Another take on the Fairness Doctrine. Conservatives do need to do a better job watching comes out of the regulatory bodies. -Patrick
Patrick makes some fair points in his 'Crying Wolf on the Fairness Doctrine' post, but I think he is more than a bit sanguine about the regulatory environment our talk radio allies might soon be facing. Let me boil Patrcik's argument down to four main points:
- Obama is too smart to provoke a fight on the Fairness Doctrine
- the internet is more politcally powerful than radio
- there is a finite bandwith for conservative messaging
- conservatives need to be talking about issues that matter to Americans, like the economy, and not phantom issues like the Fairness Doctrine
Here's my response:
- Yes, Obama is too smart to bring back the 'Fairness Doctrine'. You are absolutely not going to see any movement in Congress to pass legislation forcing the FCC to revive the same rule it abandoned in 1987. But as the Center for American Progress points out, Congress does not need to pass any new legislation: "The public obligations inherent in the Fairness Doctrine are still in existence and operative, at least on paper." Instead you will see a regulatory push at the FCC to intimidate conservative radio stations by shortening their licensing requirements from every eight, to every three years, and forcing them to meet stepped up "public interest" requirements. This new standard would be just as vague and ripe for abuse as the old Fairness Doctrine ever was.
- Yes, the internet is clearly better at raising money and coordinating election activity. But talk radio is still a force, especially in legislative battles. Patrick mentions the key role talk radio played in the immigration debate. Does the internet even have a similar legislative victory? Yes, the Glenn Greenwald's and firedoglake's of the world generated thousands of phonecalls to Capitol Hill on FISA, but who won that fight? And how did their chosen candidate end up voting? There is no doubt the GOP needs to grow online, but now is not the time to be casting reliable allies like talk radio to the wolves.
- There is no finite bandwith for anyone's messaging, left or right. This reminds me of the mistake I made arguing that the netroots made a strategic mistake by going after Joe Lieberman in 2006. It seemed like a waste of their resources. It wasn't. Their fight agianst Lieberman became a rallying cry for larger issues, set the tone for 2006, and brought in new activists and money. As long as a fight fits into a larger narrative, it only expands and amplifies our messaging reach.
- Like Patrick, I also believed conservatives looked clueless this fall bringing up some guy from the '60s nobody had ever heard of while the economy crashed. But a re-regulation of radio broadcasting along the lines that CAP envisions is a real threat to freedom of speech. And the way Obama will porbably go about it, bypassing Congress and using a bureacratic out of touch regulatory body, is exactly the route the Obama administration is probably going to take on cap and trade as well. As Patrick points out CAP "president John Podesta is leading the Obama transition" and he "is dead serious."
I do believe that some of the more heated "the sky is falling" rhetoric on the return of the Fairness Doctrine is over heated. But that does not mean we should be complacent and let the FCC eat talk radio at its leisure. We must be vigilant for any signs that the Obama adminsitration is follwing CAP's policy recommendations on the issue, and hit back hard when they do.