‘What I think we need to do is have more balance in the programs’
Former president and senior Democratic statesman Bill Clinton has joined a growing drumbeat for government regulation of radio talk shows, claiming the U.S. “ought to have the Fairness Doctrine or we ought to have more balance on the other side.”
WND reported earlier this week when Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, became the second U.S. senator in a week to endorse a return to the ideas behind the so-called “Fairness Doctrine,” a policy abandoned under President Reagan in 1987 as unnecessary and unconstitutional.
The policy, originally introduced in 1949, required that radio and television stations with a broadcast license air contrasting views on matters of public importance. The policy made it practically impossible for talk radio to make a profit, because the market would not bear a lineup with an equal number of programs from the left and right. Since the Fairness Doctrine was abandoned, more than 2,000 radio stations – the vast majority identifed as politically conservative – have adopted a talk radio format.
WND also reported when Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told WND columnist Bill Press, “I think it’s absolutely time to pass a standard. Now, whether it’s called the Fairness Standard, whether it’s called something else – I absolutely think it’s time to be bringing accountability to the airwaves.”
Clinton’s comments arrived via an interview on the Mario Solis Marich show, which has posted an audio recording of the former president’s statements.
“Essentially, because there’s always been a lot of big money to support the right wing talk shows and, let’s face it, Rush Limbaugh is fairly entertaining even when he’s saying things I think are ridiculous,” Clinton said. “I think the American people know now that we’re in a very serious time. We all need to be questioned. The president, I’m sure, would be the first to admit none of us are right all the time and everything should be debated.”
“With the future of the country hanging in the balance, we shouldn’t be playing petty politics or just going for entertainment,” he said. “What I think we need to do is have more balance in the programs, or have some opportunity for people to offer countervailing opinions,” he said.
“When the Fairness Doctrine was done away with I was not in favor of doing away with it,” Clinton said. “I never minded having somebody be heard who disagreed with me.”
A member of the U.S. House also has weighed in on the issue. At RealClearPolitics.com, a recording has been posted with Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., endorsing the idea.
“I think the Fairness Doctrine should be reinstated. The idea of fairness in the media is very important,” he said. “We should have a fair and open system.”
Hinchey said his main focus “as far as the media is concerned” is to “open the process up, and make it more open, more reasonable, more fair, and providing a larger diversity of information so that people can make decisions for themselves.”
Participants on Calderone’s forum warned of the consequences of government regulation of talk shows.
“For all the tirades about Bush as a ‘dictator,’ he never did anything [t]o abridge free speech. Anyone who supports this type of legislation restricting speech is following the true path to tyranny,” said one.
“Conservative Talk Radio is Balance,” added another.
Said a third, “I have no problem with more balance. Just do not legislative it. Get your checkbook out Bill and get it going just the same as Rush did. What could be more fair?”
“There are some liberals in the media that insist the fear of a return of the Censorship Doctrine is an imaginary one that exists only in the heads of paranoid conservative,” commented L. Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, when Harkin made his statements. “Meanwhile, one liberal leader after another publicly states his or her intent to bring it back.”
WND has previously reported other Democratic legislators have tried to claim talk about a reintroduction of the “Fairness Doctrine” is merely conspiracy-mongering by right-wing talk radio and its partisan cheerleaders.
But other Democrats in the Senate and House – and even a few Republicans – have made no secret of their support for such legislation.
“For many, many years, we operated under a Fairness Doctrine in this country,” Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., told Albuquerque radio station KKOB last year. “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.”
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., told WYNC’s Bryan Lehrer Show in 2007, “I think the Fairness Doctrine ought to be there and I also think equal time doctrine ought to come back.”
Last June, John Gizzi reported in Human Events a conversation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in which he asked her if she personally supported revival of the policy.
“Yes,” Pelosi answered.
And as recently as December, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. – who serves on the Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee – told the Palo Alto Daily Post she still believes in the “Fairness Doctrine” and will work on bringing it back.
“It should and will affect everyone,” Eshoo pledged.
Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, has said, “Sen. Obama does not support reimposing the Fairness Doctrine on broadcasters. He considers this debate to be a distraction from the conversation we should be having about opening up the airwaves and modern communications to as many diverse viewpoints as possible.”
But the debate heated up again recently when Obama singled out Rush Limbaugh, the king of talk radio, for criticism: “You can’t just listen to c and get things done.”