That debate in 1927 was the birth of what became known as the Fairness Doctrine, an official acknowledgement of what was (and still is) almost universally recognized— that private entities who use this limited public space—our airwaves—could do so only under certain conditions placed on them by the public, for the public good. Those were the rules when I was growing up, and though the Fairness Doctrine had some serious inherent flaws, it was obviously better than what we have now.
Consider a few quotes from Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, in order:
"We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too.”
"I tell people don't kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus - living fossils - so we will never forget what these people stood for."
I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore...I could kill him myself ….Is this wrong?”'Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!'
When I was growing up, quotes like these, broadcast over our public airwaves, were considered slanderous to illegal, something you could get yourself sued or prosecuted for, and for good reason. That kind of talk, repeated ad naseum by what has become our corporate media without any meaningful attempt to regulate it, gets people hurt or killed, and contributes nothing towards the founders’ goal of an educated public participating in democracy.
To state the obvious: phrases like those above are allowed these days because it serves powerful interests’ purposes to allow them. There are limited band waves available, mostly to those who can afford their vast costs. That’s what made an official acknowledgement like the Fairness Doctrine so critical to modern discourse. The bands are limited, they’re powerful, therefore they’re sought after by the rich and powerful. A classic case for regulation in a sane society. But in 1987, with the help of two D.C. circuit judges (Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia) and a broadcast industry lawyer appointed to chair the FCC who sarcastically equated television to “a toaster with pictures”, Reagan revoked the Fairness Doctrine, and Corporate hate radio and T.V. blossomed. Clinton furthered this dangerous process along by signing the Telecommunications Act of 1996, allowing our limited airwaves—already compromised-- to be unsustainably monopolized by the uber-rich, who have demonstrably not had America’s interests in mind(Rupert Murdoch is just the most blatant example). When all laws protecting citizens’ rights to real information on their airwaves are swept away by the very powers who have the vast wealth to buy off those airwaves, and when those powers inevitably use their unfair advantage to divide and conquer and finally to rob us, to pander to our base passions and prejudices by encouraging us to scapegoat and to despise groups of people perceived as vulnerable—environmentalists, for example, or gays and lesbians--then you have a very real crisis in Democracy, and you have the corporate propaganda machine we have today.
Its results? In the wake of the Tucson shootings and the bomb at Spokane’s Martin Luther King Day parade (allegedly planted by a known White Supremacist), when we as a nation and a region should be examining the critical role our limited, publicly-owned bands have on how we make our laws, our decisions, how we think, there are instead legislators in Helena and throughout our nation trying to further weaken our already-tepid gun laws while attempting to legislate away any laws of physics that are unpleasant to their corporate handlers. On the face of it, this kind of behavior is both crazy and sadly predictable.
It doesn’t have to be this way. As Egypt has shown us recently, new media technologies can be innovatively used—by people—to literally lift us out of our historic, repressive cycles. Modern media can be part of a solution. Or it can be used as we insist on using it: badly and with malice. Tragically, at the very same time we have more information at our fingertips than at any time in history, we have simultaneously dismantled the mechanics of analysis of that information that was built into our Constitution-- our Free Press. We are truly, truly blowing it.
But, better late than never. As people in Wisconsin are finally asking themselves: which side are you on? You, who aren’t an environmentalist, or gay, or a non-white low-end worker or (fill in the blank), when the billionaires and their corporate tools like Walker, Palin, Limbaugh or Beck, get done with their standard scapegoats and start coming after you and yours, what are you going to do? The folks in Wisconsin have it right—it’s about freedom and it’s about time. How about you? Wouldn’t it make more sense to make common cause with your real allies now—the current scapegoats-- stand up for and with them against the blatantly unjust and unfounded attacks these demagogues aim at them that will inevitably end up being aimed at you if this crazy corporate narrative is allowed to continue? When are you going to put the ridiculous notion of a “liberal media” to bed and demand fairness and accountability in exchange for our public airwaves?