The Fairness Doctrine







There’s been some talk going around about re-instituting the Fairness Doctrine (whatever that is!).  The phrase “the Fairness Doctrine” has, I guess, been floating around for years, but I’ve never known exactly what it was.  I proceeded to “conduct Internet research,” i.e. look it up on Wikipedia.  Noble Wikipedia describes it thusly:


“The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that required the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was (in the Commission’s view) honest, equitable and balanced.”


Ha ha ha.  Do they mean like “fair and balanced”?


The Wikipedia article includes this quote, which provides a more specific description of the doctrine:


“The Fairness Doctrine had two basic elements:  It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters.  Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views:  It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials.  The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented.”


FAUX News and other outlets would, naturally, claim that they’re already doing this.  But perhaps worth pondering is:  HOW are they doing it?


The format of brief, rapid, superficial debates among panelists claiming to represent the different sides of an issue, seems to have become furiously prevalent on the TV news channels.  But I’ve seen countless of those little debates where one or more important perspectives on the issue simply weren’t articulated by anyone on the panel.  It gives the illusion of a nice, pluralistic discussion; but in actuality, the range of possible opinions that are allowed to be expressed is severely constrained.  (And the public cannot get up in arms about not being exposed to certain areas of opinion which are being kept so tightly hidden from them, they are, by consequence, not really aware those opinions even exist.  Stated differently:  How can you agitate for airtime for suppressed views you’re not even cognizant of?)


Alternatively, a channel like FAUX will often present the controversial or non-doctrinal viewpoint … but not in a persuasive or serious way.  Rather, the guest with that viewpoint is made to look like an idiot or a nut; and essentially functions as a foil or punching-bag to which the more “level-headed” guests can construct their arguments in counter-point.


And all of this, naturally, begs the question of:  Is it really even possible for a government bureau to monitor the level of “fairness” contained in media outlets’ presentations?  In some absolute way:  NO.


But on the other hand, if we imagine that there is something like collective, communal consensus in our society … and that this consensus reflects a conglomeration and mushing together of everyone’s attitudes, beliefs, shared concepts, values, etc. … and that this big body of mush can be reduced down into some approximate, comprehensible “average,” i.e. a rough consensus that’s more-or-less apparent to us as inhabitants of / participants in society … is it TRULY unreasonable to ask that broadcasting outlets – reaching millions upon millions of listeners / readers / viewers – take some responsibility for remaining (kinda .. sorta .. to some extent) plausibly inside the *gravitational field* of that shared consensus .. as opposed to consistently and intentionally violated it and going against its grain, in order to candycoat and propagate an agenda coinciding only with the interests of the socio-economic ultra-elite (by cloaking it in a fallacious veil of trite buzzphrases about populism)?


My local AM station’s current weekday schedule includes:

Rush Limbaugh:  noon-3:00pm

Dennis Miller:  3:00-4:00pm

Sean Hannity:  7:00-10:00pm

Dennis Miller (again!):  10:00pm-1:00am

That’s TEN HOURS of ultra-rightwing commentary in every 24-hour period … on the only station receivable during daytime on the AM band, in arguably most liberal/progressive community in the state.


The situation is obviously at crisis-level in a society that claims to possess some kind of “democratic” system.  The problem is that the Fairness Doctrine, while a superb idea in abstract, winds up being just too sketchy on how it could be effectively implemented … to result in a more pluralistic, representative discourse … instead of just transferring tyrannical thought-control over from corporate entities into government hands.  Government and the media outlets are already in such deep collusion, state control of the media would hardly constitute a different situation from what we’re already living under.  It might even be a productive step, in that it would make the control more obvious, more overt; and help to dispel the ridiculous but widely-held apprehension that media discourse is by-and-large “free.”


  1. acilius

     /  February 21, 2009

    I’m with you, I think. It is very troubling that major media outlets present such a narrow and unrepresentative selection of viewpoints. Really, if you compare the opinions that are allowed on TV and radio with what majorities of Americans tell pollsters they believe, you wouldn’t think it was the same country. For example, usually about 2/3 of the public says they favor a single-payer health care system- that’s been the average poll result consistently since 1946. Yet that view is almost totally absent from major media.

  2. lefalcon

     /  February 21, 2009

    Yeah that’s exactly the kind of thing I have in mind. I’m really “into” this sentence from your comment:

    “Really, if you compare the opinions that are allowed on TV and radio with what majorities of Americans tell pollsters they believe, you wouldn’t think it was the same country.”

    That’s a good formulation of the basic problem society is now facing. The media constitute an “indoctrination machine.” But as malleable as the public may be, they are not completely malleable and still retain some non-corporate-sponsored stances.

    The total monetary cost of the (latest) Iraq war has been estimated at about DOUBLE the price of Obama’s economic stimulus package. There’s all this ominous gloom-and-doom talk about the astronomic debt being incurred by this package … as if to oppose the package is seen as eminently reasonable; yet the Iraq War (twice as expensive) was a real no-brainer: The atmosphere during the leadup to the war was such that one could’ve been lynched for expressing opposition.

