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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Monday, June 25, 2007

McIlheran Watch: More unFairness

by folkbum

You know, I really didn't want to get dragged into this. The Fairness Doctrine is not my issue. Jeebus knows I have plenty of issues, but not so much that one.

To be honest, I'm not even sure the Fairness Doctrine really needs to be returned; if the GOP wants to live with the dinosaur that is talk radio--while we Dems run the table with YouTube and Facebook--then so be it. Someday the dittoheads will get satellite radios and get addicted to the NASCAR channel, and then where will Limbaugh be?

I linked to that quip from Trent Lott a while back mostly for the larf. Well, that and the chance to rub McIlheran the wrong way.

Anyhow, after larfing it up with that great wit Trent Lott, I got invoked by not one, not two, but four bloggers from the other side (plus I got called "mighty" by the heroic Brew City Brawler). Then Realism/Philip/djheru made his post Friday (he's a new guest-blogger, by the way, so make him feel welcome), and here I am in the thick of it.

Rick Esenberg wants me to play Burgess Meredith from "Rocky." Nick Schweitzer mocks me. This gator-skinned fellow went after me twice.

The last three of those links are somewhat related, and stem from Nick's assertion that, basically, because he thinks print media, NPR, the TV networks, and so on "slant liberal," it's okay that talk radio is 91% conservative (.pdf). (Wiggy made the same point in the "liberal" print media last week.) Nick writes,
The problem is that both sides only look at one particular type of media to prove their argument about being unfair, instead of looking at all forms of media on the whole. Where the [Milwaukee] Journal [Sentinel] tends to slant liberal, talk radio makes up for it. Where CNN and MSNBC slants liberal, Fox News makes up for it. All sides are being represented fairly... as long as you look at the media fairly.
First of all, I laugh at the notion that the non talk-radio media "slants liberal." I am a liberal, and a fairly representative one at that, and the whole reason I started blogging back in 2003 was that the media were not representing my point of view. My primary non-blog sources of news are NPR, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and some national feeds like the New York Times and Washington Post. I have no idea how far to the right you have to be to see those as liberal, but apparently that's where Nick is. To me, they are absolutley not.

The "media is all liberal" idea seems to be getting a boost of late by (the apparently liberal, according to Nick) MSNBC, which released a study noting that 143 "journalists" have given to Republican or Democratic candidates, the vast majority to Dems. 143 journalists represents about .1% of all the working journalists in the country. And while MSNBC's methodology may have missed a few, even if the number were ten times what they found, you'd be looking at only 1% of the media, and trying to extrapolate the political leanings of the other 99%. Seriously, anybody here trying to claim that 99.9% of journalists can be described by a non-random sample of the other .1% is delusional. (And read that list: I'm sure the Boston Globe's sports statistician is pulling that paper to the left as hard as he can, the same way the Los Angeles Times food writer is yanking that paper to the right.)

But as Jamison Foser points out comparing the MSNBC study to the one linked above about talk radio, MSNBC tells you nothing about content. So what if the Washington Post's film critic gives to Republicans: What does that tell you about anything he's written? Did MSNBC do the first bit of digging around to find whether the guy writes with any particular slant? No.

But if you look at what you actually see and hear in the media--the so-called "liberal" media--there are unreasonable and even counterfactual attacks on Democrats. MSNBC's own Chris Matthews this morning, for example, attacked Hillary Clinton for surrounding herself with women. (His guest commented on the women's hair color.) Liberal? I don't think so! The "liberal" New York Times slammed John Edwards for not helping the poor without bothering to ask if, you know, any poor people got help. And I could go on.

But the cake-taker among those dragging me into this fight, as he so often is, and as you might have surmised by the title of this post, is McIlheran himself. In a post he unironically titles "Public property: No thinking, please," he makes this laughable argument, my emphasis:
What strikes me about the "public airwaves" argument is this: The entire medium of radio can't exist without using some electromagnetic spectrum space--some "public airwaves." This is because the government, in the interest of keeping broadcasters from interfering with each other, declared all the broadcast spectrum to be public property. It then follows that the authorities can regulate the ideological content of broadcasts? That seems stupid.

If that's the inevitable implication, it's one more argument against public property--analogous, in its way, to how that which is in the public sphere is so often less cared for, less safe or less usable. If being public means the airwaves must be ideologically regulated, then let's sell them or lease them off. I'll take a vigorous debate over public ownership any day.
Beyond the forehead-smacking fact that we already do lease the public airwaves (the FCC technically calls it "licensing"), McIlheran unknowingly gets straight to the nut of this issue: There is no vigorous debate. And his implying that vigorous debate would return absent government ownership or oversight of the airwaves is, as I said, laughable. If right now, without any enforcement of some kind of "fairness doctrine," the big-media companies that own these broadcast licenses refuse to air opposing viewpoints (even if those opposing viewpoints are more popular!), there is no "vigorous debate," what could possibly be possessing McIlheran that he thinks removing the non-existent oversight--and putting ownership of the spectrum permanently in the hands of those who can pay for it--would make debate happen?

The Illusory Tennant, in my favorite post about the Fairness Doctrine this past week, reminds us why the FD was there in the first place (scroll to the comments):
Also seriously though, much of the debate rumbling around these parts misses the point of the original "fairness doctrine," the constitutionality of which the Supreme Court upheld (unanimously) in a case called Red Lion v. FCC.

The specific question had to do with an "attack rule," whereby individuals or groups subject to political attacks on their honesty, character, integrity, and so forth, had to be afforded the opportunity for rebuttal.

So, in effect, the FCC was attempting to facilitate more speech, and not less, as the conservatives are claiming in the current debate.
(The Brawler elaborates on that idea in another excellent post.)

Any calls for a new "Fairness Doctrine"--at least from me, and the people I know and love on the internet like Xoff--are not calls for an "Equal Time Doctrine." I'm not asking that WTMJ hang up Jeff Wagner in favor of Ed Schultz (although I bet Schultz could get good ratings here). The point is to allow those maligned, like Clinton and Edwards in my examples above, to respond. As often as Bill O'Reilly, for example, slams Media Matters for America, O'Reilly will not invite anyone from MMfA on to debate him one-on-one (which makes sense given that O'Reilly can get pwned by a 16-year-old high-school student). Rush Limbaugh never invited David Ehrenstein on to talk about "Barrack the Magic Negro," because Ehrenstein would have explained how Rush turned a legitimate sociological analysis into a minstrel show. Charlie Sykes never invites liberals he can't control (i.e., not Mikel Holt) onto his radio or TV show to respond to his spin and lies. And McIlheran himself saves the worst of what he writes for his blog (these lies about Scooter Libby, for example) so that he doesn't have to face letters to the editor detailing outright falsehoods in the pages of the paper.

When Trent Lott said the talk radio was running America, yeah, it was ironic and funny. But he's also right that if you only hear one side of the story, your own opinions will not be well-informed. (Consider the FOXNews viewers who believe more lies about Iraq than other news comsumers.) So all we ask is that on those "public" airwaves, some time be given for those maligned, one way or the other, to respond. For the other side to be heard, even a little bit. For the public to be presented with multiple perspectives, multiple voices, and multiple opinions on the burning issues of the day.

More information, in other words, not less. And, after all, isn't that what free speech is all about--more, not less?

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