Andrew Clark: All’s fair in politics and journalism

So it looks like the Fairness Doctrine has died out in Congress, at least for now. Anyone at GW who believes in free speech, particularly the staff of The Hatchet, should be pleased to hear that.

In case you don’t know, the Fairness Doctrine was a government policy produced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to help balance the broadcasting of political opinions on the airwaves. Radio and television stations were required to allot equal time to liberal and conservative viewpoints. This policy was tossed out in the 1980s and has been lying in the dust bin of American history ever since.

Now, the Democrats want to revive it, under the banner of “fairness” – when we all know that in reality, they just want to cripple talk radio, which has been dominated by the conservative movement for two decades. Does no one see the hypocrisy in the fact that the left is all about freedom of speech until speech turns against it, at which point the left says it’s OK to regulate speech in order to promote fairness?

On a liberal campus, we can hardly be surprised that the opinion pages of The Hatchet are filled mainly with progressive and liberal viewpoints. Theoretically, if the Fairness Doctrine were applied to this paper, it would have to cut back on many of those editorials and include more conservative columns. Even I, a conservative columnist for this publication, find that idea slightly disturbing.

Yes, it may be true that allowing different mediums to retreat into partisan corners has changed the dialogue of political debate in the United States, but that can hardly be pinned on conservative talk radio. How many students here read The Huffington Post or Daily Kos for their liberally slanted news? The Internet has become an orgy of diverse political opinions from all over the spectrum, hardly “balanced” in nature. Yet if the Fairness Doctrine were applied to the Web, sites like those would dramatically change.

How many of us get our news from “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart or “The Colbert Report” with Stephen Colbert? Would you want the FCC mandating who can and cannot go on these shows and for how long? Would you want every newscasting joke tailored with a political response?

Yes, I’m sure liberals get giddy at the thought of forcing conservative talk-radio stars Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh to include leftist commentators on their shows. But keep in mind this would apply to liberal-leaning Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann and National Public Radio as well.

But say you support the Fairness Doctrine not as a conspiracy to destroy the conservative talk-radio movement, but because you truly believe in the quality of balanced debate and its impact on American society. It’s clear that the era where the Fairness Doctrine could have possibly been effective in elevating debate is long gone.

In the 1950s and 1960s, when there were four television nightly news networks and only a handful of popular radio shows, it was fairly easy to control the content of debate on broadcasts, since the vast majority of Americans got their news from icons like Ed Murrow or Walter Cronkite. But we’ve thrown cable news (Fox, CNN, MSNBC) into the mix, added hundreds of radio stations and now have the infinite universe of the Internet to talk about whatever we want, whenever we want to. There are no more Walter Kronkites – just millions of journalists and bloggers.

I hope that everyone at GW opposes the Fairness Doctrine if it ever gets introduced into Congress, for the sake of freedom of speech – and ourselves.

The writer, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist and a member of the College Republicans executive board.

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