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July 16, 2007

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Except of course, in much of the country blogs are not read at all, and the only tv available is cnn & fox and the big 3 old networks. And just because public tv deigned again to have Moyers on, doesn't begin to balance off the rightwing spin of Frontline, which used to be fair. Saying look at my blogroll, there's lots of balance, is not looking at the whole problem. In my little town (make that county, or surrounding counties) for example, there is a very high probability no-one but me has any inkling this blog exists, or most of the other liberal blogs. Compared to the influence of CNN and Fox, and talk radio-------------there's a long way to go to get anywhere close to evenhanded.

Besides, if the talk radio guys and Idaho Senator Larry Craig are against it.....it must be scary to the right wing.

"Yes, it’s true that newspapers [...] are getting bigger."

They are? Which newspapers? Bigger in circulation? Number of reporters? How?

Elliott Lake: "Except of course, in much of the country blogs are not read at all...."

Can you name some of these areas, for those of us unaware of them, please?

You do elaborate slightly with: "In my little town (make that county, or surrounding counties) for example, there is a very high probability no-one but me has any inkling this blog exists, or most of the other liberal blogs."

But: a) it's unclear that you are able to speak for every single person in your county, though perhaps you are correct, of course. But: b) this doesn't demonstrate that "in much of the country blogs are not read at all." (If we're arguing by anecdote, here's an example of cultural penetration.)

In many households, sure: but can you point to a study (not an anecdote) which indicates that this is significantly geographically based by region, rather than by household? (I'm sure there are regional variations; that's not the same as "in much of the country blogs are not read at all.")

"rightwing spin of Frontline"

Mark me down as not yet having noticed this: which specific episodes do you have in mind?

"Besides, if the talk radio guys and Idaho Senator Larry Craig are against it.....it must be scary to the right wing."

I suspect they're also against botulism in the water supply; this doesn't indicate that liberals should favor botulism.

I guess not everything that the right wing hates is a good idea.

Well said, Publius, especially the points about reinforcing tribalism and the belief that there are two equally correct sides to everything. Those clarified some thoughts I had been muddily half-having.

Oh, and I'm also beyond dubious on the virtues of attempting to restore a Fairness Doctrine, to throw my actual opinion in there.

I agree that the conservatives dominate the airwaves, but I didn’t think the CAP report established that this was a supply-side problem as opposed to a demand-side problem. That is, it could be that liberal radio doesn’t exist because liberals don’t want to listen to it.

Or perhaps advertisers don't want to advertise on it?

That wouldn't have to be an economic decision, either. Imagine going into the Chamber of Commerce meeting, and you hear people saying "There's Brody, he's marketing his product *to liberals*!".

Chilling effect.

I agree with the parts about a fairness doctrine reinforcing false controversy and limiting debate to two sides. I don't agree so much on the alternative media theory though. No matter how big the blog, there's none that come anywhere near the power and influence of any of the cable or broadcast TV networks, national newspapers, or even most of talk radio. So saying that the internet can counteract that's kinda silly. In fact, most of the power blogs have comes from the fact they're often read by people like journalists, and can influence their coverage.

So while the fairness doctrine isn't necessarily the answer, media consolidation is a major problem that has been helping bias the news for years. If only by cutting staff and reporters so the remaining people are busy enough they often end up just reposting press releases or getting quotes from both sides instead of doing actual, y'know, journalism.

Although this may be the kiss of death for you, Publius, coming from me: Well said.

gary - i meant the companies that own the newspapers.

on media consolidation, i'm not as concerned with anything other than (maybe) cross-ownership of local papers and news stations. the market isn't as consolidated as you think -- i mean, i think there are now 6 major players (viacom, ge, disney, news, time warner, and someone else i think).

it's something to keep an eye on though, but i'm not sure it's the crisis point some think it is.

Heck, why should prominent blogs be excluded from the fairness doctrine? This one's pretty fair, although Hilzoy would probably have to post less. Josh Trevino on Daily Kos would be fun...

Mo: No, I think Tac belongs on Pandagon.