    “That a slave believe himself to abide freely means to dwell within the utmost confines of bondage eternal.”

    –Joel “Mephistopheles” Akamatsu

  3. acilius

     /  February 22, 2009

    Good point! I do think that opposing the “stimulus package” is quite reasonable. But the nationally broadcast debate on it is so skewed to the interests of the rich as to be laughable. Compare it with not only the leadup to the current war in Iraq, but with the Wall Street bailout. That was also far more expensive, well over a trillion dollars handed out by the Treasury with very little public discussion, well over a trillion dollars handed out by the Fed with zero public discussion. So why start the opposition now?

  4. lefalcon

     /  February 22, 2009

    From Wikipedia :

    “President Bush signed the bill into law within hours of its enactment, creating a $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program to purchase failing bank assets.”

    This is fascinating.

    I had forgotten all about Bush’s thing and its size. Shit whiz. Excellent point.

    I believe you when you say there are good argument’s against Obama’s thing. What I was trying to indicate is that:

    This trope about “Obama’s stim-pac is bad bad bad” is getting handed to the public on a silver platter … to the extent that it’s being made to seem that the thing is the equivalent of kamikaze-style crash-&-burn on a collective scale … as if Obama’s stim-pac will “break” the very basis of our national economic system … and the damage will probably take decades to repair.

    It’s like: whoa! Hold on! It might turn out to be largely ineffectual, and damaging in some particular ways. But this rhetoric that paints it as the very imposition of the equivalent of a holocaust on US economic life: gimme a break.

    “But the nationally broadcast debate on it is so skewed to the interests of the rich as to be laughable.”

    That could be the key. These pundits on AM radio I’ve long considered them to be essentially the Voice of the power-wealth nexus, trying to brain-wash through an idiom of cheesey populist tropes.

    This voracious opposition has got to be the product of big business feeling threatened: Better that legions of rank-and-filers should be shafted than their profits should decrease slightly.

    I don’t really get the mechanics of how the specifics of Obama’s thing tend to be so hurtful to the ultra-elite … but I guess they (the specifs) are somehow perceived by business as working against what business sees as “its interests.”

  5. acilius

     /  February 23, 2009

    I don’t know if the stimulus package will really be all that hurtful to the ultra-elite. My suspicion is that the Wall Street bailout, the Iraq War, and all the other Bush-authored boondoggles will likely leave the country with a punishing load of debt. How will the beneficiaries of those programs escape blame for that debt? By ignoring all those programs and pinning all the blame on Mr O’s recent proposals.

  6. lefalcon

     /  February 23, 2009

    I totally agree.

    “To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary.”

  7. acilius

     /  February 24, 2009

    Hear, hear!

  8. lefalcon

     /  February 24, 2009

    I think I’ve been a bit confused lately vis-a-vis all this discussion about Obama’s econ stim pack, because I had made the following mistaken assumption:

    I thought the critics of the stim pack actually believed what they were saying (i.e. that the stim pack was this truly monstrous thing).

    Now I realize that the issue is not so much the stim pack itself .. as it is USING it as a device for political manoeuvering.

    Even if, by some chance, the package turns out to have various demonstrable positive effects, such effects can always be attributed to an arbitrary force, like the wind.

    (Or to the far-reaching legacy of Ronald Reagan, still mysteriously manifesting itself decades after the demise of that presidency.)

    The important thing is to get the message out to the public that Obama is a man who **does wrong things**.

    The right has digested the teachings of Rove quite thoroughly by now: Choose a simple message. Keep hammering on it. And in spite of any obvious facts that might appear to contradict it, your message will, in the end, “become reality.”

    In a word, don’t be afraid to configure reality. Don’t be shy!

  9. acilius

     /  February 25, 2009

    The phrase “the critics of the stim pack” lumps together people with a lot of viewpoints and agendas. Obviously, you’re writing a comment on a blog thread (fer chrissake!,) not delivering the state of the union address. So it would be silly of me to take you to task for using a loose phrase. I bring it up because my first reaction upon reading it was “hey, is he telling me that I’m the same as those Bush Republicans in Congress who voted to sink trillions of dollars down a rathole in Iraq and throw trillions more at Wall Street and who are now posing as champions of fiscal responsibility?” That reaction only lasted a fraction of a second, it was obvious you weren’t insulting me. I was just alarmed for a moment.

  10. lefalcon

     /  February 25, 2009

    When I say “critics of the StimPac,” I don’t mean people that might find fault with this or that aspect, while speaking in the context of an intelligent, reflective discussion.

    Rather, when I say “critics of the StimPac,” I mean:

    People who mindlessly and vociferously hold it to be the equivalent of collective suicide that will mutilate the nation’s economic and social foundations.

    People in the first category, to which I’m inclined to “assign” you, may have some things to say worth listening to.

  11. acilius

     /  February 26, 2009

    I was sure that’s what you meant. I just wanted to let you know that it sounded a little harsh.

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