George Will

The court's 1969 ruling relied heavily on the scarcity rationale. But Brian Anderson and Adam Thierer, in their book "A Manifesto for Media Freedom," note that today there are about 14,000 radio stations, twice as many as in 1969, and 18.9 million subscribers to satellite radio, up 17 percent in 12 months, and 86 percent of households with either cable or satellite television receive an average of 102 of the 500 available channels. Because daily newspapers are much more scarce than are radio and television choices, should there be a fairness doctrine for The New York Times?

The 1969 court dismissed as "speculative" the possibility that the fairness doctrine would cause broadcasters to "eliminate coverage of controversial issues." But the proper worry was that the doctrine would continue to stifle the flowering of controversy. A court that considers the doctrine today will note that whereas in 1980 there were fewer than 100 talk radio programs, today there are more than 1,500 news or talk radio stations.

Further subverting the "scarcity" rationale for government supervision of broadcast content, some liberals now say: The problem is not maldistribution of opinion and information, but too much of both. Until recently, liberals fretted that the media were homogenizing America into blandness. Now they say speech management by government is needed because of a different scarcity -- the public's attention, which supposedly is overloaded by today's information cornucopia.

And these worrywarts say the proliferation of radio, cable, satellite broadcasting and Internet choices allows people to choose their own universe of commentary, which takes us far from the good old days when everyone had the communitarian delight of gathering around the cozy campfire of the NBC-ABC-CBS oligopoly. Being a liberal is exhausting when you must simultaneously argue for illiberal policies on the basis of dangerous scarcity and menacing abundance.

If reactionary liberals, unsatisfied with dominating the mainstream media, academia and Hollywood, were competitive on talk radio, they would be uninterested in reviving the fairness doctrine. Having so sullied liberalism's name that they have taken to calling themselves progressives, liberals are now ruining the reputation of reactionaries, which really is unfair.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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