February 23, 2009
Relax, RushBy Clarice Feldman
Much has been made of the possibility of a revival in one form or another of the Fairness Doctrine, an obvious ploy to diminish the considerable impact of conservative radio hosts, notably Rush Limbaugh, whom the President has pointedly named as a key source of information for his opponents. The most complete and useful site to review the material on this is Unfair Doctrine, set up and published by my friend Charles Martin.
I agree that the revival of this concept would be a disaster for free speech and debate, that whatever merit it might have had in another media era is certainly lost today where, among other things we have hundreds of cable channels and almost infinite broadcast opportunities. Only fools would rush into the thicket of reviewing and weighing free speech opportunities for liberals in a media which, in any event, is overwhelmingly dominated by them.
Ever vigilant for new ways to rake in dough, however, I see in this deluded notion a rare opportunity to enhance my coffers while having fun.
Here are the openings for me to make money in my new career as liberal, openings which show what an utter joke the entire concept of airwave "fairness" is.
(1)Who Am I?
Surely, the government airwave monitors will not be checking the credentials of the soi-disant liberals or conservatives -- whatever you say you are, has to be good enough for them. So, if David Gergen counts as a Republican, I can count as a liberal.
Perhaps there's a possibility the monitors could test guests ahead of time and certify their beliefs -- conservative, moderate, liberal, for example -- but I find the notion laughable. We don't even have a viable means to test whether candidates for president meet the constitutional test for "natural born citizen". A testing system for political beliefs seems particularly unworkable in such a flexible and fluid society. In fact, I expect if you asked fifty people how to define "conservative moderate or liberal" you'd get fifty different answers.
In a country where we all invent ourselves, a government seal on our beliefs seems preposterous.
(2)How much of a good thing is enough?
And just as the airwave monitor is unlikely to test the bona fides of the guest political designation, I can't imagine them counting the minutes offered to each side or the numbers lineup. And if they could, would it matter? Imagine a slow talking Fred Thompson given the same number of minutes within which to make his point as the fast talking Allen Colmes, who regularly reads off talking points, asks dozens of questions and allows his guests about two minutes to respond to his lengthy interrogatives.
In fact, if one side is particularly pushy and aggressive about getting its views across, even the number of guests on each side seems irrelevant. Will there be a politeness monitor assuring that all guests are civilly treated and allowed to fairly present their views? Indeed, overwhelmingly it seems to me, conservative guests and hosts on liberal shows are regularly denied this opportunity.
(3)How Well-Balanced Do Both Sides Have to Be?
Neither is the airwave monitor likely to be able to justify in any way measuring the sensibility and persuasiveness of the arguments I make, as measured against those Rush makes, which leaves me a grand opening to rely on such wit and wisdom as we find in Olbermann and Streisand, Krugman and Dowd while Rush does his thing. So what if the views I expound in that guise are nonsensical? They are, in fact, views held by the left.
(4)Does providing time for every side really aid debate?
If you think the notion of simply providing time for the most foolish advocate on the other side is silly, why do you think that simply providing another point of view advances the debate? Isn't it better to let commentators fully flesh out their views and facts on critical issues, and let readers, selecting from among those they choose, come to their own conclusions. Is it somehow an improvement to have people shouting sound bites at each other than listening to a thoroughly reasoned argument?
The smidgeon of this smidgeon of that concept seems to me a barrier to rational consideration. I think Republican Congressman Greg Walden said it just right:
People who want polka music should be entitled to have their polka station just as classical music listeners should have theirs, and if someone thinks there's market enough for a comparative music program or multi-music station that carries both let them try it.
There are rare instances -like Brit Hume's panel -where under good moderation journalists representing difference points of view have been able to actually exchange those ideas in a civil setting helpful to an open-minded viewer. In virtually every other case, we have had pointless shouting heads arguments which illuminated nothing and simply fanned flames of hyper partisanship.
Personally, I think we are already overwhelmed with noise and underserved by what passes at the moment for balanced treatment of issues that is anything but. Twenty million listeners have chosen Rush instead, and they are telling us something to which Congress, the President and the FCC should pay heed.