Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) sent a letter to the heads of the four "major" TV networks—CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox—threatening to hold a hearing "to explore network media bias in coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign." To justify this grandstanding and overreaching display of concerned government, Cramer cites a recent Gallup poll which put Americans trust in "media" at around 32 percent and also asserted only 37 percent of Americans think the media's coverage of the 2016 campaign has been "balanced."
If the public's tepid views of the news business aren't enough to make your fear for the fragile state of American democracy, Cramer's not done. For him, the polls confirm that "national network news has devolved from fact-based journalism to surreptitious propaganda" in violation of their "moral obligation to provide balanced, unbiased news coverage for the American people."
— Rep. Kevin Cramer (@RepKevinCramer) November 4, 2016
Cramer wants the network executives to know that he's not in favor of re-instituting the Fairness Doctrine, but adds, "while the principle of an independent media is critical to our constitutional government, a news media free of political bias is required for a free system to flourish."
So instead of wielding the Fairness Doctrine as a means of forcing the networks to rid themselves of all political bias (which would be impossible to quantify, not least because bias is in the eye of the beholder), Cramer threatens their "the use of federally-allocated spectrum" afforded by their FCC licenses, writing "Your FCC license and the liberty that comes with your First Amendment rights are not a license to broadcast anything you want or in any way you choose."
Cramer appears to have not read the FCC's website, which explicitly states (emphasis theirs), "We license only individual broadcast stations. We do not license TV or radio networks (such as CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox) or other organizations with which stations have relationships (such as PBS or NPR), except to the extent that those entities may also be station licensees." If Cramer has a problem with the national news media and wants to use the FCC as a cudgel, he'd need to sic them on hundreds of individual stations, not just four networks.
Though Cramer might want to use the FCC as his own task force, the FCC's website also states the commission "cannot prevent the broadcast of any particular point of view. In this regard, the Commission has observed that 'the public interest is best served by permitting free expression of views." They're not done:
The Commission often receives complaints concerning broadcast journalism, such as allegations that stations have aired inaccurate or one-sided news reports or comments, covered stories inadequately, or overly dramatized the events that they cover. For the reasons noted above, the Commission generally will not intervene in such cases because it would be inconsistent with the First Amendment to replace the journalistic judgment of licensees with our own.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) had responded to reports that Facebook's Trending News section was politically biased against right-leaning voices and stories by asking the company for extensive internal documentation and summoning senior employees to Washington, D.C. for a briefing with the senator, who is also the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Communication.
What Thune and Cramer—both Republicans in good standing and ostensibly pro-free market—fail to understand is that Facebook and the major television networks are all private organizations, and whether or not they cover the election or any news from a neutral point of view is absolutely none of the government's business.
(Note: This post has been updated to clarify Sen. Thune's actions.)