Bill Moyers Weighs In On The Fairness Doctrine

Bill Moyers weighs in on the right wing screechers crying about the possibility of the Fairness Doctrine being brought back. I think the bigger issue
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Bill Moyers weighs in on the right wing screechers crying about the possibility of the Fairness Doctrine being brought back. I think the bigger issue is media consolidation, which Bill has addressed in other shows, but did not do so here. Those complaining about the possibility of the Fairness Doctrine coming back will always have the biggest megaphone until these companies are broken up, and media ownership rules are revised.

Moyers: Do I think any conservative commentator wished for what happened in Knoxville last year, or to Doctor George Tiller in Wichita two months ago? Not for a minute. The killer who pulled the trigger is the guilty party. But do I wish the vendors of venom, and their sponsors, would think harder about how angry words become accomplices of foul deeds? Yes, I do. Most certainly. Especially as the words and crazy theories of militias and other elements of the lunatic fringe are given even a shred of credibility by their repetition in the conspicuous conservative media. God only knows the price we pay when we turn political opponents to be debated, into mortal enemies to be eliminated.

Now, when some of those who shout through the megaphone of right wing radio hear a critique like this, they immediately throw a fit. They claim that people like me are calling for a return to the Fairness Doctrine. Some of you remember the Fairness Doctrine, adopted 60 years ago by the Federal Communications Commission. It said that opposing points of view had to be presented on radio or TV in a way that was honest, equitable and balanced. If not, said the FCC, a station could lose its license.

Ronald Reagan abolished the doctrine in 1987, but mention it today and the Rush Limbaugh's of the world still scream like martyrs being stretched on the rack. These people earn millions inciting riots in the public mind. If they were required to be fair, they would soon be penniless, out on the street, cup in hand. So when we first telecast our report on the killings in Knoxville last year, some of them threw a tantrum, as if our criticism of their malicious rhetoric was a call for government censorship.

It's true that in this current climate of mean-speak some members of congress and others have called for reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. But I'm not one of them. The Doctrine is a throwback to a time when there were a lot fewer ways to hear news and opinion than there are in today's universe of websites, blogs, and tweets. Just last week, the two new commissioners to the FCC expressed their strong opposition to its restoration. The new FCC chairman is opposed, too.

Conservatives nonetheless wave the fallacious threat of its return as a bloody flag, lofted above the straw men they evoke to roil the faithful and keep the cash registers ringing.

So let me say it again: the first amendment protection of a free press extends to The Savage Nation as surely as it does to The Nation magazine. Anyway, you can't coerce taste; fairness is not a doctrine to be enforced, but a choice to be made, a responsibility to be honored.

That's it for this week, but the Journal continues at our website. Log onto PBS.org and click on Bill Moyers Journal, where you can find out more about the history of talk radio and free speech and follow the debate on health care reform.

I'm Bill Moyers. See you next time.

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