I agree with Nate.

Publius, are you saying six is enough? Even if all six don't compete against each other in any particular market? And how much ideological diversity is there in that group of six anyway? All are naturally interested in putting forward ideas that help giant corporations, because they are all giant corporations (and corporations aren't allowed to be "class traitors" like FDR or John Edwards).

Publius, it seems to me that the ills you ascribe to the fairness doctrine -- increasing political tribalism, the reflexive belief that every issue has exactly two sides and that the sensible position, or objective truth, even, is always somewhere in the middle -- these things have actually flourished nicely in the absence of the FD Do you mean to argue that these things were actually worse at the time, or that somehow they would be even worse now under the FD? And as for whether the policy can be administered fairly, were there serious problems with the fairness of its administration during the decades in which the doctrine was actually in effect?

Each time this issue comes up it seems to me that it gets discussed as if the FD represents an unproven approach to administering the public airwaves. There are surely reams of data out there for both advocates and opponents to draw on. In previous discussions the charges of abuse by administrations have seemed pretty thin to me, but I'm still willing to listen to new evidence.

But instead we get lots of what looks like speculation about the function of something that was actually a real policy for quite some time and nearly all its downsides are problems that plague the current media landscape. What am I to make of this?

Oh, and you still can't get rid of the scarcity problem by waving your hand at blogs. I'm pretty technologically-oriented -- I read blogs and news online, I have a box hooked up to my TV for viewing downloaded video and audio, I have an internet-and-video capable phone -- but even I still get a lot of my news over the public airwaves. Pointing to the "new media" smacks of "let them eat cake", if you ask me.

"I don't agree so much on the alternative media theory though. No matter how big the blog, there's none that come anywhere near the power and influence of any of the cable or broadcast TV networks, national newspapers, or even most of talk radio. So saying that the internet can counteract that's kinda silly. In fact, most of the power blogs have comes from the fact they're often read by people like journalists, and can influence their coverage."

But if things were different, they certainly could be, which is what's important here. For example: my (hypothetical) anarcho-syndicalist local access cable show is also not as popular as FOX news, but that doesn't mean that I'm entitled to airtime to give the anarcho-syndicalist perspective. The actual size of various outlets isn't what's important here; what's important is that there are few structural restraints on the popularity of various points of view. In a world with 3 networks, one daily newspaper/city and no internet, there were a lot of structural restraints; but certainly today there's little such problem.

And I don't really have strong feelings about the fairness doctrine per se, but I do think that we have too readily set aside the public interest when licensing broadcast spectrum. We've got broadcast networks that offer no news programming whatsoever and the major networks seem to consider "To Catch A Predator" and John Stossel's libertarian claptrap to be "news programming".

If things were different, maybe blogs could make up for the lack of perspective and broad range of coverage in the media, but things aren't different, so they can't.

In many areas, there IS effectively one local city paper, because many papers are owned by one company. In my local semi-rural area, there used to be two, then one got bought out and is now a weekend supplement for the other.

If you don't have cable, which many people don't, even in cities, then there's what, five networks? Six? ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, maybe PBS, the WB thing, which doesn't even do news, and maybe some little things like spanish channels or PAX or something. That's not really markedly better than 3 networks.

The actual size of the outlets involved is what's important, because saying that a blog that reaches a few thousand people balances out a TV station that reaches millions is ridiculous. Especially since broadcast TV stations are free once you own a TV. Blogs require a computer and net connection, which can be borrowed at a library, but hardly compares in price or convenience to a TV in the living room.

Especially when the broadcast TV network's owned by a corporation that's legally required to put making money for its stockholders as the first priority, over the public good, truth, or anything else. That's not a good recipe for journalism.

The fact that there aren't *just* two viewpoints on many things is at least as serious an administrative problem as the fact that on some things there is really only one.

