Fairness in Media can be so Hard: Part One

Recently and to my sadness, I locked horns with a veteran broadcaster.  He worked for many years at one of the major and biggest Adult Contemporary radio stations in the country (and helped signed it on), and while he is no longer with the station, the station continues to ride on its heritage.  He still works in radio, but now in a small town somewhere in middle America. 

While I am glad that he still has work, my passion for free speech and the First Amendment created strife between us.  The price of liberty truly has costs.  It is not always paid in blood, but at times the costs are certain relationships…not just with those in social media, but even our closest friends and/or families.  Jesus Christ himself said he came to divide people (Luke 12:51).  Unity requires agreement and submission not only to certain people, but to certain worldviews and yes deities; and the one thing that created strife with this veteran broadcaster was over an archaic doctrine that was created in 1949 and when there was a case for scarcity regarding the radio airwaves (including television).  It was called the Fairness Doctrine (FD) which introduced and inacted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The intent of the FD was to “present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that fairly reflected differing viewpoints,” according to the article on Wikipedia.  But did it really present those issues fairly?  Truth of the matter was that the FC was used as a political weapon.  This was documented by statements made certain operatives in the Democratic Party.  Bill Ruder who was the Assistant Secretary of Commerce in the JFK Administration said;

Our massive strategy [in the early 1960s] was to use the Fairness Doctrine to challenge and harass right-wing broadcasters and hope that the challenges would be so costly to them that they would be inhibited and decide it was too expensive to continue.

Martin Firestone who worked in the JFK FCC wrote this memo to the Democratic National Committee;

The right-wingers operate on a strictly cash basis and it is for this reason that they are carried by so many small stations. Were our efforts to be continued on a year-round basis, we would find that many of these stations would consider the broadcasts of these programs bothersome and burdensome (especially if they are ultimately required to give us free time) and would start dropping the programs from their broadcast schedule.

This stifling would continue into the LBJ admiration, and finally a die was cast when leftist journalist Fred J. Cook sued WGCB radio in Red Lion, Pennsylvania.  Cook was challenged by Billy James Hargis on a show that was carried on the respected radio station.  Cook sued the station and his case was taken to the Supreme Court and ruled in Cook’s favor (Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC) unanimously.  Justice Byron White wrote;

A license permits broadcasting, but the licensee has no constitutional right to be the one who holds the license or to monopolize a radio frequency to the exclusion of his fellow citizens. There is nothing in the First Amendment which prevents the Government from requiring a licensee to share his frequency with others. ... It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount.

Justice William O. Douglas sat out the case and if he had sat on the case, he would have been the lone decenter on SCOTUS.  He later declared that Constitutional guarantee of Freedom of the press was absolute.  Douglas was right, as the Red Lion/FCC ruling should have showed the people that the left wanted certain people to bow and bend to their will as they take and get whatever they desired.  Cook was disrespected by one of his dissenters and regardless if you liked or disliked Hargis; he should have no obligation to give someone time that he had contempt for.  What purpose did it serve Cook?    Cook wrote a book that was critical of Barry Goldwater and Hargis was critical of the book if not Cook himself.  Cook meanwhile was a defender of Alger Hiss who was accused of being a spy (especially on the right) for the Soviet Union, and declared Hiss to be innocent despite what was said by Whittaker Chambers who admitting to be a Soviet spy himself.  So, someone on the radio did not give him the respect and demanded that respect by giving him equal time?  What I think Cook wanted was to go on Hargis’ program to make his peace without being questioned about what he said.  Hargis I think knew what Cook wanted, and did not want to him to deliver his message to his audience…and an audience that likely had no love for Cook. 

You might think that might be right and fair, but is it really?  Should Cook face certain questions from Hargis at least, and not allow Cook to "Rick Roll" (using a 21st Century term here) Hargis?  Could Hargis demand a piece in one of the publications that Cook works for?  What is fair anyway?

These are honest questions that need honest answers.

To Be Continued.

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Radio Towers on Sandia Peak by Daniel Mayer is licensed under Wikipedia