Last thoughts on the Fairness Doctrine....

Richard Chonak
Mon Nov 17 00:50:11 EST 2008

Donna Halper wrote:
> At 11:51 PM 11/16/2008, Don A wrote:
>>>> For those that have an opinion, how do you think this should have been
>>>> handled?
>>> Very scary example, IMO.  Any time someone on a broadcast station 
>>> attacks an author of a controversial book, the station would have to 
>>> let the author respond.
> Umm, not exactly.  These and other durable myths are among the reasons 
> the right wing fears the Fairness Doctrine, but they shouldn't.  The 
> only time a station would have to let the author respond is if he or she 
> were slandered.  Opinion and commentary and honest difference of opinion 
> went on all the time under the FD.  But the FCC had a "personally attack 
> rule" and it was the result of a 1966-67 incident where an ulta-extreme 
> right wing preacher called Fred Cook, a media critic for the Nation 
> magazine, a commie.  He called him other names too--  in addition to a 
> Communist, he said Cook was a traitor and anti-Christian and un-American 
> (sound familiar?  Sama rhetoric could be heard today on many rightie 
> talk shows); this got Fred's knickers in a twist and he demanded time to 
> defend himself.  Preacher said no, I won't.  FCC said yes, you have to.  
> And thus was born the Personal Attack rule. 

To build on Donna's summary:

The "personal attack rule" was one component of the "Fairness Doctrine", 
but not all of it.

Wikipedia's page on the "Fairness Doctrine"
has this description of the FD by a person presumably not influenced by 
right-wing talk radio:

> According to Steve Rendall of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting),
>     The Fairness Doctrine had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows or editorials. The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented.

So while the "contrasting viewpoints" rule didn't give anyone a personal 
right to respond, it did impose an obligation on broadcasters.

In another case, the SCOTUS acknowledged FD critics' concern about 
"chilling speech", and wrote that if a chilling effect were documented, 
the Court would have to reconsider the constitutionality of the FD. 

By the way, just to clarify an expression of Donna's: "ultra-extreme 
right wing preacher" doesn't really tell us what Billy James Hargis' POV 
was.   So let me specify: he was a Fundamentalist Protestant preacher 
and anti-Communist campaigner.


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