Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Fairness Doctrine, Conservative Doomsday Rhetoric, and the Founders

***The Following comes to us from Dan Atkinson, who has asked that I post this here on our blog. Being that we have not had a guest post in a while, I thought it might be time to include one***

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The following is a Godtube clip with the standard "evil liberal secularist" theme that permeates that site. And while I don't appreciate such themes I think this video serves to make a good point:



Yes, the founders would truly be appalled by the horrific "fairness doctrine." How could any of them tolerate an infringement on the freedom of speech? Case in point: the Alien & Sedition Acts of 1798

One of the main goals of the Alien and Sedition Acts was to “provide punishment of any persons who unlawfully combine or conspire together, with intent to oppose any measure or measures of the government...” In a nutshell, the Sedition Acts made it illegal to say anything untruthful about the President or Congress. Federalist supporters felt that this act would serve to protect their political aims. After all, many Federalist supporters believed that government should be put in the hands of only the elite of society. A good example of this was Alexander Hamilton and his supporters. As Paul Newman states “Hamiltonian Federalists’ pessimistic view of human nature prevented them from believing that the mass of citizens possessed the innate virtue of self-governance.” Today’s society no doubt interprets Hamilton’s statements as ludicrous, but to Hamilton (and many others) they were perfectly legitimate. There existed no precedent to this style of government. In Hamilton’s mind, trusting the public on a local or state level was far too risky.

Republican supporters however, had a very different view on the Sedition Acts. Not only did they see the Sedition Acts as tyrannical, but they deemed the actions of President Adams as, “the most abominable and degrading [language] that could fall from the lips of the first magistrate of an independent people.” Republicans were quick to point out the First Amendment to the Constitution, claiming that the Sedition Acts were in direct violation of a person’s freedom of speech. Clearly the Republicans were not going to lie by the wayside and let the Federalists have their way.

To counteract the Sedition Acts, the dynamic duo of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison introduced the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. These resolutions were designed to block the Sedition Acts, stating that a state had the right to decide the legality of a federal act. For Jefferson, the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions became, “the one significant act of his vice presidency.” Jefferson assured the Republican supporters that, “the reign of witches would pass and the people would restore their government to its true principles.” Jefferson and Madison quickly allied a large number of supporters to their cause and despite some disapproval of their Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, were able to successfully wage war on the Sedition Acts. Instead of sheltering the Adams Administration from hostile criticism, the Sedition Acts actually caused a greater political divide between Federalist and Republican supporters. In many ways, the handling of the Sedition Acts became a massive public relations nightmare for the Federalists. As James Sharp points out, “The Federalists believed that the opposition press presented a serious threat to their continuance in power, and therefore, to the stability of the government and the Constitution.” This move to suppress the voice of the people and the press became the eventual dagger that severely weakened the Federalist argument for many Americans and sealed Adams' fate to lose his bid for reelection.

So what's the point of all this? Whether in the form of a fairness doctrine or the Alien & Sedition Acts, attempting to quiet the voice of the people never ends good.

27 comments:

Dan said...

Lindsey, that was not the title of my post and you know it!

Tom Van Dyke said...

If true, the irony is unbearable.

bpabbott said...

I dont' see how the fairness doctrine limits speech?

Can someone explain?

Also, regarding the new legislation, if the "doctine" only applies to speach over spectrum belonging to the public and leased to special interests, why is that a problem?

As pointed out early, isn't there ample spectrum that is not the property of the public and does not need to be leased?

jimmiraybob said...

I've heard some "evil liberal secularists" bring up the so called fairness doctrine in recent years and I've heard other "evil liberal secularists" shoot it down.

The video wasn't very helpful in providing the names of "some people" - does anybody have any further information? What "some members of congress" are trying to "re-instate legislation similar to the old fairness doctrine?" How similar? Has anything been written yet?

