The recent defeat of the immigration "reform" bill in the Senate, in response to an overwhelming deluge of phone calls and letters from irate voters, has focused renewed attention on the supposedly malign influence of talk radio, which is dominated by conservative hosts, and which played an undeniably large part in generating the opposition to the bill. Various liberal spokesmen are now demanding that something be done to rectify this supposedly outrageous "imbalance."
Most of these critics have stopped short of openly demanding reinstitution of the Fairness Doctrine, the FCC regulation which, for decades until 1987, required radio stations to broadcast roughly equal amounts of conservative and liberal opinions on public issues, on penalty of having their broadcast licenses revoked. The justification was that, whereas anyone could start his own newspaper and say anything he wanted, broadcast bands were technologically limited in number, and, therefore, the government was entitled to decide who got them and what they should be allowed to say.
That rationale went out the window when it became technologically possible to have a huge number of radio stations, and in 1987 the FCC sensibly jettisoned the Fairness Doctrine. Since then, talk radio has mushroomed into a largely conservative preserve -- in contrast to the vast majority of nationally influential newspapers and newsmagazines, which remain staunchly liberal.
This development has simply (and rather hilariously) infuriated the liberals, who had been enjoying decades of near-total domination of the means of shaping public opinion. A large segment of the American people, who had had liberal views shoved down their throats for decades, suddenly found on talk radio spokesmen for their own views. Outrageous! And so we are hearing demands for more "balance." Not, mind you, in The New York Times or Newsweek -- heavens no! Just strictly in the realm of conservative-dominated talk radio.
I will confess that, 20 years ago, I thought there was something to be said for the Fairness Doctrine. One prominent conservative opinion leader insisted at the time that she could never have gotten her views on the airwaves without it. But that was then. Now, the airwaves are now a much bigger affair, and the only reason that liberal broadcasters like Air America have gone bankrupt is that they haven't been able to persuade a commercially significant segment of the American public to listen to their opinions. Mario Cuomo and Texas' Jim Hightower, to mention only two of the liberals who tried to compete with Rush Limbaugh, sank without a trace.
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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