Feb. 25, 2009
Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) are eager to bring back the so-called Fairness Doctrine (FD). That was a rule laid down by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that was used to squelch broadcast criticism of the (mostly liberal) administrations in Washington. The FD was the 20th century equivalent of the Alien and Sedition Acts. The FD reigned for several decades and had the effect of suppressing debate on the airwaves. Until the boneheaded McCain-Feingold law was passed, FD was the worst infringement on free speech going. It was repealed under Ronald Reagan in 1987. That was the year he called for the Berlin Wall to come down. As a result of Reagan’s liberating efforts, we saw freedom rise at home and abroad.
Conservative radio talkers are calling the threat of a reconstituted FD a “Hush Rush” bill. We need to be aware, however, that liberals may achieve their ends without passing legislation, or even without a new FCC “fairness” rule. They could do it by requiring a fixed amount of local content for radio. The idea there is that our mostly liberal major metropolitan areas would produce the local content and squeeze out the conservatives-like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Bill Bennett—who tend to be nationally syndicated.
Of course, the FD would not apply to newspapers. Or to the worldwide web. Or to National Public Radio, which continues to broadcast shows like “All Things Considered.” In reality it’s all liberal things considered. Their web site this month, for example, celebrates Darwin’s bicentennial with recipes for stew and steaks including lesser rhea meat. Apparently, this South American version of the ostrich is very tasty, and figured in Darwin’s writings.
About those newspapers, their business is declining. So are their size and their circulation. The price of a single share of stock in The New York Times now costs less than their Sunday edition.
The Washington Post is reorganizing its Sunday edition, eliminating a separate book section. The Post’s ombudsman famously admitted—conveniently after November’s election—that the paper’s news reporting had leaned toward Barack Obama. Those of us who regularly read The Post would have to disagree. The Tower of Pisa leans, but it still stands. The Post fell over totally for Obama and could never get back up.
Years ago, my Russian teacher taught me how to read papers like The New York Times and The Washington Post. Solomon Ioffe was a Soviet Jew who was scooped up and booted out of the USSR in the 70s. Solomon had barely arrived when he got a job teaching military officers like me to speak his difficult tongue. I was astonished to learn that Solomon knew all about the Communist dictator Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe at the UN.
Russians view such conduct as most nekulturny (uncultured) behavior and so it was never reported in Pravda (Truth) or in Izvestia (News). Solomon told me the Soviet joke about their press: There’s no news in the Truth, and no truth in the News.
How did he know so much, I asked Solomon? Reading a controlled press is not so hard, he replied. Instead of the inverted pyramid we use for journalism in the West, he said, you must first turn the pyramid right side up. The most important items are at the bottom of the columns. You did that in the USSR because the editors were lazy and only worked over the first few paragraphs to make sure they were “politically correct.” They wanted to dash from their desks to their two- and three-vodka lunches. Second, read between the lines, Solomon instructed me, and see what they’re not saying. Finally, touching his temple for emphasis, he said you must remember. What did this same publication say about this same issue yesterday? And how has its stance shifted with the prevailing political winds?
I’ve been reading The Washington Post applying Solomon’s wisdom for 35 years now—and his method works! But we still need talk radio to challenge the institutional bias of what Rush calls “the drive-by media.”