Fairness Doctrine Redux?

It comes as no surprise that Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), perhaps the most partisan politician in America, has indicated his support for a reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine.  Neither is there any surprise in the reasoning he conjures up for the purpose.

As he told Fox News last week: “The very same people who don’t want the Fairness Doctrine want the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] to limit pornography on the air.  I am for that….  But you can’t say, ‘government hands off in one area’ to a commercial enterprise but you are allowed to intervene in another.  That’s not consistent.”

A piece published here in August (Conservatives and the Media) warned conservatives of the danger in promoting governmental restrictions on indecent speech because it would undermine their efforts in opposition to governmental restrictions like the Fairness Doctrine.

“Through [his] Media Research Center," it said, "[Brent] Bozell is mobilizing his troops to fight against the … [Fairness Doctrine], but because of the pro-regulation stance of his Parents Television Council there are real questions about how much credibility his anti-Fairness Doctrine activities will have.”

Senator Schumer’s comments breathe  a kind of Frankensteinian life into that warning.  Moreover, there is both a logical and precedential plausibility to what he says.  If government can regulate some kinds of speech, why can’t it regulate other kinds of speech?

The simplest and best answer to that question, of course, is that government shouldn’t be regulating any kind of constitutionally protected speech — a point that Senator Schumer is smart enough to understand but not honorable enough to acknowledge.

For all the talk of it, the view from here is that it is unlikely that, in the end, Democrats and “progressives” will push for reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine per se — just too much trouble to promote the thing openly.  More likely they will try to find another, more opaque way of accomplishing the same result.

As reported in Broadcasting & Cable, Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) may have inadvertently suggested as much.  “Asked if he would support reimposition of the rule, which was jettisoned as unconstitutional in 1987 and is credited with the rise of conservative talk radio, Cardin did not rule out some review of media coverage.  ‘I don’t think we’re going to get to it in the manner in which you are explaining it,’ he said.  ‘I think we do look at making sure that our system is not biased….’”