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Hillary and the Fairness Doctrine By: Joseph Klein
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, January 22, 2007

Hillary Clinton has finally announced that she is running for President.  Based on her record as New York Senator, a position she has cynically used as a stepping stone for her political ambitions, Clinton wants us to believe that she alone has the experience and judgment to lead the country out of the mess that she lays at President Bush’s feet.

The problem is that Clinton’s positions change almost as frequently as her hairdo used to change.   Indeed, few people really know where Senator Clinton stands on the most important issue of the day – Iraq.  Depending on the prevailing political winds at the time, she tacked right when the Iraq war had more popular support and is now tacking left to win back the Leftie activists so critical to success in the early Democratic primaries and who are being wooed by her anti-war rivals.


In Hillary’s video announcement, she told us that she is “beginning a conversation with you, with America…so let’s talk, let’s chat, let’s start a dialogue about your ideas and mine.”   With $14 million already in the bank left over from her 2006 Senate campaign and major donors already lined up, the ethically-challenged Clinton will do everything she can to control that conversation on her terms.  So she and her allies are taking no chances with what Hillary once famously called the “vast right-wing conspiracy.”  She prefers the type of fawning softball questions she has received from Katie Couric over the years than questions from Bill O’Reilly in the “no spin zone,” where she has been invited but chosen not to appear.


Hillary does not want to risk too much probing by the media into her past misdeeds or her current untruths and inconsistencies.  Indeed, she recognized early in her husband’s administration the power of conservative talk radio, which helped defeat her disastrous health care plan.  In response, she reportedly pushed at that time to re-establish the so-called 'Fairness Doctrine’ in broadcasting.  And she saw what happened to Senator Kerry’s 2004 Presidential campaign when it got derailed by media focus on the Swift Boat veterans’ charges.  Kerry himself blamed the abolition of the Fairness Doctrine for his own defeat, declaring "[T]here has been a profound and negative change in the relationship of America's media with America's people.  This all began, incidentally, when the Fairness Doctrine ended.  You would have had a dramatic change in the discussion in this country had we still had a Fairness Doctrine in the course of the last campaign." 


Just to make sure that Hillary does not get Swift-boated like poor Senator Kerry or shown up for the hypocrite and opportunist that she is, a progressive media-monitoring organization with Clinton ties known as Media Matters for America is standing watch for her.  It helped to sponsor an online petition drive back in 2005 to “renew the Fairness Doctrine.”  Interestingly, Media Matters also has a whole section on its website dedicated specifically to tracking anti-Hillary stories but none specifically devoted to any of her Democratic competitors.   Former Clinton Administration chief of staff John Podesta helped Media Matters get off the ground.   And it has received a generous grant from a shadowy organization called Democracy Alliance, which was set up by a group of wealthy liberals in 2005 to act as a funding clearinghouse for progressive groups, led by former Clinton Treasury official Rob Stein.  In addition to funding from George Soros, we know that Democracy Alliance has received significant support from some of Hillary Clinton’s most important backers including Susie Tompkins Buell and her husband, Mark Buell, and financier Alan Patricof.   In short, through a layered web of well-funded progressive groups that have the revival of the Fairness Doctrine as one item on their agenda, Hillary’s supporters are doing their level best to eviscerate the conservative media before they can do anything effective to challenge her candidacy.


Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York, a friend of Senator Clinton, introduced a bill in 2005 to bring the Fairness Doctrine back.  She said that conservative radio is "a waste of good broadcast time, and a waste of our airwaves."   She has also sought to include cable TV in her censorship net.  The bill had a number of Democratic co-sponsors, including another friend of Hillary’s who urged her to run for Senate in 2000, Rep. Charles Rangel.  Now that the Democrats have taken control of Congress and are eying the White House in 2008, the initiative to bring back government regulation of political speech on the airwaves is picking up traction.   Yet another, Clinton ally, Democratic New York Congressman Maurice Hinchey, is pushing a bill in this session along with Presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich.   Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is intending to do the same in the Senate.  Hopefully, such a drive can be blocked by a Senate filibuster or veto, if necessary.  But after the passage of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation, which President Bush decided to sign, one can never be sure.


The Fairness Doctrine was abolished two decades ago because it outlived its usefulness, if it ever had any to start with.  Originally an invention of the Federal Communications Commission at a time when there was a true scarcity of broadcasting channels, the Fairness Doctrine required so-called even-handed access of all political points of view to the airwaves.   With today’s proliferation of radio and cable TV stations, as well as the Internet, the market place of ideas is vigorous enough without the need for government regulation.   Unfortunately for the liberals, their attempt at a talk radio station to promote their ideas, Air America, failed in the market place of ideas.  So not trusting the good sense of the American people to decide for themselves what they wish to hear on radio and television, the proponents of the return of this pernicious attempt at government regulation of political speech content are seeking to codify the Fairness Doctrine into law just in time for the 2008 presidential election.   They want conservative talk radio and Fox News out of the way well before the presidential campaign begins in earnest.  No more competition in the market place of ideas for them.  Meanwhile, the Public Broadcasting Service - which should be balanced in presentation of controversial issues because it alone is privileged to receive taxpayer-funded government subsidies – would be allowed to continue its current liberally biased programming.


Democrats like Hillary Clinton know that the only way to shut down that bad ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’ led by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly is to hobble the companies that are broadcasting their shows with such onerous content regulations that they will throw up their hands altogether.  That is because regular listeners of the shows they want to hear will stop listening if they have to hear what they regard as wrong-headed views from boring commentators on the other side.  Lower ratings mean less advertising, which will ultimately lead to the demise of the shows that the public had favored in their original form.


And just how is a station supposed to apply a ‘fair’ access standard in today’s world?  Who gets to decide what is “fair” or what constitutes a “controversial” issue that needs to be explored equally from all sides?  Will the arbiters of fairness be a bunch of bureaucrats or unelected judges?  How does one define a political point of view that must be balanced, particularly on complex issues that have many sides to them?   Do we even have to count up and counter-balance political jokes by comedians like Jay Leno, David Letterman and Jon Stewart?   Will Saturday Night Live be subjected to the Fairness Doctrine too?   Must each show have perfect balance on controversial issues or do we measure every 24 hours or at some other interval?   The list of imponderables goes on and on.  What station owner will not be afraid of potential liability and even the loss of its license as the station faces constant complaints about lack of equal time for all points of view?


As candidly acknowledged by one former Kennedy administration official decades ago when the Fairness Doctrine was in full force, "Our massive strategy was to use the Fairness Doctrine to challenge and harass the right-wing broadcasters, and hope that the challenges would be so costly to them that they would be inhibited and decide it was too costly to continue."   Nothing has changed as far as the liberals are concerned.


The defenders of the Fairness Doctrine say that it is necessary to protect the public interest in the airwaves that belong to the public.  But in this case the public interest is best served by allowing the free market to determine what stays on the air.   Let the people decide for themselves.  The First Amendment’s guarantee that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” is too important to trifle with, Hillary’s animus toward her nemeses in the “right-wing conspiracy” notwithstanding.


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