The Brew City Brawler and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Patrick McIlheran have been trading posts on the return of the Fairness Doctrine. Not surprisingly, Jay Bullock thinks the Brawler is winning. I think that someone in BCB's corner should throw in the towel before the damage becomes permanent.
Revealingly, Jay cites, as a kindred soul, Trent Lott who wishes that the Senate could conduct its business without that pesky matter of public opinion.
Which is precisely the point of all of this.
The Brawler thinks that the public interest requires mandating radio stations to provide content for which there is apparently little public demand. He accuses those who say that stations will simply get out of issue-oriented programming of a lack of confidence in the market.
But the function of a market is to provide what consumers want, not what the Brawler thinks they should want. We know what radio programming was like with the Fairness Doctrine. I was there. Stations did not do issue-oriented programming.
And, in a way, that may have been the lesser of two evils. Assuming that the stations stay in the game, how is the government supposed to manage "balance." The Brawler may think that it is sufficient to balance Rush Limbaugh with Randi Rhodes. But others are going to think that it is also necessary to hear from Hugh Hewitt and James Dobson.
How are we to deal with less obvious forms of imbalance? The most insidious bias in the media comes from the way that stories are selected and framed. Do we want the state to manage that as well and, if we don't, have we really accomplished anything?
What about "non-news" programming? If we don't want WTMJ to shill for the GOP, then we certainly can't have shows like the West Wing shilling for the Democrats without requiring a show that paints Republicans in a flattering light. No admiring biopics on Robert Kennedy without a hagiography for Barry Goldwater as well. Certainly no Daily Show or Colbert Report on broadcast TV. Ideological censors to enforce balance for SNL.
It is, of course, this lesser of two levels is waht proponents of the doctrine want. They prefer to shut up Limbaugh even if it means there will be no Rhodes (there barely is anyway.)
The irony, of course, is that the Fairness Doctrine was developed at a time when a limited broadcast spectrum severely restricted the number of media outlets. With the internet, cable TV and the advent of satellite radio, this is no longer the case. The justification for regulation is simply not what it was in 1969.
Even if we restrict our discussion to the AM radio band, there are - in just about every metropolitan area - some seriously down in the mouth radio stations. If there was a demand for liberal talk, why isn't it taking off on these stations?
My own sense is that the left gets so incensed by conservative talk radio that it fails to understand it. It sees Limbaugh et al. as just talking trash about Democrats and that is what they tried to emulate on Air America. Al Franken is a very funny guy. From the little I heard, he was very unfunny on Air America.
I guess that TMJ and WISN can't be skewing our local politics that much. We have two Democratic Senators, a majority Democratic congressional delegation and a Democratic governor. We've been going blue in presidential elections. This sounds like a solution in search of a problem.