Take a hypothetical Social Security debate for instance. You'd have the "keep it the way it is" people and the "add personal accounts (or replace with personal accounts if that isn't a different group)" people. But that surely isn't enough. The "abolish it entirely" people surely should get their time. And the "minimum guaranteed income for all" people should be heard too. And what about the people who want to reform it on some other axis (maybe higher benefits for women to make up for the 'wage gap', or lower benefits for rich people)? Unless the fairness doctrine is really just an additional way for the two major parties to strengthen their already very powerful control over political messages, we have to include all of these people. And what if people wanted to scale up or scale back the benefits slightly? Does each dollar value get a separate hearing? Just postive and negative values separately? Are we going to have a "Board of Approved Public Political Viewpoints" making all these decisions? Ugh!

And worse, there are significant burdens on all of the minor players. A minor group suggesting Social Security benefit increases for women would have to include all the other viewpoints. It would have enough trouble trying to get its own view fairly heard out in the wider world, much less if it had to dilute its views every time they spoke.

one other thing -- let's say that consolidation is in fact a problem for the reasons people say. there's still the matter of showing that the FD is an appropriate way to deal with it. again, it gets back to the administration problem.

ownership caps - i'm not a huge fan, but i see "both sides" and wouldnt shed any tears if they were imposed. but that seems like a much better, and more focused structural remedy than asking the idiots at the FCC to get into the business of content regulation (i mean, just look at the indecency regime -- no standards, just a sword to hold over one's head at will)

"The actual size of the outlets involved is what's important, because saying that a blog that reaches a few thousand people balances out a TV station that reaches millions is ridiculous."

The real problem is that we shouldn't trust the government to fairly adjudicate what 'balance' looks like without seriously chilling free speech. Any small group that can't afford a massive Board of Approved Public Political Viewpoints lawsuit (even if they would ultimately prevail) would be chilled. And on the flip side, it would have a great nuisance value for tiny groups that like irritating people (think Lyndon LaRouche) or smallish groups that like abusing litigation (think Scientology).

Sebastian, as I understand it, the Fairness Doctrine applied to the media, such as the news networks and newspapers and so on. So a group advocating for equal rights for rutabagas or whatever wouldn't be required to put opposing viewpoints in their literature, the media would have to have somebody have the chance to oppose it after the rutabaga rights folks had their say.

Which would still be difficult, especially on issues that are multifaceted. But a lot of the problems that people are pointing out with the Fairness Doctrine exist NOW, without it, as well. Along with plenty of others.

publius: I'd say ownership caps are a necessity. Or something else along those lines. Requiring the companies who are GIVEN public airwaves to use them in the public interest maybe. Dividing spectrum, or something. Because the way things are now, stockholder profits come first, before anything else. And that has a direct impact on the quality of the news people get, and that alone is enough to cause bias in favor of the stockholders.

"So a group advocating for equal rights for rutabagas or whatever wouldn't be required to put opposing viewpoints in their literature, the media would have to have somebody have the chance to oppose it after the rutabaga rights folks had their say."

That's great until you have media with viewpoints--like Reason magazine. And what counts as a political message? Does airing a documentary like "Sicko" automatically trigger a two hour special from insurance companies? Or is there an 'entertainment' exception? If there is, are you ok with a proliferation of entertainment documentaries with political viewpoints? If there isn't, are you prepared for the death of televised documentaries? Surely after the National Geographic documentary touching on global warming spawns a multi-million dollar litigation, there won't be too many more of them made.

Remember how reducing the number of named concepts was a central principle of newspeak? That's essentially what the "two sides" approach currently in fashion in among journalists does.

I have to agree that reintroducing the FD as previously implemented is impractical, authoritarian, and liable to make this problem even more prevalent than it already is. Heck, that's probably why the Dems want it back. But that doesn't mean that introducing new constraints on the use of public spectrum is inherently a bad idea. Ownership caps, shorter leases, etc.

I'm not really arguing that hard for the Fairness Doctrine, per se. I've acknowledge from my first post that trying to enforce it, especially on things with multiple viewpoints, would be complicated and might not work.

But what we have now isn't working. And it's not working in many of the same ways people are saying the Fairness Doctrine wouldn't work. I don't know if there's been lawsuits, but there's been plenty of threats of lost advertising revenue, fake advocacy groups, and so on with global warming, just to pick one example.

