Hey, Talkers, Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Fairness Doctrine?

Originally published December 14, 2008 in the Sacramento Bee

     What scares Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and now George Will even more than a Democratic-run government?    The prospect of restoring fairness to the public airwaves.
     They have good reason to be afraid.

     It's been well documented that 90 percent of radio talkers are conservative, and 22 percent of Americans cite talk radio as their primary source of news. What's less known is that for more than two years, right-wing hosts have been lambasting the Fairness Doctrine on thousands of radio stations nationwide, convincing unwitting listeners that fairness is unfair, and that localism in broadcasting is bad for communities.

     Pre-Ronald Reagan, that FCC rule said broadcasters had to provide a reasonable opportunity for contrasting viewpoints on issues of public importance. Reagan's Federal Communications Commission threw out the Fairness Doctrine, paving the way for conservatives and Republicans to dominate political speech.   No question it's made an impact on elections: In 1994, when Republicans took the House of Representatives for the first time in 50 years, they made Rush Limbaugh an honorary member of Congress.

     Only 10 percent of radio talkers are liberal, and most liberal shows can only be found on small stations.  But independent research reveals that areas of the country that are exposed to progressive talk radio are now starting to vote blue.  "Air America Radio" and the "Ed Schultz Show" have been on the air for four years and are gradually increasing their number of stations.  Is it a coincidence that states which now hear a liberal viewpoint – states like Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, Florida and Virginia – all went for Obama?  Or that the surprise swing states of North Dakota, Montana and even Arizona now hear liberal talk?

     True, other factors such as an unpopular president and war, and a debilitating financial crisis played key roles. Still, states with no progressive talk voted red, as usual.

     So maybe it's not a coincidence that since Democrats made gains in the 2006 election, dozens of progressive stations were taken off the air and replaced with programs that get lower ratings.
Liberals compete well on talk radio. The problem is, corporations won't advertise on stations that don't drink the corporate Kool-Aid (as evidenced by a 2006 memo sent to ABC Radio, outlining the blacklisting of "Air America," signed by 90 major corporations.)

     Yep, conservatives should be afraid, very afraid. If the 90 percent of the country that today only gets to hear conservative ideas somehow gets to hear other ideas, conservatives may not be able to compete.



  1. When you cannot compete in the market place of ideas, get a law passed.

    If liberal drivel would sell the programing would already be in place.

  2. It isn't a market place of "ideas" when the uber-wealthy pay for propaganda from the right and refuse to allow the other ideas to be heard. Like the blog says, when people have the opportunity to listen to liberal talk they listen and then the advertisers boycott the stations why? Because of fear of honest criticism? Liberal talk is not boycotted by advertisers due to a lack of listening audience.