July 08, 2007

Having read Rich Lowry’s latest gripe in National Review about the application of the Fairness Doctrine and how this liberal trick would hurt “€œconservative”€ radio commentators, my immediate, sarcastic response was “€œthis guy must be kidding.”€ As someone on the old right, I couldn”€™t imagine how any blow against truth would result from a change in the format of Rush Limbaugh’s radio program. If the same kinds of changes introducing more balance were required of FOXNEWS, the only one in my family who would even notice is our pet Basset, who likes the colors and animated faces on the Murdoch channel. That Lowry would imagine that all right-thinking people would give a tinker’s damn if neoconservative programmers were forced to open their shows to a greater variety of political opinions, is of course understandable. He and his friends have a great gig going, being able to claim to speak for all respectable opinions on the right, a claim, by the way, that does not clash with the efforts of “€œconservative”€ media journalists to reach out to in their forums and journals to dissenting opinions on the left. It is the people on our side who are left out in the cold, namely, those of us who despise the neoconservatives and who find ourselves agreeing with Ron Paul more often than with such NR heroes as Rudolph Giuliani and Joe Lieberman.

Yes I know that those who invoke the Fairness Doctrine don”€™t like us any better than they do Lowry and John Podhoretz, who are sometimes their talking partners on TV. But our guys must start thinking imaginatively if we wish to break out of our isolation. An attempt to require the presentation of balanced opinions on talk radio and TV might be our only chance to jump into the political conversation, unless we can find sponsors with very deep pockets like Rupert Murdoch and George Soros.  At this point I would gladly settle for a situation in which our people occasionally appear on TV, next to a Naderite or some disheveled vegetarian living on a commune in Upstate New York. Such people could be not any less intolerant or any less informative than those typically representing the misnamed American conservative movement. And in any case those who, like us, had been marginalized would be forced to put up with our comrades-in-arms. Give me a moment of reflection and I could come up with the names of decent-looking paleos who are at least a generation younger than I and who would offer a good presentation of our views on network TV. In the meantime, to get back to my original point, I”€™ve no idea why Rush Limbaugh is supposed to represent me or my worldview; and I”€™m still puzzled as to why I should weep over the prospect that Limbaugh might be forced to treat dissenters on his program more fairly.  

Arguably the decision of the FCC to stop enforcing the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, a regulation that required broadcast licensees to present controversial issues in an “€œhonest, equal, and balanced manner,”€ was more consistent with the First Amendment than the doctrine that had been suspended. It may also be the case that those who wish to restore the same doctrine, like Diane Feinstein, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders, are motivated by narrow partisan interests. What is less clear is that this battle is one in which the Old Right has a stake. As far as I can tell, we have no stake in this controversy, except to widen the parameters of discussion in a way that brings us into them. The suspension of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 conveniently took place as Rupert Murdoch was organizing his American media empire, after having merged the Metromedia group of stations into what became the fourth US broadcast network.  That development undoubtedly accelerated the steady decline of the Old Right before the rise of a neocon Behemoth, one against which the real Right would soon be unable to compete for influence. It would not hurt our fortunes if this alien network were significantly weakened by having to accept more diversity of opinion than it currently does. And FOX is already accepting a great deal of Democratic and leftist opinion. Allow me to repeat the point that it is we, and not the Clintonites, whom Fox, NR, etc. are refusing to bestow attention on.

Two other observations about what is going on may be called for. One, I am not convinced that the effect of the Fairness Doctrine would work against the few veteran paleos still in business. I see no reason to believe that it would put out of business such real rightist voices as Paul Weyrich and Phyllis Schlafly (both of whom have given kind attention to my publications). It might even be argued that old-fashioned small-government spokesmen for the Right are already practicing diversity (and Christian forbearance) by allowing neocons on to their programs. It is also not certain that left-liberal network news, whose staffers overwhelmingly identify with the Left, will not be affected by the diversity requirement, if it is applied across the board. Why should this doctrine exclude NBC news but embrace the neocons on FOX? Two, the judicial vindication of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine, which took place in 1969, in the famous or notorious Red Lion Broadcasting Co. vs. FCC , was by no means an arbitrary exercise of power. The Supreme Court, in a decision written up by the generally prudent Byron White, pointed out (correctly in my view) that the Reverend Billy James Hargis had used “€œa scarce resource which is denied to others”€ to engage in very personal attacks on a liberal critic of Barry Goldwater. Hargis had done exactly that when he went after Fred J. Cook, who in my opinion should have been accorded air time to respond. It is also naïve to pretend that broadcasting is a resource available to everyone. It is a paid-for monopoly, which impacts on the health of a self-governing republic (or what is left of one in today’s Western democracies).

One among other reasons, but not a trivial one, that our side is receding into the woodwork is that an Australian wheeler-dealer in the 1980s handed over to neocon recipients billions of dollars to buy vast media power. Their benefactor Murdoch bestowed on his friends a TV network—in addition to the New York Post and other printed goodies. To the rejoinder that we should find our own sugar daddy, my response is that such breaks don”€™t come along very often. And in the meantime malefactors of great wealth who bring ideological agendas are allowed to shape and reshape our political culture. The sooner we can find ways to break up this monopoly, the more easily we can end what Justice White once correctly called “€œprivate censorship.”€ Although pushing the courts into this mess may be playing with fire, even more questionable is the conduct of people who should know better defending the monopoly that already exists. To my fellow-paleos who are trying not to notice: we shall go the way of the Dodo unless we can break the present broadcast monopoly.


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