I think that the founders would recognize today's situation quite readily - for them it was more broadsides, circulars and newspapers. As a card carrying "evil liberal secularist" I see no need for a fairness doctrine. Despite the perceived dominance by some of right-wing talk and Christian radio/TV, we are now ruled by Barrack Pimp Daddy Muslim X AntiChrist bin Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi brought to you by the islamo insurgent press core. :) The market has spoken.

Although I do see a rich mother load for Saturday Night Live Parody - 30 minutes of the Church Lady balanced by 30 minutes of Satan. Or, picture a town square in Penn., say 1775, and someone tacks up a broadside roundly criticizing the King and calling for action. The local administrator comes up and cites article 4 section 3 of prevailing law known as Ye Olde Fairness doctrine and makes the proto revolutionary go find an opposing point of view to produce an appropriate response. Etc. Etc. Etc. I might start watching SNL again.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I dont' see how the fairness doctrine limits speech?How surprising.

Basically, the government has no business evaluating the content of political speech. For "fairness," because it's on the public airwaves, or by any other hook-and-crook.

Free means free.

"Congress shall make no law ...abridging the freedom of speech."

Once Congress gets into addressing content in any form or fashion, there is no longer freedom.

jsolo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, Lord.

See Matthew 24:42, and live accordingly.

bpabbott said...

TVD: "Free means free."

Tom, Once the a public spectrum is leased to a particular organizaiton of a particular political viewpoint, they are able to censor speach over that publically owned (privately leased) medium.

How is ensuring access to alternative viewpoints (via the "fairness doctrine") a violation of the lease holder to express their opinions?

For example, how is your or my freedom to express our opinions on this blog a violation of the blog's "owner"'s free speech?

I remain confused as to how the speach of the leasee is being violated?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Once the a public spectrum is leased to a particular organizaiton of a particular political viewpoint, they are able to censor speach over that publically owned (privately leased) medium.You didn't address my core point, Ben, that government has no business evaluating the content of free speech. It's either free or it ain't.

The existence of opposing opinions and rebuttals have nothing---zero, nada, zilch---to do with the freedom of speech, which is a constitutionally guaranteed absolute right.

So far, anyway.

bpabbott said...

Tom, I don't see how evaluating free speech, limits free speech. My understanging is that if an organizaiton wished to use public property to promote a point of view, under particular circumstances (which the specifics of which ellude my grasp) the same venue must be made available to opposing views.

Thus (and no offese intended), but the existence of government evaluation of speech over a publically owned medium has nothing to do with free speech. What I think is respects is a restriction/regulation on an entitlement.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thus (and no offese intended), but the existence of government evaluation of speech over a publically owned medium has nothing to do with free speech.Government evaluation of, and resulting action upon, the content of speech is necessarily limiting. Free is free. I will and must continue to restate my core point and principle until you acknowledge and address it, Ben.

I used italics on content quite purposefully. If you wish to rebut, start there.

Dan said...

How anyone could defend the fairness doctrine is beyond ignorance. It defies all reasonable assumptions of logic. Let me guess, do you support Adams' Alien and Sedition Acts too? Instead of arguing with those who disagree let's just SILENCE them.

Dan said...

By the way Lindsey, when are you going to get around to changing the title of the post?

Lindsey Shuman said...

You never sent a title, Dan. Get over it!

By the way, your comparison between the Alien & Sedition Acts and the Fairness Doctrine is faulty. Perhaps you should try to make the connection between the Alien & Sedition Acts and the Patriot Act. That makes more sense.

Brad Hart said...

Come on! Comparing the Alien & Sedition Acts to EITHER the Patriot Act or the Fairness Doctrine is sort of silly! Isn't this what historical novices do every day? Grab some horrific event from the past and then try to demonstrate via hasty generalities how we are surely doomed to repeat the exact same thing? Isn't this what Glenn Beck, Michael Moore and every other political "shock Jock" do each day?

