Fairness Doctrine

The Good Guys, the Bad Guys, and the First Amendment


The Good Guys, the Bad Guys, and the First Amendment, by Fred W. Friendly, New York: Random House, 1976, 268 pp., $10.00.

The "Fairness Doctrine" has long occupied a prime spot in the Federal Communication Commission's arsenal against controversy in broadcasting. It can be swung down upon radio and television stations that depart from what appointed commissioners consider to be politically balanced programming.

In his latest book, former CBS executive Fred Friendly recounts the case of a small, right-wing radio station that attempted to defy the FCC. The station broadcast a tape by an outspoken anti-communist preacher in 1964 which criticized a muckraking journalist, Fred J. Cook, who then requested equal time to counterattack. The station rejected the request, was reversed by the FCC, and then appealed to the Supreme Court, where it lost its case.

Friendly is clearly disappointed by the outcome. The First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press, he believes, applies to broadcast journalism as well as to print media. He is keenly aware of the curious-bedfellows aspect of the case; not only does he, a committed liberal, wind up on the side of conservatives, but he concludes that the Kennedy administration inspired an organized effort to harass unruly right-wing broadcasters. The book is an unsettling look at the fragile quality of freedom of the airwaves, and belongs on the bookshelf of anyone upset by the tepid character of regulated radio and television.