Monday, February 16, 2009

The First Amendment Will Die

Leading Democrats have called for the Fairness Doctrine to be resurrected. Remember: the political concept of "fairness" bears no resemblance to the dictionary definiton.

The Fairness Doctrine was born in the 30s as an attempt to control radio. Democrats then had a convoluted, ludicrous thought process that ran something like this: radio travels through the air. Everybody's entitled to an equal share of the air, so they should have a say in what gets sent through it (never mind that radio waves don't actually consume air and there's a pretty much infinite availability of radio programming). Well, how would the people have a say? Let them listen to what they want, and stations without listeners change or go under? Nonsense! They have their say through their elected officials. So the government has to license radio stations (and later television stations), and could monitor their content to determine if the station were being "fair" or not. And if the station were not "fair"--supposedly meaning that it failed to give equal time to all sides--the government could shut it down.

Can you imagine the outrage if that were applied to newspapers?

Ronald Reagan, thankfully, had the sense to strike this appalling doctrine down. The First Amendment, he decided, should apply to radio and TV too. This is fairly obvious; though the First Amendment doesn't specifically protect broadcasts, it's obvious that the spirit of it does. TV wasn't protected by the First Amendment because TV was unthinkable in 1787. Generally I don't like interpreting the Constitution based on the "obvious" spirit of it, but no rational person would say that "free press" would not have included electronic, broadcast press if such a thing had even been in the realm of possibility.

But now the Dems want it back. And here's the problem: it will kill talk radio. All of the successful talk radio hosts are conservative or libertarian. Whenever liberals have tried talk radio, it has ended (witness Air America) with them having to pay the radio station for time, which leads to problems like bankruptcy. But if the government mandates fairness, here's what happens: Rush Limbaugh is on for three hours. Al Franken has to get three hours. Since Al Franken isn't popular with listeners, advertisers don't pay. In the free market, that means the radio station doesn't run his show; no one is going to pay for it, so tough crap, Al. But with Fairness, the radio station has no choice, and they have to lose money for the three hours of the Al Franken Show. Then, suppose an offended Muslim or illegal immigrant calls to complain about Rush's show. Rush had about an hour where he offended Muslims, so Muslims have to get an hour the next day, and the radio has to rearrange their programming schedule and probably lose money again. How long do you suppose it will take for radio hosts just to say, "Screw it, talk radio isn't worth the hassle" and put on lite dinosaur rock (from Olivia Newton-John and Phil Collins) for the three hours that Rush Limbaugh used to fill? And bam, the government's just forced someone who millions want to listen to to shut up.

But that's not the truly frightening part. FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell says that if the Fairness Doctrine is instituted, it will apply to the Internet as well. You would have to be licensed to operate a website or blog, and if you don't fill it with the government's idea of what's "fair" then you lose your Internet license. Does anyone really think this is a good idea? Why the hell should the government be able to determine who can and can't express their ideas? I'm running my blog as a one-man operation. If I want to keep it, am I supposed to find someone with every possible viewpoint? I've talked about the threat of radical Islam, and I'm definitely not going to find an al Qaeda member to write here to rebut my arguments. I've lambasted both liberals and conservatives, so should I get a left-winger and hard-righter to write a counter to everything I say? And how exactly would I induce them to write for me? I can't pay them. I've mocked Nazis, PETA loonies, welfare parasites, welfare parasites who live in their mother's house and have 14 children. Should I find one of all those people to write for me? I suppose I'd have to. Or I could just shut down. Those are my only options once Fairness is revived.

I don't care if you're liberal or conservative, or anything in the middle, you cannot honestly support the idea that the government should determine what ideas can be expressed on TV, radio, or the Internet. If they were talking about licensing newspapers and regulating what content would be considered "fair," liberals and conservatives both would be screaming for heads on platters. So why on earth should this ever be okay? More people get their news from, and express their opinions through, TV, radio, and the Internet than from any newspaper--or probably from all newspapers combined. So why should the government be able to control content?

I don't beg often. But I will now. Whatever your political views, you can't want the government to license someone to communicate their ideas. Please, everyone, sign the petition here and tell everyone you know to do the same.

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