The Alien & Sedition Acts are NOT comparable to the Fairness Doctrine. Let's assume for a minute that the Fairness Doctrine were to be enacted. Does it call for the immediate imprisonment of those who speak badly of the President? No. Yet that's EXACTLY what the Alien & Sedition Acts did. Does the Fairness Doctrine call for the immediate imprisonment and deportation of those foreigners deemed to be a threat to the United States? Not at all, but that's what the Alien & Sedition Acts did.

Dan, you are grasping at straws on this one, assuming that your audience will know nothing of the A&S Acts. All one has to do is a simple Google search to see that there is NO comparison.

And yes, I think the same applies to your Patriot Act comparison, Lindsey, even if your choice appears a bit more similar.

Pinky said...

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If I have the slightest understanding of what the Fairness Doctrine was, it had to do with licensure.
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License--"to lick Caesar's boots".

If you're going to appeal to Caesar for a license, you'd best be prepared to obey the law involved.
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To say that the first amendment gives blanket freedoms to do as one pleases is to say it's legal to promote whatever comes to mind--robbing banks, printing bad checks, and organizing groups to commit crimes. And that is foolish.

That is precisely why churches and preachers are NOT required by law to be licensed. The government can make NO LAW regarding one's right to practice their religious beliefs.

But, when We The People by way of OUR government issue licenses for anything and whenever ANYONE accepts the same, the law of the People must be obeyed.
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The Fairness Doctrine makes perfect sense as long as it is not used to infringe on any private rights.
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You want to start a church or be a preacher? Try to get a license. See what happens.

Christian Salafia said...

Government evaluation of, and resulting action upon, the content of speech is necessarily limiting. Free is free.That may be true in a perfect world, Tom. However, ever since Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, that type of thinking becomes more and more utopian.

The essence of corporate personhood means that the they're protected just like us by the US Constitution. Whatever your opinion on this is, isn't the main point here. However, BECAUSE of this, their speech is protected too. Now this becomes an issue of money=speech, especially in today's world of media consolidation.

The prime example of how this can go horribly wrong is seen on Fox News. At one point, 75% of Fox viewers believed that Iraq was responsible for 9/11. Add to that all the hysteria over "socialism" and the "grassroots" Tea Parties (sponsored by FNC), and, well, you get idiots like Michelle Bachmann elected to Congress.

The Fairness Doctrine makes great sense. As the USSC said in 1969:

It is the purpose of the First Amendment to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail, rather than to countenance monopolization of that market, whether it be by the government itself or a private licensee. It is the right of the public to receive suitable access to social, political, esthetic, moral and other ideas and experiences which is crucial here. That right may not constitutionally be abridged either by Congress or by the FCC.
— U.S. Supreme Court, Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, 1969.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, at least you addressed my point, Christian. Thank you.

However, the government can never intelligently adjudge the content of free speech, and therefore can never "balance" it.

[This was the same prudence that led the government to get out of the business of deciding what sects were "Christian" and which were not. It's simply impossible.]

And when the Fairness Doctrine is applied to CBS, NBC, ABC and NPR news, as well as 60 Minutes, "The View," and required Oprah to have Sarah Palin on [Oprah refused], then we can talk.

That so many people deny the bias of those organizations even in the face of empirical proof [what liberal media?] illustrates that judging content can never be achieved in an objective or "fair" way. The majority will impose its version of truth on the minority.

I imagine it would be the same if the tables were turned.

In the meantime, talk radio occupies roughly 6 of the 40 or so stations here in the Los Angeles market, 4 conservative, one is whatever's left of Air America, and the other is something called Pacifica radio, which is further left than Limbaugh is to the right. There are also 2 or 3 NPR stations.

There is plenty of, as the Supreme Court wrote, "suitable access to social, political, esthetic, moral and other ideas and experiences which is crucial here."

"Crucial," then, is not at issue.

Further, there are plenty of failing stations where the free market of ideas could accommodate more left-wing talk. However, Air America's debacle indicates no one would listen. How the government could require us to is another insurmountable obstacle.

