long enough. It's time to allow credit where credit is due. Further, news media should write the truth, and if they do not, they should not be considered news media.

Finally, (where we started) a return of the Fairness Doctrine would be onerous.


Anonymous said...


You used a lot of words to say we're not out of the woods, even though the economy has improved.

Plase see Jim for lessons in being succinct.

Anonymous said...

No smokin' before postin'...