Six giant international megacorporations control the vast majority of the media outlets in the United States (and beyond). These companies are legally required to put shareholder profit above any other considerations. These two facts combined have caused many problems with the way the news is reported. You can argue this has favored Republicans, or they've just learned to manipulate things better, but in either case, the media we have now is failing us on many fronts, and we need to do something about it. The Fairness Doctrine has been one suggestion, mentioned because it used to be in effect. And since it was, we should be able to find data on its actual effects, instead of just hypothetical problems.

"Ownership caps, shorter leases, etc."

There is an inherent difference between these types of restrictions and something more like the Fairness doctrine. Ownership caps don't require government control of political content. I'm very skeptical of government inquiries into the political content of speech.

"gary - i meant the companies that own the newspapers."

That's an entirely fair, but entirely different, point than "Yes, it’s true that newspapers [...] are getting bigger."

Newspapers, in fact, are dramatically getting smaller, by every possible measure: everywhere you look there are mass firings and downsizings, cutting of budgets, closing of bureaus, and papers being sold by owners (Knight-Ridder no longer exists, save as McClatchy; etc.).

This is a huge thing in American journalism, but what you wrote is simply wrong, the opposite of what's going on, even though it turns out you means something entirely different than what you wrote.

I certainly agree that media ownership consolidation is a serious problem, and has been since at least the Seventies, only growing ever worse.

"the market isn't as consolidated as you think -- i mean, i think there are now 6 major players (viacom, ge, disney, news, time warner, and someone else i think)."

I'd be uncomfortable with only 40 or 60 major players in American media: having a ruling oligarchy of six is to me a nightmare case, so my mileage varies.

I believe in more than six very closely aligned views of the world.

When we have a minimum of a thousand or so roughly equivalent independent major media voices, I'll be happy that we've done something about excessive oligarchization of the media.

KCinDC: "All are naturally interested in putting forward ideas that help giant corporations, because they are all giant corporations (and corporations aren't allowed to be 'class traitors' like FDR or John Edwards)."

Of course.

"the WB thing"

Hasn't existed since 2005, when the CW network was created out of the corpses of WB and UPN.

Gromit: "We've got broadcast networks that offer no news programming whatsoever and the major networks seem to consider 'To Catch A Predator' and John Stossel's libertarian claptrap to be 'news programming'."

Stossel seems perfectly legitimate to me, insofar as it's opinionated news, and if we want our own slant, we can hardly complain about the existence of opinion on tv. But I fully agree with you on the change in recent years of Dateline, a once reasonably respectable 60 Minutes knock-off, into a "reality" tv entertainment show about arresting embarassed entrapped people, which I find completely sickening. I do agree that stuff like that should in no way be considered "public affairs programming," and that enforcing those standards much more highly is entirely called for.

Nate: "Blogs require a computer and net connection, which can be borrowed at a library, but hardly compares in price or convenience to a TV in the living room."

It's true that an online connection will usually charge you an expense of $9.99/month, if you don't want to mess with the limitations of the few free providers still around here and there, but otherwise you can find zillions of $5 (or free, in hundreds of thousands of cases) Pentium 1s that will get you on the net just fine.

Basically, a computer that will get you online, and a crap tv, are almost free these days: all you have to do is find someone who doesn't need an old one, which ain't difficult. Failing that, $5 will buy a perfectly functional, if several generations old, computer suitable for basic browsing, or a perfectly functional, if small screened, used tv, effectively anywhere in the country. The idea that computers are expensive and hard to obtain is true in the Third World, and in the 20th century, but not in the US in 2007 for anyone who anyone with the faintest clue, or who knows someone with the faintest clue.

Buying a P4 is another matter, but not one we're discussing. (I worked with only P1s until about 2 years ago, and still have 2: one free (in 1999), and one for $5 at a garage sale (2002). Nowadays it's harder to find a $5 P1 than a free one: you really can't even give them away any more, they're so common and piled up. P2s are more apt to go for $5 now. Etc.

