The Formal Death of the Fairness Doctrine


The FCC retires one of its gags.

Nearly a quarter century since it stopped being enforced, the Fairness Doctrine is being formally stricken from the books. I'll be on WRVA in Richmond, Virginia—that's 1140 on your AM dial—at 8:05 tomorrow morning to take a look back at one of the Federal Communications Commission's more infamous restrictions on free expression. You can listen live here.

Some relevant stuff I've written:

"Tuning Out Free Speech"—a history of the Fairness Doctrine.

"Beyond the Fairness Doctrine"—more-current threats to radio and TV broadcasters' freedom of speech.

NEXT: Eric Hobsbawm's Faith-Based Marxism

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  1. But, but, but….
    Citizens United! We’re all gonna die!
    What about that?

    1. Even worse, we’re going to die confused and ignorant, because apparently we’ll only be hearing one side of the story.

  2. “Our work is not done.”

    Oh, of that, Julius, I have no doubt.

    The Fairness Doctrine is not currently enforced by the FCC and has not been applied for more than 20 years” off the books.

    Good enough for gubmint work, I suppose.

    1. “Not doing/enforcing stuff” is the kind of government work I prefer. The more, the better.

      1. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that was the majority of gubmint work-time spent, or is that not spent?

      2. Including big-government’s biggest entitlement program, the Land Title Offices, episiarch?

  3. I did not know that the Fairness Doctrine had an actual history behind it – I wrongly believed that its genesis was during the ’08 elections. At the time, I was pooh-poohing the ‘threat’ it posed and the actual implementation of the law.

    Very interesting and informative, Jesse.

    1. Oh, no. The “Fairness Doctrine” was very, very real. I lived the hell that was the time of the “Fairness Doctrine”. Dark times, my friend. Dark. Times.

      1. Didn’t it originate from the left’s fears about right-wing radio shows?

        1. Well, the Ruether Memorandum on “The Radical Right in America Today” (1961) to the Kennedy Administration included a recommendation that the Attorney General should:

          “Use the power of the Federal Communications Commission to investigate radio and television stations carrying conservative programs and see if such stations are violating FCC regulations.”


          1. See, this is why we need Elders – to teach the young ‘uns that not everything developed AFTER MTV was created. Which I also remember. Fuck…

        2. Kind of…YES. And local TV commenters back in the day when some buzz cut dude in a suit would come on the news and deliver a Bircher-rant which sounded perfectly reasonable to Mr. and Mrs Joe Six-Pack of Anytown, USA.

        3. Didn’t it originate from the left’s fears about right-wing radio shows?

          Its origins actually involved the feds hassling a socialist station. But yes, it was used in the ’60s to harass right-wing broadcasters.

          1. This is one of the best ways to give socialists pause: “would you trust George Bush with that authority?” I just love watching their authoritarian little brains melt down trying to come up with a response

            1. It doesn’t faze them for long unfortunately

            2. Cognitive dissonance.

  4. *golf clap*

  5. FCC, years behind with technologies evolving daily. This is the spedometer for ‘moving at the speed of government.’

  6. A failure is admitted and repealed.

    Call Guinness.

    1. Skip Guiness, start watching for the other Seals to be broken.

    2. I think you mean DRINK Guinness.

    3. Notice that there were two decades between the admission and the repeal.

  7. About.

  8. I am honestly in shock. When was the last time the Federal Government eliminated any regulations?

    1. They didn’t eliminate a regulation. They just crossed off some words in their book. I’ll be in shock when they actually stop doing something.

      1. Correct.
        Nowhere in the Constitution was the power to regulate the dissemination of information mentioned, other than the 1st Amendment which pretty clearly says ‘government can’t do that’.
        Until it’s accepted that the 1st means what it says, we have vultures hanging around the corpse hoping to resurrect an edict that gives the government a power to ‘grant’ a right.
        What a government can ‘grant’, a government can deny.

        1. But but but- Interstate Commerce!!!1!

          it would be the trump card on your first amendment reply.

          1. “But but but- Interstate Commerce!!!1!
            it would be the trump card on your first amendment reply.”

            Tony et al will try.

    2. I honestly think this is a head fake.

      First, they make a big deal about eliminating the unenforced and unenforceable “fairness doctrine”. Then they quietly introduce a new regulation to monitor speech over FCC-regulated media.

      Paranoid or realistic? That I don’t know, but I just don’t trust the bastards.

      1. I had the same thought, so how paranoid can it be?

  9. As someone who remembers all those asinine “equal time” rebuttals for opposing views that had to follow every political comment or observation published in print or TV, might I say THANK FUCKING GOD!

