The Coming 1st Amendment Crackdown
Posted by wordforit on February 21, 2008
Editor’s note: The following column is adapted from remarks made by the author [Joseph Farah] at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.
With most of the nation’s attention focused on the presidential election, it’s time for a warning of what is to come if Democrats retain control of both Houses of Congress in November.
Prepare for a major, frontal assault on the First Amendment – perhaps the worst in American history.
To understand what is coming, we need to recall an event from last fall. You might remember an effort by Harry Reid and 40 other members of the U.S. Senate who wrote a letter to Rush Limbaugh’s network demanding he apologize for something he never said.
It was a brazen power play. Rush acquitted himself well, as he always does – making a monkey out of Reid. But if that’s all we remember about this incident, we are missing the point.
This was a shot across the bow by an arrogant group of petty, wannabe tyrants who would, if they could, use the coercive power of the state to stifle all dissenting views.
I know because they (the Clintons) came after me back in the 1990s – using the IRS as their attack dog. Many of you will be too young to remember the way the IRS “coincidentally” audited virtually everyone who was critical of the Clintons during their reign of terror. They got away with it – as they got away with so much.
These people are ruthless, and they are determined to consolidate their power when they get it.
They would do it under the rubric of “hate speech” legislation. They would do it with the rationalization of “fairness” and “accuracy” – two qualities they wouldn’t recognize if they tripped over them. They would do it in the name of campaign finance reform. In fact, they would do it without any excuse whatsoever.
Reid and Hillary did us a favor last fall. They tipped their hand. They gave us a glimpse of the future under their rule. They told us what they are going to do.
They are going to declare war on the First Amendment.
To them, the First Amendment doesn’t actually protect the inalienable right to free speech and the free press. It only protects their speech and their press. They want a monopoly on media. They had it once and they got spoiled. They decided they can’t live without it any more.
So, here’s the plan: Come January 2009, if Harry Reid is still running the Senate and Nancy Pelosi is still cleaning the House, they are going to pass a law bringing back the so-called “Fairness Doctrine.”
If Barack Obama is in the White House, he will sign it. If Hillary Clinton is in the White House, she will sign it.
How President John McCain will respond is anyone’s guess. Recently, he pledged to oppose it. But let’s just say he has a less-than-cordial relationship with talk radio and a history of contempt for the First Amendment.
How draconian would the Fairness Doctrine be?
Would it really make a difference on our media landscape today?
To understand the threat, you have to understand the history of this dreaded, freedom-killing initiative.
In 1987, President Ronald Reagan virtually single-handedly killed the “Fairness Doctrine,” which, in theory, mandated a balance of opposing views on radio and television airwaves, but, in reality, meant politicians and the government meddling in broadcast programming, resulting in bland, non-controversial shows and the near-death experience of AM radio.
To give you an idea of its chilling effect, in 1987, the last year of the Fairness Doctrine, there were 75 radio talk shows in all of these United States. Today, there are over 3,000.
What does that tell you?
Do you think we had more fairness then or now?
Do you think we had more voices then or now?
Do you think we had a more lively political dialogue then or now?
We had an explosion of voices and a livelier and freer debate than ever as a direct result of the Fairness Doctrine being eliminated.
Reid and Pelosi and Obama and Clinton know that, too. And that’s why high on their agenda in 2009 is legislation to bring it back.
They don’t want debate. They don’t want a multitude of voices. They don’t want watchdogs. They want control. They want the media to dance to their tune. They want media lapdogs.
And that’s what they’ll get when they bring back the Fairness Doctrine.
Maybe you’re thinking, “The Fairness Doctrine only applies to broadcast, and we now have the Internet and satellite radio and cable TV, etc. What are you so worried about, Farah? You’re not even a part of talk radio.”
Let me explain this: If the Democrats and their me-too Republican allies are successful at sacking talk radio, there will be no stopping them. These are people who actually believe in hate-speech laws. They will be coming after all their enemies – just as they did in the 1990s. There will be no place to hide.
I mean that. Broadcast will be first. Then they will go after the Internet with taxes and new regulations and hate-crimes laws. And when they succeed at muzzling dissenting voices there, they will even turn to print. Remember, we are dealing with a neo-fascist mentality here.
Remember, these are people who want the federal government to take over health care. These are people who seek to end free enterprise because it promotes global warming. These are people who want to declare another government war on poverty – a war we already fought and lost with their approach back in the 1960s.
We’re not dealing with rational, sane human beings here.
Now, why do I worry about what President McCain might do?
