Fairness Doctrine (Part Deux)

Fox-MSNBC-620x239In the previous post I discussed the purpose of the Fairness Doctrine and how its revocation in 1987 has, in the opinion of many, led to the creation of agenda driven “News” giants like Fox News and MSNBC. Under the fairness Doctrine these entities would have been required to give a fair and balanced view of the days newsworthy events. Without the Doctrine they are constrained by very little, if anything at all. The advent of these diametrically opposed entities has in turn, at least in part, fueled an ideological feud within this nation. A feud that stretches from dinner tables and casual discussions, to the internet and social media, and finally reached the three branches of government at both state and federal levels. The two sides are deeply entrenched in views distorted by the pretend “News” entities as they strive to shape public and government opinion and policy.

While the Fairness Doctrine was based on the 1949 FCC (Federal Communications Commission) report regarding fair and balanced information, it was only used on a case by case basis until 1967 when certain provisions were adopted into FCC regulation. This remained in effect until 1987 when the FCC removed the Doctrine in a 4-0 vote. This was done as the Doctrine was seen to inhibit journalists in electronic media (TV and Radio) in ways they felt the print media of the time never had to suffer. So it would seem the Doctrine was removed in good conscience and in hopes that the media would then strive to improve their level of reporting without unnecessary constraints. I know there are those out there that would disagree with me but I do not think the media has lived up to their end of this arraignment.

Twice in 2005 Democratic representatives introduced legislation to reinstate all or part of the Fairness Doctrine, neither time did they even make it to a vote. In 2007, 2008, and 2009 Democratic voices in congress voiced support for the Doctrine but no attempt was made at legislation as the opposition was to great.


The opposition is from the Republican side of the aisle as it is seen as a liberal assault on the right wing voices of people like Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity. “Limbaugh has promised he’s “not going down without a fight” and calls the Fairness Doctrine just “the tip of the iceberg” of an attempt by the federal government to expand its power. Newt Gingrich called the Fairness Doctrine “Affirmative Action for liberals” and Hannity called it “an assault on the First Amendment.”[1] So it seems, at the very least, the far right wing of the political parties sees the power they possess to manipulate and misinform the population without these constraints in place as something they hold dear.

While I may never be one to find much use in the thoughts of Mr. Hannity I would have trouble disagreeing with that particular point of view. The first amendment is all about freedom of speech and this compels Americans to support others right to say things, even when those are things you would vehemently oppose, but, the first amendment does not say that I have to let you call it “News.”

The word News is defined as “newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events” which, strictly speaking, seems to mean information passed to someone they did not previously know. You may then tell me all unicorns are purple, which, I will admit, I did not know. By strict definition your purple unicorn information is news. However, words change meaning as time passes and they are used in daily conversation. Earlier in this article I mentioned “electronic media” for instance, and placed TV and Radio in parentheses after. I did this to note that, when the term was used in the time period in question, “electronic media” meant TV and Radio. But the note also points out that, in time, the term has come to mean computers, and cell phones and tablets and watches, and pagers and well, a whole lot of different things. Simply put, words evolve as time passes, as society changes, and as views differ. While the word News once meant the mere passing of information, in time it has come to be associated with entities that pass information to us about world and local events that we expect to factual to the extent that it can be made so.

I believe, as a whole, the common misconception in this nation is that News entities tell the truth. Most people think they must, by law, pass factual as possible information. That is why people trust these sources of information. But in a case which began in the mid 90’s Fox News, in short, was sued by a Husband and Wife “Investigative Team” they had hired to do a four part series on Monsanto. The couple turned in the piece and Fox added information from Monsanto to it that the couple knew to be false. The couple refused to continue with the piece and were fired by Fox. They sued and won a settlement. On feb 14th, 2003 Fox appealed the decision and won. “During their appeal, FOX asserted that there are no written rules against distorting news in the media. They argued that, under the First Amendment, broadcasters have the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on public airwaves. Fox attorneys did not dispute Akre’s claim that they pressured her to broadcast a false story, they simply maintained that it was their right to do so.”[2] Basically Fox argued that they were allowed to lie and distort information they gave to people and that this was legal and acceptable practice, and the court agreed.

I make no attempt here to single Fox out as i believe other “News” entities do similar, if not the exact, same thing. I merely wish to note that “News” no longer implies in any way that there is truth being told. When you see a Brian Williams suspended from his job as an anchor for falsifying news and then see in the same time period a Bill O’Reilly not suspended for the exact same accusation know, it is not a legal situation. No larger journalistic entity intervened. These choices are made by the respective “News” entities themselves in an effort to either show they care about journalistic ethics or they do not.

Should this be left up to the entities or should there be a larger policing body? if there is a larger body, who gets to be on it? Who gets to be the final arbiter of truth? We all want it to be the entities themselves. We want that heated board room conversation where the villainous producer is trying to push horribly distorted truths on the public only to be stopped cold by the ethical reporter as they fight for the truth and win. We may want it, but it clearly does not exist.

This is a situation where the desire for what is right butts up against the freedoms we cherish. Try as we might we will not be able to convince these entities to distribute the truth as anything other than the agenda they so cling to. This leaves us with little recourse over the material produced but, it still leaves us with the ability to alter the manner in which it is sold to the public. We can make them cease to present this information as absolute fact. Edible products are forced, by law, to tell me what is in them so that I may make an educated decision about what I choose to consume. This should be the same for these opinion generators. Make them admit that the following information may be altered for the purposes of misleading you into believing the twisted world view we have embraced. because, whatever that world view is, it is most certainly not true “News.”



[1] http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1880786,00.html   

[2] http://www.projectcensored.org/11-the-media-can-legally-lie/


Disclaimer: In the sources I list some, or all, are links to websites. I assert that the information I took from these websites, whether I took a whole piece, or bits from different spots on the page, were as I represent them in this article. As websites are subject to change, and I have no control over that change either in time or content, I cannot be responsible if the source looks different in whole, or in part, when checked at a later date.

Thank you:
Kevin Hartranft  

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