June 26, 2007

Mouth of the Beholder

I haven’t written anything for The Tempest lately but given that the First Amendment and government regulation of speech is a major issue in my line of work, I’ve found myself becoming frustrated over the last few weeks over an issue that continues to have support: the unconstitutional Fairness Doctrine.

It’s been in the news of late following a “report” issued by the Center for American Progress and the Free Press entitled The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio, in which they state that “91 percent of the total weekday talk radio programming is conservative, and 9 percent is progressive.”

This has opened the door for calls of government-regulation of talk radio to make the views expressed there “fairer” and “balanced.” On the blog This Modern World, Tom Tomorrow says that “it’s fun to listen to Hannity and Limbaugh desperately try to explain why ‘equal time’ = ‘censorship.’” Representatives Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), along with other members of Congress like Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), have also been supportive of bringing back the law that was overturned in the 1980s. When asked if she’d bring back the anti-First Amendment mandate, Feinstein said: “Well, I’m looking at it, as a matter of fact, Chris [Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday], because I think there ought to be an opportunity to present the other side. And unfortunately, talk radio is overwhelmingly one way.”

As such we find ourselves with politicians and their supporters who are willing to call for legislation requiring certain viewpoints to be aired, all in the name of “fairness.”

When I was preparing the rough draft of this post I found myself with several paragraphs explaining how government-regulated speech can never be “fair” because there’s nothing fair about having one’s First Amendment rights violated. Then I came to the realization that I’d be preaching to the choir. Those of us who recognize government-mandated speech as censorship will always do so because that is what it is; those who want to force others to say something against their will will continue to call such coercion “fairness.” It’s like trying to debate the Earth’s shape with someone who insists that the planet is flat.

What this issue has done is helped me to see that segments of our populace—segments that can be represented by the aforementioned Tom Tomorrow—view coercion as a form of “fairness” as long as it helps to get their views promoted. They’ve concluded that if you’re not saying something that they want to hear—in this case viewpoints that are being proclaimed on talk radio—it in some way makes your First Amendment rights invalid. Mr. Tomorrow, for instance, views government-regulation of speech as “equal time” and doesn’t see it as being censorship because the doctrine is to his benefit.

I’ll be the first to say that someone like Sean Hannity has the intellectual capacity of a first grader. I’ve listened to him on several occasions and can sum up his usual response when it appears as if he’s about to lose an argument: “You’re not a patriot. You’re not a real American.”

We can find a similar lack of intellectual weight and logic in the argument that has been offered by supporters of the Fairness Doctrine. We could sum up their stance this way: “You’re not saying what I want to hear so I’m going to have the government tell you what to say.”

Is there really any difference between these two?

Center for American Progress
This Modern World
Fox News Sunday transcript