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August 24, 2011 3:30 PM Fairness Doctrine, R.I.P.

By Steve Benen

It seems almost quaint in retrospect. In the first two months of the Obama presidency, with the global economy still teetering on the brink of collapse, Republicans were preoccupied with a threat that didn’t exist: the return of the Fairness Doctrine.

Everyone from George Will to Dick Morris, National Review to the RNC, all said Democrats would very likely use their new power to impose strict new broadcast rules that would invariably kill the Republican Media Machine.

The apoplexy was terribly silly. Not only were there more important things to worry about, but Democrats had no intention of pursuing the policy that hadn’t been enforced in decades. The GOP freak-out was based on a largely imaginary threat.

As Republicans may have noticed, their cries were misplaced, and Democrats never made any effort to restore the policy. In fact, this week, the Obama administration scrapped the Fairness Doctrine altogether.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski called this perennial debate a “distraction” in a Monday statement on the commission’s site, in which he announced the elimination of the Doctrine and 82 other “obsolete” rules. […]

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee were quick to applaud the rule’s demise on Tuesday. […]

Of course, despite all the breathless reaction, the death of the Fairness Doctrine, which hasn’t been enforced in 20 years, is largely symbolic. “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,” Genachowski wrote on Monday. “The Fairness Doctrine holds the potential to chill free speech and the free flow of ideas and was properly abandoned over two decades ago.”

Dylan Matthews had a good piece detailing the history of the Fairness Doctrine, which is certainly worth checking out.

But the larger point to keep in mind is this: it’s gone. The Republicans who were hyperventilating about this were wasting their energy. I don’t doubt the conspiracy-minded activists on the right will be reluctant to believe the news — “Obama only wants us to think he’s scrapped the Fairness Doctrine to lull us into a false sense of security” — but for the rest of us, the debate is officially over.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • Churchyard on August 24, 2011 3:36 PM:

    ...and it needs to come back.

    Along with the Canadian rule that stipulates that an avowed news outlet has to report factual information.

  • rusty chainsaw on August 24, 2011 3:54 PM:

    waste of energy? From their perspective anything that keeps the wingnut base all lathered up is not a waste of energy.

  • slappy magoo on August 24, 2011 4:02 PM:

    I suspect the GOP won't be silent on this issue (like they're ever silent). Rather, they'll use it as a war cry: "We MADE Obama drop the Fairness Doctrine! And with your help (and money, lots and lots of your money) we can 'make' Obama repeal Obamacare, Don't Ask Don't Tell, and DOMA! AND put Qaddafi back in charge so he can be overthrown by a Republican President who was born in this country! But if you don't help us, you're letting the terrorists win! Donate! NOOOOOWWWW!"

  • walt on August 24, 2011 4:06 PM:

    Given the realities in the media, technology, business, and politics, there's no way the Fairness Doctrine could be enforced. It's simply too late.

    That said, it is one reason why our politics is so coarse (George Will, the pseudo-Tory, frolics like Marie Antoinette in the new Versailles, Washington). We can't have an informed electorate when major media essentially sell the ideological equivalent of crack cocaine to the masses. The content is stupid, ugly, often utterly false, and decontextualized to the point of incoherence.

    Republicans see themselves as a beleaguered tribe but they're more like a mob. They're unruly, immune to reason and bloodthirsty. When we write the epitaph to this republic, the abrogaton of the Fairness Doctrine will be listed as one of the lethal diseases that led to its death.

  • square1 on August 24, 2011 4:10 PM:

    To the extent that the Fairness Doctrine ever made sense, it only did so in an era where information was disseminated over public broadcast frequencies. If TV networks didn't cover a story (or a viewpoint), it largely didn't exist.
    In that context, mandating the perception of "balance" made a certain amount of sense.


    Those days are over. Between the internet and cable and satellite, there is no need to compel individual media outlets to cover news, or express viewpoints, that they do not agree with.

  • Rick Massimo on August 24, 2011 4:13 PM:

    "Rather, they'll use it as a war cry: "We MADE Obama drop the Fairness Doctrine!"

    Exactly. He was GONNA do it, just like he was GONNA have death panels. Because he hates America and everything it stands for. Yeah, I know his life story says exactly the opposite, and his record in office says exactly the opposite, but you just KNOW he wants to tear this country down, because he's bl- I mean, for some mysterious reason.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on August 24, 2011 4:13 PM:

    Kind of like Acorn which Faux uses still on a regular basis as if it is some kind of threat.

    Got to keep em scared

  • jjm on August 24, 2011 4:15 PM:

    The GOP automatically hated it because it had the word 'fair' in it.

    Political Correction is running a story on the Heritage Foundation complaining that the DOJ is stacked with people who have a political bias. No, not the bias found by the DOJ Inspector General in 2008 that showed Schlozman violating the DOJ's rules by trying to 'gerrymander all those crazy libs rights out of the section.'