    Now get rid of the FCC albatross and we’ll be well on our way to free speech unhindered by government shenanigans.

    1. ….the next person that says shenanigans is gonna get visited by Steve Smith.

      1. shenanigans shenanigans shenanigans shenanigans shenanigans shenanigans

        me next me next me next

  10. OK this dude really seems to know what the deal is.


  11. I’ll always remember the one time in a poli sci class I was taking when my professor was spouting off on the need to get the government to force corporate broadcasters to put socialists on the air in order to get ‘unpopular’ opinions out their. I then simply asked him if ‘equal time’ meant allowing one David Duke to speak his mind for every Noam Chomsky. He promptly deflected with something about a standard for ‘constructive’ opinions only. No freaking lie.

    1. “for ‘constructive’ opinions only”

      The ‘argument’ for taxpayer-funded campaigns.

    2. A standard for viewpoint discrimination.

  12. PBS has a new Ken Burns series on Prohibition. They allow that prohibition failed. The irony of how it reflects on the current “drug war” is lost on them, however.

    1. …..sigh……

    1. They’re removing unenforced language from the rulebooks. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things; the real victory was won in ’87.

      1. In the ‘three felonies a day’ sense it’s sort of a big deal.

        (I contend the worst laws are those on the books but not enforced – that’s an engraved invitation to the first tyrant, petty or otherwise, that comes down the pike)

  13. Ahhhh…. Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. Federal Communications Commission, 395 U.S. 367 (1969)
    … SCOTUS at one of their peaks of utter fucking stupidity. Why do we pay attention to these stupid fucks who can even get reality right? The scarcity premise….puuullllleeeezzze. The entire universe is made of dark energy, dark matter, matter, and energy….. and these fucks think the output of a sun is….scarce. No dudes, your understanding of the “spectrum” is apparently even more limited than your ability to manipulate and exploit is which is the fucking point.

  14. Nearly a quarter century since it stopped being enforced, the Fairness Doctrine is being formally stricken from the books.

    Next on the chopping block: The Wagner Act.

    1. Next on the chopping block: The Wagner Act.

      Good luck with that one. You might as well try ripping the SS checks from the hands of old people.

      ‘Teh Middle Class!!11!! We created the Middle Class!!1!1!!!!1!!

  15. But wait, now not everybody wins!

    This is great news even though it’s not really news. Here’s why: with the law officially dead, we don’t have to hear dumbasses say stuff like, “you know, we should really revisit the fairness doctrine to make sure everyone’s voice [as long as they’re liberal] gets heard.”

  16. Never trust government, especially when it claims to give up a smidgen of its infinite power.

  17. Meh. It wouldn’t have applied to US.

    1. Us, either.

      Woulda been nice to have it to squash our opponents, though.

      1. And hear the lamentations of their domestic partners.

  18. How many different big name liberal/progressive/whatever the hell they are calling themselves this week slanted stations/networks have been tried and failed on the radio in the past 10 years?

  19. “Our work is not done

    Yes it is, you just said so. Next step: pink slips for FCC employee’s. I won’t hold by breath for that.

  20. The good news is: if they do resurrect this PoS doctrine, The URKOBOLD will get a few minutes every week to speak on MSNBC…

    1. That sort of programming should improve their ratings.

  21. As a matter of policy I’m not a fan of the doctrine, but I don’t see that the Fairness Doctrine has to be understood as a “restriction” on speech. It doesn’t bar anyone from speaking. If you speak you simply had to supply more speech for an opposing view, and iirc this was a condition for using the publicly owned airwaves. It was a determination that debate as much as speech serves the nation.

    1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

      a?bridge[ ? br?j ]TRANSITIVE VERB
      restrict somebody’s rights: to deprive somebody of rights or privileges

      So you think forcing me to support speech I disagree with does not deprive me of my free speech rights? How is my speech free if I can be forced to support speech I disagree with?

      1. He was using the European definition. It means whatever he wants it to.

    2. The airwaves were taken over by the government – this was Herbert Hoover’s idea when he was Secretary of Commerce, and Congress went along with him. If only Hoover had *really* been a do-nothing politician!

      Having taken title to broadcast frequencies, the feds started talking as if the airwaves had magically fallen into the hands of the “public,” necessitating government supervision of what members of the public could broadcast. By a curious coincidence, the interests of the “public” happened to coincide with the interests of the federal government – limiting full and robust dissenting speech on the airwaves.

