Tucson tragedy dredges up Fairness Doctrine debate


In the spate of finger-pointing that came in the wake of the shootings in Tucson AZ, a handful of Democrats mentioned the phrase “Fairness Doctrine,” thus returning it to the forefront of themes being addressed by radio talk show hosts.

Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) was the first to bring up the topic this time, although rather than mention any specific media figures, he instead brought up words spoken by failed Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R-NV).
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) also suggested reviving the Doctrine, although he mentioned television in his remarks, according to The Hill.

Politico noted that the controversy gave prominent radio talkers Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity a reason to pound on the topic once again. Politico noted that this particular dance – tragedy, attacks on coarse discourse, mention of the Doctrine, and host rebuttal – dates back to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. In that instance, Bill Clinton went on the attack without mentioning any names, but according to Politico, most people filled in Clinton’s blank with Limbaugh’s name.

Limbaugh was ready this time, saying, “So believe me, I wouldn’t be surprised, folks, if somebody in the Obama regime or some FCC bureaucrat or some Democrat congressperson has already written up legislation to stifle and eliminate conservative speech, and that legislation is sitting in a desk drawer someplace just waiting for the right event to clamp down because that’s what all this is.”

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps could be the bureaucrat that could be inserted into Limbaugh’s blank. However, Copps has stated that he is not in favor of reinstating the Doctrine. Rather, he would take strong steps to promote diversity of media ownership and to limit consolidation.

RBR-TVBR observation: Every so often, a Democrat on Capitol Hill will suggest bringing the Fairness Doctrine back to life. However, no legislative attempts to exhume the Doctrine have gained the slightest amount of traction, and even if the unlikely event of a bill making it into law were to occur, we think the judicial system would make short work of it on First Amendment grounds.

President Barack Obama has stated that he opposes reviving it, as do key Democrats at the FCC Julius Genachowski and Michael Copps. On Capitol Hill, we believe the Doctrine would have a hard time making it out of the Democratic caucus, much less the full membership of both houses. If it did somehow escape the House with a positive vote – an impossibility with Republicans in control – there is no way Republicans in the Senate would ever let it get to the floor.

In short, the Fairness Doctrine is not going to zombie its way back into modern political discourse.