Saturday, December 18, 2004

Fear of Fairness 

Can you imagine a world in which broadcasters were obligated to follow each hour of Limbaugh with an hour of Limbaugh-rebuttal? Unimaginable as it seems, we lived in such a world just two decades ago. Longtime Zemblans are no doubt sick of hearing us rant about how the repeal, under Reagan, of the FCC's Fairness Doctrine was one of the watershed moments in the ongoing marginalization of American liberalism. Now, via our distinguished colleague Avedon Carol (a top-3 U.K. blogger!), comes word that Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York has introduced legislation that would "reinstate the fairness doctrine and ensure that broadcasters present discussions of conflicting views on issues of public importance." PBS has just posted a Bill Moyers interview with Rep. Slaughter at the NOW website:
BILL MOYERS: Tell me exactly what the fairness doctrine was.

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: Pretty much that you had an obligation to present two sides of an issue. There wasn't really an obligation to go out and hunt for somebody if something outrageous was said on a station that you owned, or television station. But if someone asked to come on to present an opposing view, they were allowed to do it. And the stations were obligated to do it. And most station owners that I've talked to have said it wasn't onerous. They didn't find it all that difficult . . . .

BILL MOYERS: So when the fairness doctrine went down in 1986, that was the first year you came to Congress, what was the consequence of it? What happened as a result?

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: AM radio rose. It wasn't even gradual, Bill. I mean, almost immediately. And I should point out to you that when we tried to reinstate [the fairness doctrine] again in '93, one of the reasons we couldn't was that Rush Limbaugh had organized this massive uprising against it, calling it "The Hush Rush Law." Which again said that while Rush can speak and anybody that he wants to can speak on those stations, the rest of us can't. But he aroused his listeners so that they contacted their members of Congress and killed the bill, and that's not the first time we've seen that . . . .

BILL MOYERS: And you're saying that kind of discourse is dominating America right now.

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: Dominating America and a waste of good broadcast time and a waste of our airwaves.

BILL MOYERS: Not to the people who agree with him.

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: Well, they don't hear anything else. Why would they disagree with him?

BILL MOYERS: What does it say to you that every day in America according to our research, on the 45 top rated talk radio stations, there are 310 hours of conservative talk and only five hours of talk from the other side of the aisle? Now the nation is evenly divided politically, but on talk radio…

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: Actually more than that. There was a poll done that showed that 70 percent of Americans — conservatives, liberals, whatever stride — said they're not being told the truth anymore. But what upsets me frankly, is I'm surprised it's five percent. And I think that's because one radio station in my district was converted to Air America…

BILL MOYERS: To the liberal network.

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: …to sort of keep us quiet. It says to me that that's why senior citizens don't understand now that social security is going to be privatized. And that they don't understand what the Medicare bill that was passed intends to do, and that's get rid of Medicare and push everybody on HMO by 2010. Because we have no way in the world to get this information out to people. And it is a shame.

BILL MOYERS: You think that stations, radio and television that are licensed should be required to offer an alternative. Would you feel this way if Rush Limbaugh were a Democrat, a liberal?

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: Yes, I would. Yes, I would. I have no question about that. I think it's just so important, because I'm not sure Americans have a chance to know what's going on. Now, I know the news comes so fast and furiously. But I go out and I make speeches, and I always make it a point to really, "Let me tell you what's going on. Let me tell you what's in Washington, what you're not hearing."

People are uniformly stunned. They can't believe. They couldn't believe that Medicare bill. And that the Democrats were shut out of the room, or that Charlie Rangel and the Democrats in the Ways and Means Committee were gonna be arrested by the Capitol police for using the Ways and Means Library. I mean, this is outrageous. We'll never put a stop to this kind of action, unless people know it . . . .

BILL MOYERS: You're saying that the press didn't cover these stories and that talk radio skewed the issue?

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: Talk radio didn't want to mention it. I bet you that nobody's ever heard Rush Limbaugh say anything about Tom DeLay and what he did and his ethics problems. He's not gonna talk about that. But should America know or not that the Majority Leader, the Majority Leader has turned the whole Congress upside down and that what Americans learned on how a bill is passed has no relationship at all to what's going on in Washington now. I think America wants to know that. I want them to.
On a not-unrelated note, we must commend to your attention Avedon's spectacular rant on the primary animating principle of modern conservative politics. It "isn't fiscal conservatism, it isn't individual freedom, it isn't strict Constitutionalism, it isn't even maintaining the structure, mores and folkways and ethic of America from its inception. It's just their hatred of us":
How do they love America? They say they do, and that we don't, but how do they show it? By telling us that in order to love our country, in order to show our support for the Land of the Free, we must sacrifice our Constitutional freedoms. It is precisely our Constitutional freedoms that have historically made America the envy of the world, that gave us our strength. Yet look how eagerly they slash and burn them to "protect America" . . . .

France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have "socialized medicine", so they are obviously indistinguishable from Stalinism, to hear conservatives tell it. That's why it was so easy for conservatives to start accusing Bill and Hillary Clinton of being communists when they campaigned for "Hillarycare". Although they sometimes claimed to despise this program because it was supposedly complicated or bureaucratic, the truth is that they opposed it precisely because it might actually work. The same reason they despise Social Security, which clearly does work. Because such programs promote the general welfare.

This is why conservatives must lie about what they are doing. They are trying to destroy Social Security while claiming they mean to save it. They have to lie, because no one with any sense, or any concern for our nation, would want them to succeed at destroying it. They make up reasons why any proposed national health insurance plan would fail, because they do not want one to succeed. They claim they want to stop abortion "to save lives" while instituting programs that are known to increase the likelihood of unwanted pregnancy and abortion. They empty our treasury and cut taxes to the rich while claiming to "improve" our economy. They construct a program of theocracy while claiming it's in aid of "freedom of religion". They claim to be "Constitutional constructionists" while stripping the Constitution of any meaning. They even restrict our travel and threaten to remove our citizenship for political reasons while claiming to "protect our freedoms".

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