Bill Clinton recently claimed that there needs to be “more balance” on the radio. To be specific, he has asserted that, in response to the “right wing talks shows”, the government should either revive the Fairness Doctrine or that there should be more programs that present the “other side” (presumably the liberal side).
While no stranger to big money himself, Clinton expressed the worry that ” there’s always been a lot of big money to support the right wing talk shows” and he noted that Rush Limbaugh is very popular. While I am not aware of a detailed argument from Clinton, his reasoning seems to be that steps need to be taken because there is an imbalance in the political content of radio shows. This imbalance, or so he seems to claim, arises from the support of those with significant amounts of money and the popularity of at least some of the radio personalities.
Clinton is not the only one to speak on the subject. Some Senate Democrats have made noises about holding hearings on the matter, but (as one might expect from Congress) have yet to do anything about it.
The Fairness Doctrine has been applied before and required broadcasters to air “both sides” of controversial subjects. Not surprisingly, it was ruled unconstitutional in 1987. While Democrats in Congress tried to bring it back, Reagan put a stop to it with his veto. However, with Obama in the White House, some Democrats probably see a chance to muzzle the right wing radio hosts.
My view of most right wing radio (and TV) programs is that they mainly serve to spew forth emotion based fallacies (scare tactics, appeals to anger, and so on). Naturally, I often disagree with many of the views presented on such shows. However, I am against the return of the Fairness Doctrine.
One minor reason is that I am always wary of things with names like “Fairness Doctrine.” Generally, such names seem to be applied to proposals to do the exact opposite of what the name entails (like the infamous Committees of Public Safety). Of course, this need not be the case and to argue from the name would be poor reasoning indeed.
One significant reason to not have such a doctrine made into law is that there seems to be no need for such a law. My view of laws is that they should only be created when there is legitimate need for such laws. For example, a significant wrong that requires regulation and legislation to fix would justify the creation of a law. This proposed (or rather, muttered about) law seems to aim at addressing no significant wrong. While it might be contended that the right wing dominates the radio talk shows, it is a fact that the Democrats now control Congress and the White House. As such, there hardly seems to be a compelling reason to reign in the right wing radio folks. Of course, if the left wants the right to split radio time, then perhaps the left would be willing to fork over some political power to balance things out and make them fair.
Another significant reason to not have such a doctrine is that the battle over ideas should not be, in general, fought by using laws (yes, there are obvious exceptions-like laws against censorship and laws against harmful speech). Rather, the battles of ideas should be waged with ideas. If the Democrats want to balance things out with the right wing radio folks, they need to get people on the radio to argue their positions. To call for a law to curb the presentation of ideas you do not like is not the way intellectual exchanges and debates should occur. For example, if my view on the nature of the mind were to start to predominate in philosophical circles, it would be absurd for the philosophers in the minority to demand that my presentations be restricted. Rather, they should sharpen up their arguments and get their ideas out there.
Naturally, if my predominance were due to illegitimate actions on my part (threatening journal editors, for example), then action should be taken. But, if my view is popular because people like it and want to hear it, then that is no grounds for accusing me of unfairness.
In the case of right-wing radio, it could be argued that they have an unfair advantage when it comes to money. However, if the Obama election campaign is any indication, the left has access to vast amounts of money as well. Hence, they should be able to buy radio time as well as the right wing folks. Further, even if they left has less money, that is (to be pragmatic) the way things are. If the left can complain that it is unfair that their competition has more money to spend and hence there needs to be fairness, then small companies can complain about the big companies in regards to advertising. Of course, it can be argued that controversial subjects are a different manner and, of course, it can be argued that such disparities in advertising power are unfair.
It could also be argued that right wing radio has an advantage in that people actually want to listen to folks like Rush Limbaugh. Left wing radio, it can be argued, needs to be supported and protected because it has been vastly less successful.
While there is something to be said about protecting the weak, it seems unreasonable to consider popularity an unfair advantage. There are, after all, popular left wing figures and they surely could be persuaded to get on the air. Also, if the left cannot compete on talk radio fairly, then they need to work on their game rather than insist on handicapping their competition. After all, if I can’t beat someone in a 5K, what I need to do is train harder and better rather than insist that he needs to drag weights when racing.
So, if the Democrats are really worried about the right wing radio folks, they need to get their own radio shows and work on their popularity. Muttering about the success of others and then trying to hobble them is not fairness-it is just lazy, malicious and petty.