Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The President Takes a Stand Against "Fairness"

In a speech on Tuesday, President Bush vowed to veto any bill requiring the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine.  The patently unconstitutional requirements of the doctrine* were effectively repealed by the FCC during the Reagan years, but some Democratic members of Congress -- hounded by criticism from talk radio and other sources -- have introduced bills to reinstate them.  Here is the most relevant part of Bush's remarks, courtesy of the Austin American-Statesman:

This organization has had many important missions, but none more important than ensuring our airways - America’s airways - stay open to those who preach the ‘Good News.’ The very first amendment to our Constitution includes the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. Founders believed these unalienable rights were endowed to us by our Creator. They are vital to a healthy democracy, and we must never let anyone take those freedoms away.

I mention this because there’s an effort afoot that would jeopardize your right to express your views on public airways. Some members of Congress want to reinstate a regulation that was repealed 20 years ago. It has the Orwellian name called the Fairness Doctrine. Supporters of this regulation say we need to mandate that any discussion of so-called controversial issues on the public airwaves includes equal time for all sides. This means that many programs wanting to stay on the air would have to meet Washington’s definition of balance. Of course, for some in Washington, the only opinions that require balancing are the ones they don’t like.

We know who these advocates of so-called balance really have in their sights: shows hosted by people like Rush Limbaugh or James Dobson, or many of you here today. By insisting on so-called balance, they want to silence those they don’t agree with. The truth of the matter is, they know they cannot prevail in the public debate of ideas. They don’t acknowledge that you are the balance … The country should not be afraid of the diversity of opinions. After all, we’re strengthened by diversity of opinions.

One may wonder where Bush's passion for defending the First Amendment was when he signed McCain-Feingold into law even though he thought it was unconstitutional.  One may also point out that the legislation in question will almost certainly never reach his desk, or that, unlike with McCain-Feingold (which came to him during his first term), Bush would have nothing to risk politically by vetoing it even if it did get past Congress during the remainder of his time in office.  Still, better late than never, I guess.

* The Warren Court -- that great defender of civil liberties -- upheld some Fairness Doctrine requirements in 1969, but the reasoning behind that decision has been thoroughly rejected since and I have little doubt that the Supreme Court would, quite correctly, take a very negative view of those requirements today.

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