By now most of us understand that the radicalized conservatives (No, NOT “antifa”, not BLM, not progressives, not Democrats) who attacked the Capital, intending to kill the Vice President of the United States thought they were engaged in a patriotic movement. No, really. Sure, attacking one’s own country is NOT generally considered “patriotic” but there they were, defiling the building and killing cops. So, how could they? The short answer is, they were deceived by the conservative media bubble. Most people are pointing the finger at trump, himself, and clearly he bears much responsibility. But over time I became aware that the Donald is just another incurious old man sucked into the fraudulent world of conservative media, which means it’s hard to say how much he started and how much he was just repeating tired conservative lies that appealed to him.
Like many other people alarmed by the radicalization of the right, I’ve been looking for answers to the question of how we get valid information out to the real world in the face of constant undermining by monied interests in conservative world. My favorite answer is an amendment to the First Amendment which reads, “any organization that identifies itself as a news organization shall not present false or misleading information.” Accurate information is vital to the health of any democracy and requiring news outlets to tell the truth seems…existential. But, of course, the misinformation/disinformation campaigns doing so much damage to this once-great nation are not accidental. Some very wealthy people have spent great amounts of their lucre to deceive the American public and they’re not about to let such a thing as “honesty” interfere with their goals.
For me, Plan B is the return of the Fairness Doctrine. This is pretty straightforward. In 1949, the Federal Communications Commission created and implemented a rule called the Fairness Doctrine that said any broadcaster that used public airwaves to editorialize was required to provide equal time for opposing viewpoints. It was a good rule. It helped maintain perspective for most Americans. Of course, there are people who stand opposed to the Fairness Doctrine – people who gain from the lies and people who believe the people who gain from the lies. As far as I’m concerned there are no decent, honest people who oppose the idea of fairness in broadcasting.
The most common response I get when I bring this up is that it’s not necessary. There are so many outlets out there, I’m told, that people can easily get opposing viewpoints when they want them. That’s what I call a philosophical argument. Technically, it’s true but it lacks practical application. That is, yes, people could get opposing viewpoints by switching the station – but they don’t. In fact, in conservative world, they’re constantly and heavily admonished to never, EVER tune in to opposing viewpoints. People have a tendency to just turn on their favorite station and leave it there all day. So Tucker Carlson comes on at 8pm and tells some conservative lie. Hannity is on at 9 and he repeats the lie followed by Laura Ingraham, repeating the same lie. If nobody is representing the truth, how can people know they’ve been lied to? Fox “News” claims to be fair and balanced but everybody outside of the conservative bubble knows they’re not. Since average Americans do NOT seek opposing information, the Fairness Doctrine would ensure at least exposure to competing ideas. (Truthfully, I think the impact would be greater in radio than television these days but it would provide some balance in both…)
Broadcasters opposed to honesty often throw up yet another canard: do you know how much it would cost, constantly having to give away airtime for equal time? Why, yes. Yes, I do. Let’s see, subtract that, add those, carry the one and…Zero! Yes, that’s correct. It would cost absolutely Zero more. How do I know? History. You see, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Around here, we have a radio station, KGO, that has been broadcasting talk radio since before Reagan launched the conservative war against America – that is, when the Fairness Doctrine still applied. Back then, under the Fairness Doctrine, KGO put a liberal on for three hours, then a conservative for three hours. Then a liberal, then a conservative. They punctuated each segment with journalism. It was a very good balance. Because their programming represented opposing viewpoints, they never had to give time away for opposing viewpoints. Simple.
I know it’s not a perfect solution. What with the ONAN crapfest, “NewsQuacks”, “Misinfo Wars, and “Q-anonsense people can easily hide from reality. But they’ll have to work a bit harder to avoid the truth if broadcast networks are required to provide equal time. I’ll tell you this: as nearly as I can tell, the alternative is to simply sit back and let powerful, monied interests lie this once-great nation into oblivion…