Friday, July 20, 2007

The Fairness Doctrine, Lets Have The Discussion

Soon there will be a debate within the walls of Congress about the Fairness Doctrine.
A regulation of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which requires broadcast licensees to present controversial issues of public importance, and to present such issues in what was deemed an honest, equal and balanced manner.

Here is what that means… if I have a broadcast license and I broadcast a point of view, I am required to give equal time to the opposing point of view. So if I play 3 hours of Rush Limbaugh, I need to also play 3 hours of … National Public Radio, or CBS or CNN or The View or some liberal talk show host that nobody wants to listen to.

The idea behind the need for the fairness doctrine is fairly weak. The concept is that the public owns the airwaves and therefore broadcasters should be required to provide balance in what they put on those public airwaves. The problem with that is most broadcasters are for profit businesses that given the option, would rather broadcast, oh I don’t know, stuff people want to listen to rather than spend half the time on someone’s opposing point of view nobody cares about.

Now in some ways I would like to see the Fairness Doctrine pass and watch the Law of Unintended Consequences wreak havoc on every single (mostly liberal) niche broadcaster. Tonight on Black Entertainment Television, "Rap City with 50 Cent" followed by "A Tribute to Robert Byrd on KKK Today. Tonight on Gay TV, "Chachi Loves Jerry" followed by “All Of You Sodomites Are Going To Burn In Hell”.

Now could there be a place for a fairness type doctrine? If there existed organizations that are funded by the taxpayers, were specifically intended to educate and inform, had the power to influence lives and decisions and were heavily slanted to one ideological viewpoint then maybe a fairness type doctrine would be appropriate. You know what, we may have that exact situation in places we call public universities. Publicly funded, check. Educate and inform, check. Power to influence lives and decisions, check. Heavily slanted to one ideological viewpoint… lets examine the evidence.

The latest report, by political scientist Stanley Rothman of Smith College, communications professor S. Robert Lichter of George Mason University, and Canadian polling expert Neil Nevitte, published in the online journal Forum, paints a stark picture of a politically skewed academy. Nearly three quarters of the professors in a 1999 survey of college faculty identified themselves as left/liberal, only 15 percent as right/conservative; 50 percent were Democrats and 11 percent Republicans.

According to a study by professors at Smith College, George Mason University and the University of Toronto (they surveyed 1,643 full-time faculty at 183 four-year schools), 72 percent of professors at American universities labeled themselves liberal, while just 15 percent said they are conservative. 50 percent of faculty members identified themselves as Democrats and only 11 percent Republicans.

A 2002 survey by pollster Frank Luntz of Ivy League professors found that only 3% are Republicans while 57% are Democrats. 84% voted for Al Gore in the 2000 election versus 9% for George Bush. 6% of these Ivy League profs said they were “somewhat conservative,” while 30% said they were “somewhat liberal” and 34% said they were “liberal.” That’s 64% liberal or somewhat liberal versus 6% somewhat conservative (note that none said they were “conservative”). That’s a 10 to 1 margin.

How Politically Diverse Are the Social Sciences and Humanities? Survey Evidence from Six Fields by Daniel B. Klein and Charlotta Stern

To which political party have the candidates you’ve voted for in the past ten years mostly belonged? Narrowing the set of respondents to the 909 who answered the voting question either “Democratic” or “Republican,” we separate by discipline

Anthropology 30.2 to 1
Economics 3 to 1
History 9.5 to 1
Philosophy 13.5 to 1
Pol. Science 6.7 to 1
Sociology 28 to 1

But just because someone says they are liberal or votes Democrat, that does not mean they would punish someone who disagreed with them politically now would they? Tell that to Dr. Mark Moyar.
Mark Moyar doesn't exactly fit the stereotype of a disappointed job seeker. He is an Eagle Scout who earned a summa cum laude degree from Harvard, graduating first in the history department before earning a doctorate at the University of Cambridge in England. Before he had even begun graduate school, he had published his first book and landed a contract for his second book. Distinguished professors at Harvard and Cambridge wrote stellar letters of recommendation for him.

Yet over five years, this conservative military and diplomatic historian applied for more than 150 tenure-track academic jobs, and most declined him a preliminary interview. During a search at University of Texas at El Paso in 2005, Mr. Moyar did not receive an interview for a job in American diplomatic history, but one scholar who did wrote her dissertation on "The American Film Industry and the Spanish-Speaking Market During the Transition to Sound, 1929-1936." At Rochester Institute of Technology in 2004, Mr. Moyar lost out to a candidate who had given a presentation on "promiscuous bathing" and "attire, hygiene and discourses of civilization in Early American-Japanese Relations."

Mark Moyar looks like the perfect fit to teach history at Miami University: first in the history department and summa cum laude at Harvard; Ph.D. at Cambridge; speaks French and German; two successful books and a third on the way
He had better academic credentials and recommendations from the best historians, but he was not even granted an interview during the search last year, Moyar said.
“Your qualifications are fine,” he was told. But Miami’s history department had “its own priorities, its own gaps, its own desires.”
Yet among the dozen candidates the faculty chose to interview were two who did not have doctorates, one whose dissertation was on “Race, Identity and Gender in the Panama Canal Zone,” and another whose scholarship focused on “American Radio in East Asia.”
President James Garland backed the history department. When Garland retired, new President David Hodge told Moyar that Miami promotes “diversity of ideas on campus,” but said the faculty had properly picked four candidates to hire, but none accepted. The search was closed. So was the investigation of Moyar’s complaint.

Moyar’s research found that among Miami history faculty who declared party affiliation, Democrats outnumbered Republicans 15 to one. My own check of Butler County voter registration shows 13 Democrats and three Republicans in the history department.

Do I think we will see a return of the fairness doctrine? No, I honestly think the American public will see this as political partisans in power attempting to censor opinions they do not agree with. Politicians can do a lot of exceptionally stupid things and get away with it but when you start messing with the radio show I like to listen to, I suggest you buckle up and get ready for a fight.


Anonymous said...

"I honestly think the American public will see this as political partisans in power attempting to censor opinions they do not agree with."

As you obviously do. Get your partisan head out of the sand and accept that some Americans do not agree with your partisan crap. Republicans are in power. Are you saying they are "attempting to censor opinions they do not agree with"????

Anonymous said...

Commercial broadcasters want to be trustees of public property but without responsibility.

The broadcasters like the free license and the free protection, but they just don’t want the public involved in telling them whether they are actually serving the public interest..

Unlike newspapers and movies and blogs and cable channels, the federal government gives commercial broadcasters a free license to use public property-the airwaves. There are still more people who want these licenses than the government is able to satisfy. In exchange for this very valuable and scarce license, and federal protection against “pirate” (unlicensed) radio operators, broadcasters are supposed to operate in the public interest.

In 2004, Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone candidly explained why, while he admired Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, he was compelled to support George W. Bush: “A Republican administration is better for media companies than a Democratic one”

Anonymous said...

Problem is, for-profit broadcasters do not serve the public interest, they serve the corporate bottom line.

This means that the existence of an audience for a broadcast product does not guarantee that said product will be provided - a demographic group can be large yet be shortchanged by broadcasters if it lacks the characteristics (e.g. income, education, select age ranges) desired by advertisers.

I'm happy with the political and ideological tone of broadcast radio, as it provided needed balance to the output of broadcast television.

But I don't think anyone can claim with a straight face that working class and poor Americans are served well by broadcast media. Where are the working class talk radio hosts?