The Democratic National Committee, with the approval of President Lyndon B. Johnson engaged in an effort that eventually led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Fairness Doctrine. What would have been a major scandal had it been discovered, was revealed years later in former CBS News president Fred Friendly’s book “The Good Guys, the Bad Guys and the First Amendment.”
The DNC prepared a kit that it delivered to voters and activist explaining, “how to demand time under the Fairness Doctrine.” In 1964, Wayne Phillips, Director of News and Information for the DNC brought Fred J. Cook, a friend from his journalism days, into the fold to write a piece for The Nation magazine lashing out against conservative talk radio.
According to Friendly’s book, “Because of the close association of James Row with President Johnson and also because of John Bailey’s standing as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, there is little doubt that this contrived scheme had White House approval.”
Bill Ruder, an Assistant Secretary of Commerce in the Johnson administration recalled, “Our massive strategy was to use the Fairness Doctrine to challenge and harass right-wing broadcasters and hope that the challenge would be so costly to them that they would be inhibited and decide it was too expensive to continue.”
The DNC mailed out thousands of copies of Cook’s Nation article to Democratic state and local parties and Democratic officials. The DNC also mailed the article to radio stations, with a letter from DNC counsel Dan Brightman warning that if Democrats are attacked, demands will be made for equal time.
The end result was that stations gave Democrats 1,678 free hours of response time resulting from 1,035 letters of complaints, mostly to popular programs of the time such as Clarence Manion, Dan Smoot and Carl McIntire. A proud Phillips wrote, “Even more important than the free radio time was the effectiveness of this operation in inhibiting the political activity of these right-wing broadcasts.”
With Reagan’s election came a “government is the problem” deregulation agenda that included the broadcasting industry. The newly-appointed FCC chairman Mark Fowler started an effort to dismantle the Fairness Doctrine.