Wednesday, August 01, 2007


The Fairness Doctrine

I realize that reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine will just encourage the media's tendancy toward balancing "the moon is made of rocks theory" with "the moon is made of green cheese" theory, but we need to do something.

Yesterday, in my travels, I saw a CNN news crawl in which a decent chunk of space was given to Giuliani alleging Edwards will raise our taxes by some outrageous amount (which was obviously a cooked statistic). Either the Edwards camp, figuring brevity was the soul of wit, deemed that a brief response would automatically display wit (it said nothing memorable -- if this is how Edwards deals with attacks, we can't have him as our nomination -- I'd expect better from one of them trial lawyers, though) or (more likely) Giuliani's allegations were presented in full with space given to neither a full response from the Edwards team nor any fact checking.

I should write a letter. I guess I'll write it (I figure I'll cc the e-mail to CNN to Edwards' camp, Giuliani's camp -- for fairness -- and maybe other news orgs: if everyone can be obsessed about whether WSJ will be able to cover Faux News' gaffs now that Rupert Pupkin, er, Murdoch's in charge, people might wish to wonder why "competing" media outlets won't look critically at each other and, um, compete?) whenever I write a letter to Baskin-Robbins asking them why the $#@^ they replaced their amazing Daiquiri Ice with an off-balance "Lime Daiquiri Ice"?

Anyway, was it Giuliani who was proposing offering tax credits for health insurance? What about those of us for whom health insurance costs pretty much equal our taxes? What about those for whom health insurance costs exceed their tax burden? Health insurance ain't cheap, folks!

I think your use of cable news though is evidence against the need for the Fairness Doctrine though. With the creation of CNN and other consumer choice driven forms of media, government isn't needed to provide regulation to ensure the ability for all voices to be heard. Additionally, I do some work with the NAB and it doesn't make sense, for example, to have a bunch of mid west conservative radio stations forced to air broadcasts that no one will listen to and will hurt the radio stations ultimately. Furthermore, it will discourage people from discussing political or controversial topics that they will have to have a counter viewpoint on - and that is something that is bad for all of us.
Many liberals have presented quite a bit of argumentation and evidence about why even with the appearent proliferation of consumer choices in media, the fairness doctrine is still needed (the key aspect being -- do consumers always choose fairness and balance? e.g., which sells better? healthy food or junk food? ... c.f. Dagobert Runes, our brains aren't even as good at digestion as our stomachs!). And your "conservative radio" example is the root of yet another argument for the fairness doctrine (by us liberals -- you're surprised, nu?).

Anyway, though, as parodied on TDSWJS, the media are scrupulous about providing counter-viewpoints when those counter-views are silly, and I worry a fairness doctrine will only make matters worse.

But how is forcing broadcasters to provide balance on controversial issues harmful to our discourse? What's harmful to our discourse is a corporatized media that figures (probably correctly) there's more money in selling media consumers junk food than raw kale. What's harmful is a corporatized media that (sub-consciously ... most of these people think they are liberals ... which makes matters worse for us real liberals for reasons I and others have argued elsewhere) reports only from the point of view of the neo-aristocracy.

I dunno if reinstating the fairness doctrine is the best solution, but it's a travesty when a media outlet regurgitates attacks from one political campaign and doesn't allow those attacked time to respond. And, by only informing people of only one side of the story (while pretending to be balanced by balancing their own pseudo-liberalism with whacko reactionaries), it is without the fairness doctrine that open debate is inhibited -- how do people even come to adopt other opinions if they are always told the only two valid points of view to be pseudo-liberalism (which pseudo-liberalism, in the absense of real liberal voices, serves to discredit liberalism) and reactionaryism (a similar argument can be made about conservatism being discredited here)?
Well, there's a couple other things still yet to consider. Media companies don't want to sell consumers the same old junk food as you put it, they respond to consumer demand. They would adapt to whatever consumers want to listen to without government regulation there to make them, its just smart business.

Another thing to consider is the next logical step in Fairness Doctrine regulation is the blogosphere. Are you also of the opinion that everywhere online there should absolutely be equal representation of all sides of every issue as in radio content? If so I think the should would be on the other foot when it came to liberal versus conservative coverage in this medium.

Look, I'm a Democrat and I'm looking at this from a purely nonpartisan perspective. So let me know what you think in the same light.
I'm not sure if application to the blogosphere is the "next logical step" -- there is no logical reason to apply the fairness doctrine to the blogosphere, considering that the cost for setting up a blog is zip. It's one thing to regulate an industry where there is not perfect competition because, even in cable, not everyone can supply content that is demanded. It's another to have regulation where any idiot (e.g. me) can have a blog.

OTOH, I would fear that "let's apply the fairness doctrine to the blogosphere" would be the next step certain people would deem it reasonable to take. Which does indeed worry me.

Regarding smart business -- never underestimate the capacity for business to cut off its nose to spite its face. Consider HMOs. Do they really, in the end, save money by micromanaging their health care providers so much? What they save on denied coverage is probably offset by the amount they spend on denying it (and lawsuits, etc.). Businesses are no smarter than the people who run them. The market is not magic.

Another issue is that sometimes businesses and their employees will sacrifice their noses to save their owners' faces. People do tend to act in terms of perceived self-interest: and when journalists perceive their interests lay with those of a certain class, because that class are ultimately their bosses, they will, subconciously -- it's not a conspiracy folks! do read Ike's speach carefully -- adopt the biases of the class buttering their bread.

The media talking heads and even those making the news crawl content calls have an interest in a certain social status quo. And they report accordingly.

I actually, as I said, am not sure if the fairness doctrine is the way to go (and y'all have given additional reasons why not). However, something must be done about blatantly unfair coverage. Look at the coverage of the '08 election so far. Look at the coverage of the recent changes to FISA (see my most recent post).

The media is playing games. They need to stop. And the market ain't magically going to correct things.
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