This doesn't mean that blogs are the equivalent of tv, to be sure, but I didn't want to let this little point slide by.

publius: "ownership caps - i'm not a huge fan, but i see "both sides" and wouldnt shed any tears if they were imposed. but that seems like a much better, and more focused structural remedy than asking the idiots at the FCC to get into the business of content regulation...."

I agree. (Although the FCC remains in the business of content regulation, unfortunately -- but increasing that isn't something I want to do.)

Sebastian: "The real problem is that we shouldn't trust the government to fairly adjudicate what 'balance' looks like without seriously chilling free speech."

Not being a libertarian or conservative, I'm less alarmed at the idea of any governmental involvement at all than you are -- government makes a million balancing decisions every day about a million different non-media matters, and like private enterprise, some decisions are good and some are bad -- but I do certainly feel that govenmental involvement is best kept to the minimal, and only as a last resort, and I've yet to see anything that even gets in the neighborhood of convincing me that returning the FD would be a particularly beneficial idea.

Nate: "Sebastian, as I understand it, the Fairness Doctrine applied to the media, such as the news networks and newspapers and so on."

No, the Fairness Doctrine in no way, shape, means, or form, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever applied to "newspapers and so on." We have a First Amendment. Our history would be wildly different if there had been a "Fairness Doctrine" in "newspapers and so on," requiring editorials or whatnot. That's, well, crazy.

The Fairness Doctrine was purely, of course, for broadcast radio and tv only. How could it possibly have been otherwise?

Man, I feel old.

Gary: "No, the Fairness Doctrine in no way, shape, means, or form, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever applied to "newspapers and so on." We have a First Amendment. Our history would be wildly different if there had been a "Fairness Doctrine" in "newspapers and so on," requiring editorials or whatnot. That's, well, crazy.

The Fairness Doctrine was purely, of course, for broadcast radio and tv only. How could it possibly have been otherwise?"

Sorry, I was born just before the 80s, s the Fairness Doctrine was gone before I was 10.

Of course, that doesn't defend me from being too lazy to look it up Wikipedia. :) I find the Supreme Court's arguments that the scarcity rationale doesn't apply to the broadcast medium as unconvincing as similar arguments from other people.

"Man, I feel old."

Sorry.

And yeah, I forgot what the UPN/WB hybrid was called. Still doesn't show any news though.

"No, the Fairness Doctrine in no way, shape, means, or form, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever applied to "newspapers and so on." We have a First Amendment."

This reminds me of a pet peeve of mine. In pertinent part for purposes of this discussion, the First Amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...."

This is one of those historical false friends situations where people read it as: "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of THE PRESS..." as if 'THE PRESS' is to be considered a particular group of media professionals. But that isn't what was meant at all. 'The press' was a printing press. Any person who bothered to acquire one was covered. It was just an instrumentality of speech. And by extension we have applied it to other instrumentalities of speech (the internet, radio, TV broadcasts). But it wasn't identifying a special class of professionals that had different rights.

[/rant]

Nate:

"Man, I feel old."

Sorry.

I was going to blame you, but now I won't.

I was caught up for a moment contemplating an alternate history, in which, say, we got two sets of Vietnam war news, side by side, in newspapers in the '60s, or of Watergate in the '70s, and so on. But, yeah, there were a lot more than two sides, so I don't think it would have been an overall improvement.

Sebastian: "But it wasn't identifying a special class of professionals that had different rights."

Fair point.

The brilliance of Rush Limbaugh, is that the format of his show incorporates a fairness ethic, if not a doctrine, in that, other than being some kind of conservative idiot savant himself, his sponsor list indicates to me that his target audience are bald, sexually dysfunctional, prostatitic, insomniac nocturnal teeth grinders.

"...his sponsor list indicates to me that his target audience are bald, sexually dysfunctional, prostatitic, insomniac nocturnal teeth grinders."

