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After Imus: Is Rush Limbaugh next?; Conservatives fear return of 'Fairness Doctrine'
Published: Monday April 16, 2007
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At a meeting of the Free Congress Foundation on April 13, an impromptu discussion about Don Imus and what his firing might mean for other radio personalities took place, reports

"In the absence of any compelling evidence, participants in the latest of the conservative think tank's occasional Next Conservatism Forum series managed to convince themselves that the Fairness Doctrine, a rule that was scrapped by the Federal Communications Commission 20 years ago, was poised for a comeback, and was about to become a weapon in a liberal jihad against the right wing's freedom of speech," writes Alex Koppelman.

According to the report, some influential conservatives feel that Rush Limbaugh might be the next radio host to get the axe.

"It wasn't exactly clear to me how [liberals] intended to bring back the Fairness Doctrine, but I think now with the Imus affair, we know ... [And it's a] short leap from firing Imus to going after Rush Limbaugh," said Cliff Kincaid, of the conservative media group Accuracy in Media at the forum.

The Fairness Doctrine, which was enacted in 1949 by the FCC and eliminated during the Reagan administration, required broadcasters to give equal time to dissenting opinions. Its abolition is credited with the explosion of conservative talk radio in the 1980s, says the article.

"At the forum, conservatives were already thinking of ways to fight back," continues

One former journalist spoke up from the audience, saying he thought "there ought to be some kind of effort to raise money to put ads on the air and in the newspapers alerting people about" the "public outrage" that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson know how to "stir up."

Excerpts from the article follow:


Dick Morris, the political consultant and pundit who managed Bill Clinton's 1996 reelection campaign, said it came down to language.

"Let's try to replace the word 'Fairness Doctrine,'" he told the audience. "Vocabulary is so important in politics." Morris gave as examples the phrases "right to work" and "prevailing wage," and jokingly offered a free trip to Hoboken, N.J. for the person who could come up with a new formulation for the debate. Morris himself seconded Lind's suggestion that the Fairness Doctrine be rebranded the "Unfairness Doctrine," and added that the current absence of any regulation ought to be called the "Freedom Doctrine." In an interview with Salon after the discussion, Morris explained that when searching for language like this, he's looking for a "positive message" to deliver to voters, and that he rejected an audience member's suggestion of the "Hypocrisy Doctrine" because "the concept of hypocrisy is, 'I'm admitting that I'm bad, but you're bad too.'"


The panelists tried to assemble proof to support their Fairness Doctrine fears. They mentioned Sharpton's call for the FCC to step in and his vow that this was only the beginning of the fight; they pointed to the Huffington Post's listing old examples of controversial statements by Limbaugh and Fox News host Bill O'Reilly. There were also the ritual invocations of favorite boogeyman George Soros. Kincaid repeatedly referred to Media Matters as Soros funded, and a pamphlet and fundraising appeal that Accuracy in Media distributed at the forum talks about a dark "conspiracy" that puts "in jeopardy ... all of the progress that conservatives have made in the media over the last several decades."

But perhaps conservatives are projecting a little bit. Though there are media organizations on the left -- some funded by Soros -- that have called for its return, the evidence for the Fairness Doctrine's imminent reappearance is not overwhelming. Free Congress Foundation panelists warned that a Democratic president would be able to appoint FCC commissioners who could unilaterally reinstate the rule. They didn't mention, however, that it hadn't happened in the eight years of the Clinton presidency.