Rev. Carl McIntire: Crushed by the Fairness Doctrine
that held views outside mainstream of even conservative Christianity and to the right of most of the conservative movement.
Nevertheless, he had a strong following, as he was carried on 600 stations, mostly in the South and Midwest.
He is also an example of how the Fairness Doctrine could be used as a weapon by political opponents to destroy what had been a successful program called the “Twentieth Century Reformation Hour,” which began airing in March 1955. The show’s name derived from his belief that too many churches had become overly liberal.
That criticism was lobbed at all the mainline Protestant denominations as leaning toward communism; but he also lambasted the Roman Catholic Church as “fascist,” the Southern Baptist Convention as “soggy compromisers” and even the Rev. Billy Graham “a cover for the apostates.”
“We found a way we could reach the public under the liberty we have in our Constitution. I found we could not get our story before
the public through the networks, and the press was generally blocked against us,” McIntire said. He said most Americans were “prisoners of the liberal media” and believed using small radio stations across the country to reach people, “we could get on and talk about those matter in a free exercise of religion and reach millions of people.”
While he managed to alienate plenty of Christians, his primary audience, he still had influence over a broad audience. That was evident from his ability to get 14,000 people marching down Pennsylvania Avenue to demand U.S. victory in Vietnam—counter to the usual protests of the day, as the reverend declared, “We are going to keep this country from falling to the communists.” He also could prompt people to send money, raising $50,000 for his church over the air and $6,000 for Israel during the Six Day War.
He weighed in mostly on political issues of a moral nature, such as opposing gambling, sex education, and even expressed his opposition to fluoridation of water. His program included a colleague named Charles Richter, known to listeners as “Amen Charlie,” because often when McIntire would make a point, he would pause to ask “Isn’t that right, Charlie?” Charlie would respond, “Amen. You’re right, Dr. McIntire!”
McIntire picketed meetings of the World Council of Churches to protest appearances in the United States of religious leaders from the Soviet Union who he said were KGB agents. “These are agents of the Communist government, folks!” It prompted mostly eye rolls. However, after the fall of the Soviet Union, new information surfaced. Christianity Today’s Richard J. Mouw wrote: “I did not take this kind of thing very seriously. Like the ecumenical leaders McIntire was criticizing, I dismissed his accusations as fanatical rantings. We have learned a lot about Soviet Communism since those days. Things were much worse than many of us wanted to admit at the time. We also know now that many of those Russian Orthodox leaders were indeed conscious agents of their Marxist government. On this subject at least, Carl McIntire was issuing some legitimate warnings.”
By the late 1960s, McIntire’s troubles with the FCC began when civic and religious groups the reverend had been flailing away at complained to the commission about WXUR in Media, Pa., owned by McIntire’s Faith Theological Seminary under the corporate name Brandywine Main Line Radio Inc. One clergyman denounced the station for its “highly racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Negro, anti-Roman Catholic” sentiments. McIntire indeed had powerful enemies. The National Council of Churches and the Urban League joined forces in their complaints to the FCC. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives actually passed a resolution calling for the FCC to investigate WXUR and McIntire.
The FCC determined in 1970 that the station had consistently violated the Fairness Doctrine and would not consider the stations license renewal. McIntire was particularly shocked when FCC Chairman Dean Burch, the former Goldwater campaign aid appointed by Nixon, voted against his station. McIntire suspected it had something to do with his commentaries against Nixon’s efforts to get out of Vietnam and denunciation of Nixon for opening trade with China. He would later comment without proof it was an operation by White House Counsel Charles Colson. “It was just another one of those dirty tricks from the Watergate gang. That fellow Colson [was] the one to deliver the message to Burch to close us down.”
WRIB in Providence, R.I. told McIntire he must not mention any more names if he is to continue broadcasting. WMEN in Tallahassee, Fla. just cancelled his program simply saying they “were afraid to do anything to offend the FCC.” Dozens of other stations would cancel, citing the same reluctance to upset the government. McIntire waged a two-year legal battle with the FCC, which had revoked the station’s license. The battle that ended on September 25, 1972 when the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. upheld the FCC’s ruling. Appeals Court Judge Edward A Tamm wrote in the court’s opinion, “At best, Brandywine’s record is indicative of a lack of regard for fairness principles; at worst, it shows an utter disdain for Commission rulings and ignores its own responsibilities as a broadcaster and it’s representation to the Commission.”
However, in the dissenting opinion, Chief Judge David A. Bazelon expressed grave concerns about the use of federal power. “In silencing WXUR, the Commission has dealt a death blow to the licensee’s freedom of speech and press. Furthermore, it has denied the listening public access to the expression of many controversial views. … In the context of broadcasting today, our democratic reliance on a truly informed American public is threatened if the overall effect of the Fairness Doctrine is the very censorship of a controversy which it was promulgated to overcome.” Even those who thought McIntire repulsive found it troubling that a small radio station could be snuffed out with a federal order. Senator Sam Ervin, a North Carolina Democrat, said, “When all the legal mumbo jumbo is clear away, the fact remains that the FCC chose to apply highly technical rules to this single station, having been forced by outside political pressure to do so.”
After the case, more than 200 stations dropped McIntire’s program. The program continued until his death in 2002 at age 95, but in a steady decline.220 He was heard on only one station in Camden, N.J.
“I was muffled by the Fairness Doctrine. I was crushed by it,” the radio preacher said.
McIntire’s daughter Marianna Clark said after his death that her father “never criticized anyone else’s theological or political opinions without offering them [a chance] to come on his station and reply, but no one would come on to discuss it or debate with him … the liberal groups that were opposing his conservative views ganged up and went to the FCC and said this radio station is not abiding by the fairness doctrine. It was a devastating thing that the FCC did in taking away this man’s religious freedom and his freedom of speech.”