If you've ever watched network news, you'll equally conclude that those squishy libs who watch CBS, ABC, and NBC, are the same, but also are incontinent, have undue urinary frequency, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and restless leg syndrome, amongst other problems.

God bless the day we decided it was a great idea to let pharm companies advertise prescription drugs.

The majority of the voting American public gets its information from broadcast sources.
Their votes are often based on emotions, gut feelings, preceived prejudices, and mass hysteria. The careful cultivation of these
feelings is a profit-driven enterprise that substitutes creative writing for journalism. A news reporter or writer soon learns (or is told) what point of view the station's principals, or it's advertisers, want to present to the public. If that selected view results in increased audience
response, whether in opposition or agreement, it is used to show the advertisers that "we can prove that we get more viewers/listeners for your products, so invest your advertising dollars with our station". Opposing viewpoints are too often
avoided because "our listeners/viewers don't want to see that, they'll just turn us off and we'll lose the advertising audience".
So the dollar value of airtime becomes the arbiter of "...contrasting points of view on controversial issues of public importance."
We may speculate on the ease of internet access, and the wide range of opinions that exists in the blogosphere, but to say that this alternate source of information balances what appears daily on the airwaves is wishful thinking at best. A minority of the public reads blogs, the rest listen to what they are told on radio or TV. That's why the Fairness Doctrine is necessary. Opposing views need to be given a voice.

"Opposing views need to be given a voice."

When a proposed Fairness Doctrine will guarantee that my voice will be frequently heard on radio or tv, I'll be interested. Until then, I'm uninterested in authorizing them to who who should claim to speak for me. They're unlikely to be often correct.

Trust me, I'll oppose lots of things people say. Republicans and Democrats alike. Pinky-swear.

So how will the Fairness Doctrine help represent my point of view? It didn't last time.

If you want your point of view to be "frequently heard on radio or tv", you need to buy your own station. As long as no one is "required" to give equal time to opposing views, they won't. The idea behind Fairness Doctrine is to give airtime for the differing opinions on controversial issues to be broadcast, not to guarantee that every point of view would be heard. Otherwise,
it becomes discouraging to continue writing letters to the news editors when the administration-led chorus of bully pulpits question your patriotism, citizenship, and sanity. It was the same way in 1966 questioning Johnson on Vietnam. Then I was just a hippie peacenik, now I'm a defeaocrat
moonbat.

The fairness doctrine will never come back. The basic political mindset needed for it to be supported -- the idea that government can actually play a constructive and useful role in public life -- has become something of a dinosaur. The generations of people who lived with the fairness doctrine as it was actually practiced are getting long in the tooth, and all you young whippersnappers are, for whatever reason, amazingly vulnerable to the claim that something like the fairness doctrine is both practically unenforceable, and an open invitation to abuse.

I'll trot out the following simple facts every time this topic comes up, mostly just to hear myself talk.

The number of people who regularly get their news and information from limited bandwidth sources -- radio and TV -- absolutely dwarfs the number who regularly get them from the internet or other relatively unrestricted sources. By orders of magnitude.

As it was actually implemented and practiced, the fairness doctrine required license holders of TV or radio bandwidth to let people rebut statements broadcast over those licenses if they thought those statements were wrong. That's it. If the station thought the request to rebut was trivial or unwarranted, they could say no. If the aggrieved party wanted to take it to the FCC, they could, and the FCC would decide whether an opportunity for rebuttal was warranted.

There was no requirement for positive or proactive monitoring of editorial broadcasts by the government. If you, the private citizen, heard something you thought was wrong, you could ask the station to give you a few minutes to present your point of view. That's it.

With an extraordinarily small handful of exceptions, this did not result in anything remotely approaching a crippling of flood of requests for airtime. In actual practice, the fairness doctrine mostly resulted in the occasional appearance of earnest but awkward people droning on for about five minutes on topics of public interest. This generally happened, at most, a few times a year in any media market I ever lived in.

I thought, and still think, the fairness doctrine was a damned fine thing. I'd love to see it return. I'm not holding my breath.

But I'd at least like everyone to understand what, in actual practice, it was.

Thanks -

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