Fox's Hume Debunks Fairness Doctrine Scare, Sort of

Some folks, particularly the defenders of conservative talk radio, have been predicting that the Obama Administration is plotting a return to the infamous Fairness Doctrine, the equal-time principle abandoned some 20 years ago.

The Obama camp has denied this, and last week, none other than Brit Hume of Fox News Channel tried to gently debunk the hype. But he also replaces the scare with a similar scare about localism.

“Despite concerns on the right about the re-imposition of the Fairness Doctrine to stifle talk radio—there seems to be little appetite for such a move,” Hume wrote online. “However, there is alarm over something called ‘localism.’ The Federal Communications Commission Web site says, ‘Promoting localism is a key goal of the commission's media ownership rules.’”

And localism, the revised thinking goes, could just be a back-door entrance for the Fairness Doctrine. Hume cites The American Thinker Web site, which says, "Obama needs only three votes from the five-member FCC to define localism in such a way that no radio station would dare air any syndicated conservative programming."

This week, a high school kid in upstate New York joined the chorus. In an editorial in the Star-Gazette (serving Elmira), he delivers a whopper of a misrepresentation in his opening paragraph.

According the young man, Democrats are hoping to push through “the Media Ownership Reform Act of 2005, more commonly referred to as the ‘Fairness Doctrine.’ This bill stifles free speech and is a blatant attempt by Democrats to silence their political opponents. Americans should be outraged at this blatant affront to their First Amendment rights.”

Huh? This 3-year-old bill is NOT more commonly referred to as the “Fairness Doctrine.” It does include language to restore the 1987 FCC rules, but given the constitutional problems with the issue and the general lack of interest in that measure, even among Democrats, it is unlikely to happen. (See Hume, Brit, above.) That’s why big media corporations fought hard against the bill’s main thrust—the push-back against media consolidation—but didn’t say a lot about the Fairness measure.

The bill seeks—or sought—to promote localism by requiring stations to report to the FCC (every two years) about their local coverage and to hold public meetings about their commitment to local interest (twice a year).

We can hear the jack-booted government agents pounding at the studio door now!

To his credit, though, the kid’s column includes no spelling errors. Contrast that with the words of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an industry-backed think tank that has previously gained distinction as a skeptic of global warming science. CEI is convinced that the recent appointment of Rep. Henry Waxman to the top post on the House Commerce Committee portends an assault on free speech.

“With a Chairman who hales [sic] from Hollywood, we should seem [sic] some very interesting legislation coming out of Energy & Commerce,” a CEI staffer e-mailed in a statement to be attributed to Wayne Crews, CEI’s vice president for policy.

In an attempt to be witty, CEI wonders if Democrats will force Oprah, who supported Obama, into showcasing Republicans on her show. Turns out, Oprah didn’t need that government hammer, reportedly already inviting Sarah Palin onto her gabfest.

Key to this whole conspiracy was the appointment of one Henry Rivera, a one-time Fairness Doctrine advocate, to the role of FCC transition chief for the Obama camp.

Then Rivera was transferred to a different job in the transition, because of Obama’s promise that registered lobbyists would not serve in his administration, at least not in the areas in which they lobbied.

But over at NewsBusters, a Web site dedicated to uncovering liberal bias in the media, one writer figures the threat to free speech remains.

“Despite the reassignment, it is unclear if Rivera’s influence over a future FCC appointment has diminished,” the blog warns. “As the Media Research Center’s Seton Motley explained on FNC’s Your World With Neil Cavuto, Obama will have the opportunity to appoint a member to the FCC in 2009, possibly opening the door to a reimplementation of the Fairness Doctrine.”

Motley is correct: The next president will make thousands of appointments, including probably two FCC commissioners in the next several months. And yes, the FCC appointments could “possibly” open the door to a reimplementation of the Fairness Doctrine. It’s also “possible” that Obama will appoint Stevie Wonder secretary of fine arts, Pat Buchanan secretary of state and maybe put Roger Clemens in charge of the Food and Drug Administration.

In “Innocents Abroad,” Mark Twain travels across Europe and the Holy Land, finding church after church that claims to have splinters from the one True Cross, or some similar relic. At each place, the hucksters within acknowledge that they cannot actually prove the provenance of the relics; on the other hand, they all point out, there’s no proof that the splinters did not come from the True Cross.

That’s right. Anything could happen, and there’s no proof that tomorrow Obama will not reveal his true identity as an alien cyborg out to enslave the planet.