Killing Off the Opposition
By William Warren
Iowa Senator Tom Harkin has now joined the lengthening list of congressional liberals desperate to get the elephant out of the room -- or, more precisely in this case, off the airwaves.
We're talking, of course, about the Democrat establishment's frenzied push to reinstate the so-called “Fairness Doctrine.” the now-defunct regulation engineered to mandate “fairness” on talk radio by muzzling free speech and silencing conservative commentators.
Ever since the polls began to predict massive Democratic landslide in both the legislative and presidential elections of 2008, Democrats in Washington have been eagerly licking their chops, eager reinstate this policy and bury the nagging likes of Limbaugh, Levin, and Hannity. All the while, of course, they have cleverly camouflaged their intent with rosy pronouncements about “opening up the airwaves.”
The fact of the matter, of course, is that the airwaves are already as wide open as the great outdoors, itself. Anyone who wishes to sound off is more than welcome to buy time – as long as they can attract an audience. And thereby hangs a problem for leftwing talker types: the public isn't buying what they've been selling.
So, the wannabe talkers' political handmaidens in Congress – ever eager to sacrifice free enterprise on the altar of political expediency – have come up with a solution of sorts, In the sacred name of “fairness,” they're out to shut down the whole shooting (or, as they see it, shouting) match. Their message to the American people is simple, short, and anything but sweet: if you won't listen to our guys, we won't let you hear yours.
That's how this Doctrine actually works – and that's why its proponents clearly want it on the fast track:
• Last summer, the House of Reps reigning Queen of Mean, when told that many Americans did not want the reinstitution of the “Fairness Doctrine,” retorted smugly “The interest of my caucus is in the reverse.” Asked if that meant she was going to bring back the Doctrine, she icily responded, “Yes.”
• In June 2007, Illinois Senator Richard Durbin bluntly proclaimed, "It's time to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine.”
• On October 22, 2008, New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman, "I would want this station and all stations to have to present a balanced perspective and different points of view … For many, many years we operated under a Fairness Doctrine in this country, and I think the country was well-served. I think the public discussion was at a higher level and more intelligent in those days than it has become since." 
• On February 4, 2009, Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, when asked about whether it was time to bring back the so-called "Fairness Doctrine" responded, "I think it's absolutely time to pass a standard. Now, whether it's called the Fairness Standard, whether it's called something else – I absolutely think it's time to be bringing accountability to the airwaves."
And now we can add Senator Harkin to the list.
On Wednesday, Politico highlighted a recent interview – ironically enough, on the radio -- between the Iowa Senator and liberal radio host Bill Press. When the topic of the “Fairness Doctrine” surfaced, the Senator enthusiastically joined the ranks of those who have come out in support of muzzling their on-air critics. The dialogue commenced as follows:
SENATOR TOM HARKIN (D-IA): “By the way, I read your Op-Ed in the Washington Post the other day. I ripped it out, I took it into my office and said 'there you go, we gotta get the Fairness Doctrine back in law again.'”
BILL PRESS: “Alright, well good for you. You know, we gotta work on that, because they are just shutting down progressive talk from one city after another. All we want is, you know, some balance on the airwaves, that's all. You know, we're not going to take any of the conservative voices off the airwaves, but just make sure that there are a few progressives and liberals out there, right?”
SENATOR TOM HARKIN (D-IA): “Exactly, and that's why we need the fair -- that's why we need the Fairness Doctrine back.”
BILL PRESS: We'll work on that together. Hey, thanks, Senator! Always good to talk to you.
The column Senator Harkin endorsed whined about none other than the hackneyed old “right wing conspiracy” in radio in places like Washington D.C. and elsewhere. As Mr. Press concluded his column:
“There is no free market in talk radio today, only an exclusive, tightly held, conservative media conspiracy. The few holders of broadcast licenses have made it clear they will not, on their own, serve the general public. Maybe it's time to bring back the Fairness Doctrine -- and bring competition back to talk radio in Washington and elsewhere.”
What Mr. Press conveniently leaves out, of course – with Mr. Harkin's eager acquiescence – is the raw fact that the reason the evil “holders of broadcast licenses” have little or no interest in spewing out leftwing agitprop is that, quite simply, it does not pay the bills. Listeners don't care to hear it. Advertisers don't care to sponsor it. And therefore, sane license holders do not care to fill their valuable airwaves with it while watching their profits go the way of the federal budget.
So, what do the politicians propose? Well, the only way to “bring competition back” into the marketplace is by forcing radio stations to carry leftwing drivel. No matter what it costs the stations in lost listeners – and revenues. Even if it costs the supposedly venal “holders of licenses” their very ability to make a living.
Now, of course, put to the test, the leftwing politicians will vehemently deny that they are out to banish Rush, Mark, or Sean from the air. They'll continue to duplicitously claim that they only want to “bring accountability to the airwaves” to bring back “a balanced perspective.”
And what makes this so disingenuous is that they know all the while that if they can mandate “equal time,” stations unable to get advertising for unpopular liberal programming will have to scrap conservative programming as well. So, get ready for more Muzak.
Tom Harkin is a lot of things – he's a man who in 1992 lied about his service in Vietnam, he's a man who in 2006 defended Hugo Chavez for calling President Bush “el Diablo,” and he's man who has accused Rush Limbaugh of being on drugs while on the air. But, one thing Tom Harkin is not is stupid. He, like all of his liberal colleagues, know full well that if they reinstate the “Fairness Doctrine,” the American people will quickly be deprived of the leading public forum for expressing their dissent.
And that's why the Harkin, Pelosi, Durkin, et al, are eagerly eying the elephant graveyard.
William Warren is a contributing editor of ALG News Bureau