Although the phrase Fairness Doctrine did not come up during the course of a brief exchange between evening talker John Ziegler and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the conversation certainly veered into that territory. The exchange took place over the air on Clear Channel's KFI-AM Los Angeles. Inhofe claimed that Democrats are looking to do something about conservative talk radio.
Without identifying the senators involved, Inhofe told Ziegler, "I was going over to vote the other day, and I was walking with two very liberal gals, that didn't pay any attention to me being with them," he said. Something they heard on the air somewhere had them "outraged," possibly something from Ziegler or maybe Rush Limbaugh. According to Inhofe, they said, "We've got to do something about this, these are nothing but far right wing extremists, we've got to have a balance, there's got to be a legislative fix to this. And as we got of the elevator I said, you gals don't understand, this is market driven and there's no market for your liberal tripe." Ziegler guessed that the senators were Boxer and Feinstein, and Inhofe said "You're halfway there. The other one's running for president, you figure it out." Inhofe said that this is common chatter.
Ziegler said "So Hillary and Boxer are conspiring to end talk radio." Inhofe, chuckling, said "No, not end talk radio, they just want to influence it." Staffers for each senator said the conversation never took place. From Boxer's office: "Senator Boxer told me that either her friend Senator Inhofe needs new glasses or he need to have his hearing aid checked, because that conversation never happened." From Clinton's office: "Jim Inhofe is wrong. This supposed conversation never happened – not in his presence or anywhere else."
SmartMedia observation: We'll comment on this as though it happened just as Inhofe described, because this is in fact an ongoing issue. When Republicans were running the House in a sometimes heavy-handed, silence-the-opposition manner under Tom DeLay (R-TX), and Bill Frist (R-TN) was trying to limit Senate filibusters, we heard John McCain (R-AZ) say on many occasions that the Republicans should remember that they will not always be in the majority. We don't believe he expected to return to the minority quite as fast as he did, but Democrats should heed his words as well on this occasion. It's no secret that a lot of Democrats would love to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine. Maybe that number would decrease if liberal talk radio were more on par with the conservative brand. Some radio programming theorists would probably argue that with the proper mix of experience behind the mic, entertainment value, and patient audience building, that some day liberal talk could catch and even overtake the competition. Right now, the conservative brand has a 15-20 year head start on the liberal brand. If you don't like Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage, the answer is not to attack their free speech, it is to take it head on with your own free speech. To wrap up, the Fairness Doctrine is fatally flawed because it assumes that the other side must be heard on any issue, as if each issue is two-dimensional. There are 18 different candidates for president right now and many others are hovering on the fringes looking for the right moment to jump in themselves, all of whom think they're different enough to have a "side" of their own. Most issues have many more than two sides to them, making the entire concept inherently impractical.