      The “fairness doctrine” basically imposed an extra cost on any broadcaster who aired controversial material – you had to spend money (a) balancing out the controversial material with opposing views, even if those opposing views were widely available through local newspapers and other broadcasters, and (b) fighting the claims of those who said that the broadcaster hadn’t properly balanced the competing views – this involved legal expenses, the equivalent of a fine on controversial opinions. Faced with the equivalent of a fine for airing controversial opinions, broadcasters often chose to avoid controversy – how fair!

      Thus, “fairness” meant that even if one-sided anti-socialist views were widely available in local newspapers, a socialist radio station could be punished for supposedly being one-sided in rebutting the local newspapers.

      Another curious coincidence – with some major exceptions during the Nixon Administration, the FCC usually found that the Big Three broadcast networks were much “fairer” than local radio hosts or issue ads – thus, the feds basically granted a broadcast monopoly to the Big Three.

    3. Legality aside, that might work if there were only two viewpoints.

      Of course, it was unconstitutional from the get-go, and the sole justification–scarce channels of communication–is completely dead.

      I was actually shocked when some Democrats starting openly asking for the revival of the fairness doctrine. I was even more taken aback when Pelosi and other senior people indicated their agreement. The government has no business controlling content or viewpoints, and that’s what the fairness doctrine did, in practice.

      1. “might work if there were only two viewpoints”

        Sure, if neither viewpoint was being advocated by anyone in the community.

        But what if one viewpoint is being trumpeted by newspapers and magazines, and the other view is only being covered by the local radio station? The people in the listening area have access to both viewpoints without one-sided restrictions on broadcasters.

    4. Re: MNG,

      It doesn’t bar anyone from speaking.

      It makes it more expensive, MNG. To bring a contrarian point of view to give “balance” is a cost, as it uses resources which are meant to cover the point the advertisers pay for and the listerners tune to.

      In other words, don’t play dumb: It IS a restriction on speech.

  22. Radical right-wing propaganda is a threat to any country. It should be treated as such, not coddled as just another addition to national discourse. Liberals are Satan, billionaires should pay no taxes, Jesus should be president. We get it.

    1. Radical left-wing propaganda is a threat to any country. It should be treated as such, not coddled as just another addition to national discourse. Conservatives are Satan, billionaires should pay all the taxes, Karl Marx should be President. We get it.

      1. “Fuck the First Amendment”.

        You might as well say that, Tony.

        1. FIFY I love the 1st amendment, but I believe it exists for pragmatic ends. And promoting right-wing radicalism is the opposite of contributing to pragmatic ends.

          I don’t believe in suppressing the speech, because I believe that is counterproductive. But I don’t believe in encouraging it either. We’re not gonna miraculously discover the good form of right-wing radicalism.

          1. “I don’t believe in suppressing the speech, because I believe that is counterproductive. But I don’t believe in encouraging it either.”

            So what are you proposing? Oh yeah, ENCOURAGING state-approved speech at the expense of the property and free speech rights of the people that own newspapers and broadcast stations.

            Pop quiz Tony: What does “Congress shall make NO LAW abridging the freedom of the press” mean in its most obvious, literal sense? Come on now.

          2. Shithead:
            “FIFY I love the 1st amendment, but I believe it exists for pragmatic ends.”

            IOWs, I don’t give a crap about the 1st amendment.
            New bar for ignorant statements.

          3. Bullshit. If you don’t allow for the dissemination of ALL political speech, then you are stepping on the First Amendment based on your personal preferences.

            Of course, you’re leaving out the worst examples of left-wing radicalism… which isn’t surprising.

            But neither that, nor its rightest-wing counterpart, should be suppressed. In ANY way.

            Which is what you’re after, only for speech with which you disagree, Tony.

      2. I agree. Radicalism is a threat regardless of what guise it takes. This country, as it happens, has a problem with the right-wing variety.

        But let’s not fall into the fallacy of assuming that every alternative to right-wing radicalism is by definition another form of radicalism.

        1. Never mind that the First forbids any government intervention in political speech – which, were your preference made public policy, would contradict.

  23. Sounds like you might be onto something dude. Wow.


  24. This one is another dilemma for the left. On the one hand, they criticize Fox News for showing two contrasting opinions on most topics when they insist there is only one correct way to think about this; except when that one correct way is the conservative way, then we must balance it with a liberal viewpoint.

    There are arguably a few goods words to describe this, but the most appropriate one is inconsistent.

    1. The left wants restrictions on their competitors, and to be left out of any criticism or management of content.

      NPR wanted an exemption from any FD restrictions, for instance.

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