The Supreme Court had at least this much right:

"It is the purpose of the First Amendment to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail," which is how conservatives ever got elected at all in 1980, 1994, and 2000 & 2004 [although crap Demo candidates assisted in the latter two].

Add in cable, especially MSNBC [as well as Al Gore's CURRENT channel] and the marketplace of ideas is well-served and indeed full to bursting.

Therefore, the Fairness Doctrine does not make "great sense" or any sense at all. It's a cynical attempt by the current majority in government to widen its already existing near-monopoly on public communication.

However, this discussion is somewhat moot: The majority party will not be so crass as to attempt such a frontal assault on Limbaugh, et al. The idea being floated is for the FCC to demand more "local" content as opposed to national, achieving their dilution of the Limbaughs and suppressing such free speech through the back door.

Of course, few would listen, and the radio stations would lose money with such programming. But then again, the president is going to use a similar monopoly on power and state interference with the free market to require GM and Chrysler to build gas-efficient death traps that no one will buy. Such a brave new world we live in.

Christian Salafia said...

First point: Air America crapped out because of a poor business plan, not because "nobody would listen". They were often carried on low-power AM stations, like here in Phoenix, where someone came in @ 6:30am and turned on the switch and turned it off again anywhere between 5:30-6:00pm.

The Fairness Doctrine is often confused with the Equal Time rule. These are two completely separate entities. Secondly, the FD leaves it to the discretion of the broadcaster how to present opposing views. This applies to broadcasters that hold a licence (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS). Typically the FCC doesn't put public interest requirements on cable stations, including the demon itself, Fox.

Here's some history of the FD:

1) Not one FD decision by the FCC ever had anything to do with talkshows.

2) It doesn't require a station's lineup be 50/50.

3) IIRC, only one license was ever revoked in the 60+ years of the FD.

While I admire your small government perspective, there are times where it is needed to prevent its citizens by being run over.

Justice Byron White once said: “There is no sanctuary in the First Amendment for unlimited private censorship operating in a medium not open to all.”

Over the years the FD has been supported by groups ranging from the ACLU to the NRA to Accuracy In Media. It's only in Rush's self-gratificatory fantasies that the FD approaches anything remotely resembling a "Hush Rush" law. That's a red-meat argument used by conservatives who don't understand what the FD truly is.

Oh, and GM and Chrysler can build fuel efficient cars that aren't "death traps". They have the technology.

Those in charge choose not to because the big SUVs qualify for the gas guzzler tax exemption AND have the highest profit margin of any vehicle currently in production.

That's why Toyota and Honda are kicking Detroit's tails in the Hybrid market....they've had 10-15 years head start.

Finally... "liberal media"? Puhhhh-leeeeze.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Finally... "liberal media"? Puhhhh-leeeeze...

Oy.

Christian, I saw you coming a mile away with the usual [actually, I thought it would be Ben] and answered your objection in advance before you even made it.

In fact, I was overly fair in stipulating that

"I imagine it would be the same if the tables were turned."

You prove my point here:

"That so many people deny the bias of those organizations even in the face of empirical proof [what liberal media?] illustrates that judging content can never be achieved in an objective or "fair" way. The majority will impose its version of truth on the minority."

What you see as bias on Fox News I see as fact. And vice-versa, with the other half-dozen "news" outlets I mentioned. Should Oprah be forced to have Sarah Palin on? Should "The View" fire some of its lefties to make room for more Elizabeth Hasselbecks?

Preposterous.

Our work is finished here. My point was completely non-partisan and conceptual---there will be no "fair" resolution as to what is opinion, what is fact, what is truth, and what needs to be "balanced."

You listen to NPR and hear "truth." I hear bias. Just yesterday, they did a feature on how a South Korean illegal immigrant unskilled healthcare worker who doesn't speak English is being affected by the recession.

Uh-huh. Truth, sure. The American citizen whose wages are depressed by the cheapness of illegal immigrant labor? The forgotten man. Or woman. As if NPR will generate that one.