Aside from his sponsorship of McCain-Feingold, until now, the worst legislative attack on the First Amendment and free political speech in the nation’s history, Republicans have a long history of approval of the Fairness Doctrine.
To fully appreciate how complicit Republicans like McCain have been throughout the history of the Fairness Doctrine, consider this:
In an interview with Sean Hannity last summer, Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio – a Republican – embarrassed himself by showing he did not even know what the Fairness Doctrine was. He ended up hanging up on Hannity after being exposed.
Remember Trent Lott warning last year that something needed to be done about talk radio? Big surprise. He supported making the Fairness Doctrine the law of the land in 1987.
How about Newt Gingrich? He championed legislating the Fairness Doctrine 20 years ago.
Jesse Helms supported it too.
It’s hard to imagine that just 20 years ago there was no talk radio, no Internet, no satellite radio, no New Media.
In fact, as I have said before, I know the specific day that New Media were born – and with the birth came an explosion of free expression.
It was Aug. 4, 1987. Something momentous happened on that date. Something wonderful. Something that changed the world for the better.
It was on that date the Federal Communications Commission abolished the Fairness Doctrine by a 4-0 vote.
It was a great day for freedom, liberty and open and lively political debate.
But, of course, it did not occur in a political vacuum. Two months earlier, on June 19, 1987, another great day for the First Amendment, President Ronald Reagan vetoed a bipartisan bill overwhelmingly approved in both the House and Senate that would have, for the first time, made the “Fairness Doctrine” a matter of law, not just the guideline of a regulatory agency.
In doing so, Reagan said, “The framers of the First Amendment, confident that public debate would be freer and healthier without the kind of interference represented by the ‘Fairness Doctrine,’ chose to forbid such regulations in the clearest terms: ‘Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.'”
That took place 20 years ago. How many of you remember what the media world looked like two decades ago?
In 1987, three major broadcast networks presented the semi-official newscasts. You could choose between ABC, CBS and NBC. But there was really no choice at all. All three evening newscasts were remarkably similar – almost as if they were produced by the same team.
There was no talk radio, to speak of, in 1987. The AM dial was moribund. Programmers dared not deal with controversial topics for fear they would have to provide government-mandated “balance” from opposing views. That made for bad programming and lots of red tape and expense. So radio stations simply avoided controversy – sticking to news, traffic, commercial programming, safe stuff. Music had pretty much all moved over to the FM dial.
But something dramatic was right around the corner – a momentous development that would breathe new life into AM radio and the nation’s political debate as well.
President Reagan changed the media landscape for the better with a stroke of the pen.
This was not some spontaneous decision on his part. He had been thinking about it for a long time. He had worked in radio and television for much of his life. He had selected members of the FCC who were constitutionalists and freedom-minded people who detested the Fairness Doctrine.
As I say in my book, “Stop the Presses! The Inside Story of the New Media Revolution,” Ronald Reagan should be considered the godfather of the New Media. Two years after he killed the Fairness Doctrine, Rush Limbaugh’s nationally syndicated radio talk show took to the airwaves. The impact was phenomenal. Whereas there were some 75 talk shows on radio stations across America in 1980, by 1999, there were more than 1,300.
Something else was triggered by the explosion of voices on talk radio – new voices on another medium.
Within eight years of scrapping the Fairness Doctrine and six years of the debut of Rush Limbaugh, another major media voice arose – Matt Drudge. Within two more years – an even decade since the death of the Fairness Doctrine – WorldNetDaily.com was born.
Not only did the explosion of new voices affect a broadcast medium once regulated by the Fairness Doctrine, its force carried outside to the Internet, to satellite radio and to cable TV.
It all started with Ronald Reagan’s insightful, inspired stroke of the pen. That’s what touched off a media revolution that is far from over 20 years later.
Reagan had to battle Democrats and Republicans – conservatives and liberals. But he won. And he was right.
But, clearly, there are no more Reagans around.
And the 2009 Congress is going to be even more eager to muzzle talk radio than is the current bunch. And not even George W. Bush will be around to stop them.
It’s not a threat. It’s a promise. It’s not a prediction. It is a guarantee.
If Democrats retain control of both houses of Congress and capture the presidency in 2008, the Fairness Doctrine will be back – this time as the law of the land. Hillary would sign it in a flat second. So would Obama.
Do you know for certain what John McCain will do if he’s sitting in the White House? I don’t. But it’s time to find out.
Joseph Farah is founder, editor and CEO of WND and a nationally syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate. His latest book is “Stop The Presses: The Inside Story of the New Media Revolution.” He also edits the online intelligence newsletter Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin, in which he utilizes his sources developed over 30 years in the news business.