More Fairness Doctrine Stupidity From The Media

Paul Bond, writing for Reuters, has produced an outstanding object lesson in how NOT to write responsible journalism. His article, that has appeared in the Washington Post, the Hollywood Reporter, and many other Reuters affiliates, is filled with novice mistakes – at least I hope they’re mistakes.

Bond’s very first sentence asserts that the end of the Fairness Doctrine…

“pav[ed] the way for talk radio to take the opinionated — and popular — form it has today.”

In fact, talk radio was already opinionated and popular prior to 1987. Its opinions just became less diverse as radio stations consolidated under fewer owners who had their own political agendas to peddle. But Bond contradicts himself a few sentences later saying that reinstating the Doctrine would result in…

“government-mandated programing restrictions that [could] hobble an already struggling industry.”

Make up your mind Paul. Is the industry popular or struggling? In Bond’s second paragraph he asserts that…

“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and such influential Democratic senators as Barbara Boxer and Chuck Schumer are pushing for its return, or something like it.”

In fact, while those people have expressed positive opinions of the Doctrine over the years, none of them are “pushing” for its return. There are no bills pending in either house and no recent public comments calling for the Doctrine’s reinstatement. And Bond didn’t bother to contact any of them to find out what their current views are.

Bond’s use of the phrase “something like it,” is vague and unexplained. Most likely he means something he later refers to as “so-called localism.” First of all, the adjective “so-called,” is an editorial device meant to dispute the meaning of localism, and it was inappropriate for Bond to use it. More to the point, localism is a program that calls for the FCC to gather information from consumers, industry, civic organizations, and others on broadcasters’ service to their local communities. It is nothing like the Fairness Doctrine, which requires the holders of broadcast licenses to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that is honest, equitable, and balanced.

Then Bond drops this…

“With the year drawing to an end and Barack Obama moving into the White House, talk about the Fairness Doctrine has heated up. Obama likely will name a new FCC chairman and make Democrats a majority on the five-person panel for the first time in eight years.”

Talk about the Fairness Doctrine has only been heating up in conservative circles and on right-wing radio shows. They are hysterically fuming over an action that nobody knowledgeable thinks will occur. Obama himself is on record as opposing its reinstatement. Plus, Bond makes it sound unusual that the new administration would result in a new make-up for the FCC when, in fact, every administration appoints new commissioners that tilt the majority to the President’s party.

Bond isn’t through misrepresenting the situation. His next target is an advisor to Obama on technology issues. Bond says that Obama tapped…

“…Henry Rivera, who was a commissioner in the 1980s when the Fairness Doctrine existed, to oversee the FCC transition process. Rivera is a supporter of bringing back the provisions.

This may be the most egregious example of Bond’s absence of journalistic ethics. He says Rivera was a commissioner in the 1980s when the Fairness Doctrine existed. So what? Rivera was also a commissioner in the 1980s when the Fairness Doctrine expired. The truth is, Rivera was no longer on the panel in 1987 when the Reagan-controlled board let the Doctrine lapse. But he was there in 1985 when the FCC produced the Fairness Report, a study that was the basis for the ruling in 1987. And, once again, Bond offers no proof of the claim that Rivera supports “bringing back the provisions” today. There is no statement from Rivera. Did Bond even try to reach him? Finally, Rivera is not even overseeing the FCC transition process as Bond says. He is on the “Science, Tech, Space and Arts” team. Dale Hatfield is overseeing the FCC group.

As for journalistic balance, Bond quoted five individuals for the article – every one of them vested opponents of the Fairness Doctrine. He also noted that radio executives are arguing against the Doctrine because…

“Shares of such publicly traded radio companies as Salem Communications, Citadel Broadcasting and Cumulus Media are all down more than 90 percent in the past year…”

To me that sounds like an argument in favor of doing something radically different than whatever it is they’ve been doing so far. It certainly doesn’t suggest that anyone should be listening to the radio execs presently in charge.

To be clear, I am not in favor of reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. I think it is an anachronism in a media era where so much less of the content distribution occurs on public airwaves. But I am also not in favor of manufactured outrage from disingenuous blabbermouths. And I am not in favor of using innuendo to tarnish positive reforms like localism, market share caps, and effective enforcement of anti-trust law.

And most of all, I am also not in favor of shoddy journalism and hack reporters spreading disinformation to promote their own unscrupulous agendas.