Victor Davis Hanson

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., caused a stir recently when she criticized talk radio for its role in stopping the recent immigration bill. Talk radio, she lectured, "pushes people to...extreme views without a lot of information."

Feinstein then went on to suggest that it might be time to bring back the "Fairness Doctrine, repealed in 1987, that mandated private radio stations devote time to all points of view during discussion of controversial topics.

Unfortunately, Feinstein chose Orwellian logic to make her point: "I remember when there was a fairness doctrine, and I think there was much more serious correct reporting to people."

One wonders what Feinstein meant by "correct." Correct to whom? Democratic senators, a government auditor or New York Times editors? Aside from the central issue of stifling free speech, there are a number of things wrong with Sen. Feinstein's desire to have the government arbitrate what is "fair" and "correct" on your car radio.

Talk radio is as much entertainment as political opinion. It lives or dies by ratings. Those who master the genre - with off-the-wall jokes, mimicry, satire and bombast -prosper and get their political message across. Those who can't, don't.

Had liberal talk show hosts of the past, like an Al Franken, Jerry Brown or Mario Cuomo, won far more listeners than Rush Limbaugh, one suspects that Sen. Feinstein would see little need for new laws. And we would probably now be spared the present sour-grapes cries about fairness.

The government is already in the broadcasting business with National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service. Despite conservative whining about the leftwing biases of these two institutions, fortunately no one has succeeded in having their broadcasts monitored or in demanding equal time on them for all views.

More importantly, for reasons that are not entirely clear, liberals and conservatives tend to excel in different genres of American media. Most successful political radio talk shows are in fact conservative. On the other hand, humorous political TV spoofs, like Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show," Bill Maher's "Real Time" or "The Colbert Report," tend to have a liberal bias.

Similarly, the major networks - CBS, NBC and ABC - are liberal bastions. So are most of our motion pictures and documentaries. The most prestigious and oldest grant-giving foundations - Rockefeller, Ford, MacArthur and Guggenheim - are liberal leaning. Likewise are the majority of universities, from the most prestigious, like Harvard, to the largest, such as the California State University system.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.