    No, this is what they find reprehensible. The DOJ has people in it, lawyers following the law WHO BELIEVE IN HUMAN RIGHTS! http://politicalcorrection.org/blog/201108240004
    They complain, "Clearly there has been no meaningful effort made to staff the Civil Rights Division with attorneys who represent the views of the American people. In fact, there may very well have been a conscious effort to fill the division with leftist ideologues who share the same radical legal and political views, in possible violation of civil service rules."

    The GOP/RIGHT WING DOESN"T UNDERSTAND THE MEANING OF THE WORD LAW.

    They think attorneys are supposed 'to represent the views of all American people." Crooks, too? Killers, too? Terrorists like McVeigh too?

    They really are the worst 'thinkers' in the world.

    But they are backed by enormous oil wealth, and I guess that's how oil barons see things: through the lens of pure and absolute power and might.

  • Gregory on August 24, 2011 4:17 PM:

    The GOP freak-out was based on a largely imaginary threat.

    I'll go farther than that. The fact that modern movement conservaties were in a lather about a rule that broadcast media air opposing viewpoints reveals that their claims of a "liberal media" are 100-proof bullshit.

  • DAY on August 24, 2011 4:19 PM:

    Slappy magoo is right: Most of these "liberal outrages" are thinly disguised GOP fund raisers.

  • mcc on August 24, 2011 4:20 PM:

    Like with the birth certificate thing, this is a mistake. Acting to debunk the conspiracy theory only validates and inflames it.

    (Captcha: MADRASAS ICTEDIAN!)

  • kk on August 24, 2011 4:22 PM:

    What's quaint is the notion that the modern Republican party values truth. Truth is an obstacle to fearmongering, and fearmongering has proven to be very profitable for Republicans. Their motto should be, "You have everything to fear (labor unions, gays, Communists, Muslims), so send us a check today!"

  • RT on August 24, 2011 4:28 PM:

    "Republicans see themselves as a beleaguered tribe..."

    They would be a beleaguered tribe if we had a level playing field. That's why they fight tooth and nail against anything that could possibly level it.

  • mr.irony on August 24, 2011 5:25 PM:


    gop prediction hall of fame:

    dems will bring back the fairness doctrine..

    trickle down works..

    greeted as liberators..

    this is a mental recession..

    obama will take your guns and ammo...

    tax cuts create jobs..

    fema camps...microchips...

    etc..

    blah blah blah...

  • JW on August 24, 2011 6:02 PM:

    ". but for the rest of us, the debate is officially over".

    Then again: "There's no such thing as a finish fight in Washington".

    George Schultz said that, and he's was correct. Witness the successful assaults (by both parties) on social programs once deemed unassailable.

  • Rick Massimo on August 24, 2011 6:10 PM:

    "The fact that modern movement conservaties were in a lather about a rule that broadcast media air opposing viewpoints reveals that their claims of a "liberal media" are 100-proof bullshit."

    Wanna provoke the blankest stare you ever saw? Tell your nearest wingnut that. He'll know it's true, but he'll have absolutely nothing to say.

    One quibble, though: I'm not giving them the fig leaf of "modern movement" conservatives. They've been this way for at least 40 years, and really more like close to 60. Read William F. Buckley's note in the first issue of the National Review - except for the dated references and proper grammar, Sarah Palin could have written it. They've ALWAYS been like this.

  • TCinLA on August 25, 2011 12:53 AM:

    As a lefty who was really hoping to see the resurrection of the Fairness Doctrine, I am sad (but not suprised) to find President Can't-We-All-Just-Get-Along continue to give aid and comfort to those who want to assassinate him (not just his character, him). What does it take for this idiot to figure out he has enemies????

    Had we brought back the Fairness Doctrine, within 90 days we would have seen the last of Fatboy Limpdick and every other fascist blowhard in America, not to mention the demise of Faux Snooze. We really could have driven a stake through the heart of the vampire political party masquerading as the Republican Party.

    And given the truth of the matter that "the only 'good Republicans' are pushing up daisies," how would this have been a bad thing????

  • Marnie on August 25, 2011 8:35 AM:

    So the press itself now has official permission from the WH and the spineless Dims to restrict freedom to have equal access to public airways.
    Big money has already bought up and controls most of our news, and religious based broadcasts.
    There is not so much as a fig leaf to keep Republican like the Kochs and Murdochs from owning the whole world's press outlets.

    Obama is a Repocon at best.

  • Chicken Hammer on August 26, 2011 7:45 PM:

    In the first two months of the Obama presidency, with the global economy still teetering on the brink of collapse, Democrats were in the majority in congress, the senate, and owned the White House.

    The minority party (Republicans at the time) do not control the agenda. The hyperbole regarding Republicans being concerned over The Fairness Doctrine back then is nothing more than a red herring tossed out there to distract you from the president's multitude of failures.

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