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In Case of Emergency, Break the Constitution

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Did you know that the nation will soon undergo a test that will determine how effectively the President of the United States can seize control of the media in the event of an “emergency?” Well, that’s not the way they’re putting it.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a press release on Feb. 3 outlining the plan for the “first-ever Presidential alert.” On a date yet to be set, the Presidential alert will go “to television and radio broadcasters, cable systems and satellite service providers who will then deliver the alert to the American public,” according to the FCC.

This is not an opt-in plan. “The national test will require EAS [Emergency Alert System] participants to be part of the exercise and to receive and transmit a live code that includes a Presidential alert message to their respective viewers and listeners.”

Maybe it’s harmless. Maybe it’s somehow needed. The current EAS replaced the old Emergency Broadcast System back in 1997, and both list a presidential message as the first priority. But it has never been used for that.

It’s partly because we have so much instant media that it’s not needed. Also, having the President seize the media even for a short time sounds more like something out of Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, Castro’s Cuba or Dear Leader’s North Korea. Perhaps Mr. Obama remembers that some TV networks here occasionally declined to carry George W. Bush’s messages.

This “first ever” Presidential alert dovetails with another development, a proposed presidential “kill switch” for the Internet in the event of an emergency.

A bill sponsored by Susan Collins (R-Maine) died in the last Congress but will soon be reintroduced. Collins said the proposed law “would provide a mechanism for the government to work with the private sector in the event of a true cyber emergency.”

According to’s David Kravets, a Senate Homeland Security Committee aide said the law would, for example, require “the system that connects the floodgates to the Hoover Dam” to cut its Internet connection if the government learns of a cyber attack.

“What’s unclear, however,” the article says, “is how the government would have any idea when a cyber attack was imminent or why the operator wouldn’t shutter itself if it detected a looming attack.” Good questions.

Collins insists that the bill would not create a threat to free speech like the situation in Egypt, where the embattled Mubarak government has tried to shut down the Internet. We have her word on it.

Speaking of seizing power over the Internet, Obama’s FCC issued Net Neutrality rules for the Internet in December despite Congress refusing to grant that authority and a federal court saying the same in the NBC/Comcast merger case. Legally speaking, the FCC has as much clout over the Internet as it has over catfish farms – zero. But they went ahead anyway, thumbing their noses at the Constitution’s separation of powers.

However, elections have consequences. And some of the shoe is now on the other foot. That’s why the newly constituted House of Representatives will soon hold hearings and votes on the FCC’s illegal action. They also will examine other executive branch abuses (i.e., EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s megalomaniacal, anti-carbon witch hunt).

The FCC additionally has “diversity czar” and Associate General Counsel Mark Lloyd concocting regulations designed to strangle conservative talk radio. Since the public is on to the dangers of re-imposing the Fairness Doctrine, which had hushed talk radio until the FCC abandoned the policy in 1987, Lloyd wants to re-impose it piecemeal. We know this because as a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP), Lloyd co-wrote a June 2007 report with authors from another leftwing group, the Free Press, entitled “The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio.”

The Free Press was co-founded by avowed Marxist Robert McChesney and had fellow communist Van Jones on its board until he resigned in 2008. As Accuracy in Media reports: “In an article in the socialist Monthly Review, ‘Journalism, Democracy, and Class Struggle,’ Chesney declared, ‘Our job is to make media reform part of our broader struggle for democracy, social justice, and, dare we say it, socialism.’”

Since it’s clear that the public would hate any revival of the Fairness Doctrine, the report recommends a back-door approach to increase “localism” and “diversity” of ownership and content. The boldface headers below are verbatim from the report.

1) Restore local and national caps on ownership of commercial radio stations (p. 9). This would effectively break up the companies that provide nationally syndicated programs with such hosts as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin.

2) Ensure greater local accountability over radio licensing (p. 10). The report recommends limiting licenses to only three years, and forcing station owners to face community monitoring boards. Imagine these panels stacked with “community organizers” from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

3) Require commercial owners who fail to abide by enforceable public interest obligations to pay a fee to support public broadcasting (p. 11). Even though National Public Radio’s 860 stations are partially tax-supported and claim a total weekly audience of 26 million, the report says some private sector stations would have to pay for more public radio.

So, let’s recap. A “first ever” Presidential alert will be delivered by all major broadcast and cable media. A presidential “kill switch” is proposed for the Internet. The FCC has imposed Net Neutrality rules on an industry over which it has no authority. And a “diversity czar” at the FCC is making up rules to cripple conservative talk radio.

Given this pattern, we might want to revisit the late rocker Frank Zappa’s view when he was asked about what he thought of the U.S. government:

“I think they’re trying to take over the country.”

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