The Flamethrowers and the Fairness Doctrine

Published at 09:21 on 22 October 2021

The Flamethrowers

I just listened to the first episode of this podcast, and it begs a question: why did the Left not respond in kind when the Right went heavy into talk radio and it started bearing fruit? Was it simple incompetence? Was it being too chickenshit to fight with brass knuckles when the other side does? Or, more seriously, was it an issue of the capitalists that owned radio stations refusing to air Left content?

The answer is critical to addressing the root cause of the problem, yet it is not explored. Instead, it is celebrated when the Federal government resolves the problem by dusting off the long-disused Fairness Doctrine and putting it to work. That creates a problem, because if your politics requires the support and largesse of government intervention to prevail over natural public sentiment, your politics (or at least your political strategy) is intrinsically weak, and is basically doomed to inevitable decline.

A follow-up question: why this reluctance (both then and now) to delve into root causes? Is it the simple need to tell yourself good things about your side (“we are not the ones with serious flaws that beg self-criticism; they are”)? Or, more seriously, is your whole movement a pro-Establishment scam, and are you unwilling to chase things down to root causes because you fear it will delegitimize the very system whose opposition you desire to contain, manage, minimize, and ultimately render impotent?

The Fairness Doctrine

The hero in the episode, of course, is the beloved Fairness Doctrine, of which liberals are still mourning the demise of, despite it now being cold and dead since 1987.

First, note that year. Reagan became president in 1981; 1987 was towards the end of his eight-year term. The Fairness Doctrine thus did nothing to prevent the political success of the Reagan revolution.

Second is the political context of the Fairness Doctrine. A radio spectrum dominated almost exclusively by capitalists operating on a for-profit basis was not inevitable; in fact, it was deliberately created under the early years of the Roosevelt administration, as detailed in the book Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio. Mind you, capitalists played an important role in running radio stations before then, they simply did not play the clearly dominant one they did afterwards.

The motive behind the Democrats’ corporatization of the media was simple: FDR understood the power of radio, wanted his voice to be carried nationwide, and also wanted to limit how much the fundamental principles of capitalism were questioned. A quid pro quo in which the power of NBC and RCA was magnified by government intervention, and these newly-empowered corporations both refrained from open opposition to the New Deal while carrying presidential speeches nationwide as newsworthy events, was in the interests of both parties.

The Fairness Doctrine then came later when liberals tried to patch up the natural consequences and dangers of the very media monoculture their earlier policies helped nurture. It was, in other words, hardly the principled anti-corporate thing it at first appeared to be. The Reagan Administration’s rhetoric merely portrayed it that way, in the name of scrapping it, and why would the Democrats challenge them? Understand that challenging it meant acknowledging by implication how their own politics had served as a something of a pro-Establishment fraud.

It is as of this stage mostly water under the bridge, anyhow. Broadcast radio is no longer the political force it once was; the Internet and social media are now the real forces to be reckoned with, and a new Fairness Doctrine would accomplish very little overall.


I just wish they had gone at least a little bit into some of these other questions I just raised above. Nothing claimed in that episode was outright wrong, but it was overall missing some important context.

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