I return to my core point, that "the middle" can never be satisfactorily defined---especially by the government, as one party or the other will be in power----let's say you, Christian, or me, Tom. One of us will impose our opinion and will, even if it's in good faith and honest opinion.

Since we cannot define the middle, "balancing" is impossible. Should Pacifica radio be required by the government to run 12 hours of Michael Savage for "balance?"

Preposterous.

There are enough stations and outlets. The principle and dynamic behind the First Amendment---whether it be religion of free speech---is to let 1000 flowers bloom. The truth will out.
Reinstating the "Fairness Doctrine" or instituting "local content" would be a naked exercise of power.

Surely you see that if the tables were turned, and it was your POV that got the brown end of the stick, you would find it unacceptable.

Let 'em talk. There is no middle, because it's constantly being redefined by the American public itself. "Balance" is impossible under the First Amendment, only freedom of speech.

bpabbott said...

Tom: "[actually, I thought it would be Ben]"

hmmm, I thought that looked like a baited hook ;-)

Tom Van Dyke said...

Hehe.

Brian Tubbs said...

First, I agree with Brad and Lindsey that comparing the Fairness Doctrine to the Alien & Sedition Acts (specifically the Sedition Act) is faulty.

However, even if the comparison is faulty, that doesn't mean the so-called Fairness Doctrine is wise.

I personally do NOT trust the federal government to determine what is "fair" speech. I don't think the government is more qualified than the marketplace to evaluate radio or television stations - and determine whether or not all or most views are being "fairly" represented. TVD is 100% right on that.

Also...this IS a "free speech" issue. Look at how dictators assume control of their nations. One of the first things they do is take over radio and TV stations. I think it's dangerous ground for the government to use its licensing authority to start regulating the political content of what's on the airwaves.

It's one thing for the FCC to make some guidelines regarding cursing, nudity, etc. (Though, even as a pastor, I understand and partly agree with the libertarian position that even this kind of censorship opens up a Pandora's Box). But when you start getting into and regulating POLITICAL speech on the airwaves, the government has DEFINITELY crossed the line.

The Fairness Doctrine needs to be rejected.

Pinky said...

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I personally do NOT trust the federal government to determine what is "fair" speech. I don't think the government is more qualified than the marketplace to evaluate radio or television stations - and determine whether or not all or most views are being "fairly" represented. TVD is 100% right on that..
Here's something for us to think about:
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The media is supported by advertising dollars as well as by various types of subscriptions (subscribe=underwrite). In other words, the media is lobbied by those that can afford the price of advertising with them.
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The congress--as our elected representatives--is supported not only by our votes; but, by the various types of subscriptions being made to their personal careers through the process we call lobbying.
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Does anyone ever think there is a chance that these two units of our social order are working together?.
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Or are we all just naive?
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Brian Tubbs said...

Pinky,

Do I believe that business interests influence both the media and Congress?

Yes

Your point?

Pinky said...

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Brian, it appeared to me that you drew a differentiation between them as though one was more respectful than the other.
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They seem to be in the same box to me.
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In the end, its OUR government, it is there for OUR interests, and it is the result of OUR choices.
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Maybe we should be a little less concerned about the idea of "conservative" and "liberal" and get a handle on "elitist" and "commoner"?

Magpie Mason said...

Respectfully, there is no comparison between the Fairness Doctrine and the Sedition Act.

The Fairness Doctrine has its roots in the early years of the FCC, when many media markets consisted of only a single radio station. The federal regulators thought it best to set rules that allowed the listening public to hear more points of view than whatever was offered by the owner of the lone local radio station.

In 2009 there is no need for this. FD's obsolesence is another case of free markets and technology outpacing bureaucratic regulation. FD was abolished in 1987, before any of today's political talk shows went on the air, before satellite, before webcasting, etc.

As regards the Equal Time rule: It pertains only to political candidates, and not to programming formats. But even this offers only equal opportunity, not equal time, in that the better funded candidate still enjoys more paid air time than his underfunded rival.