Does New Fairness Doctrine Threaten Internet Freedom?

The Internet is the next battleground over the Fairness Doctrine, a recent Naples Daily News article warns.

“In more recent years, such individuals see things like conservative talk radio as the bane of our democracy, and that such enterprises need to, in the least, be reined in. Many such folk do speak of the good old days of the Fairness Doctrine, a piece of legislation which is in reality the antithesis of free speech. Not surprisingly, many of these individuals hail from a liberal/progressive camp,” the article says.

It continues, “No one is left to solely rely on radio and television, nor do they necessarily have to contend with programming schedules. There’s a universe of information on the Web that can be accessed on demand by computers, tablets, and smart phones. You can get the news that the mainstream media offers, and you can also go to alternative sites. Many libraries across the country are going digital, and you can download books and other materials from their websites for free.”

“It’s out there. All a person has to do is take the time and effort to look for it,” the article further states. “Unfortunately the future of the Web is uncertain. Just as some have been clamoring for the return of the Fairness Doctrine, there have been demands that speech on the Web be regulated and restricted.”

The piece speaks to the potential threats of the Fairness Doctrine. The Lyndon Johnson administration engaged in a “challenge and harass” strategy by using the power of the government to silence radio critics of the administration. These abuses are detailed in detailed in Chapter 5 of The Right Frequency,

Below is an excerpt from The Right Frequency on the Fairness Doctrine.


The story of how Democrats used Nixonian tactics before Nixon was ever elected president began in the fall of 1963 when President John F. Kennedy wanted to get the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the Soviet Union approved by the U.S. Senate. The treaty had bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition, thus was
expected to be a close vote. A big concern was criticism of the treaty by the Revs. McIntire and Hargis.
Kenneth O’Donnell, the appointment secretary for President Kennedy sought the advice of former New York Times reporter Wayne Phillips on forcing stations to provide equal time. A behind the scenes effort prompted the front group Citizens Committee for a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which targeted talk radio. The Rudder & Finn public relations firm, which coincidently is the same PR firm the DNC used, did publicity for the committee. Each time McIntire or Hargis took a swing at the treaty, the committee sent letters to the stations that carried their programs. States where these show aired that had senators on the fence were specifically targeted. A special program was taped specifically for responding in each of those stations. When the Senate ratified the treaty by a surprising 80-19 vote on September 24, 1963, the administration saw how the Fairness Doctrine can be used for high priority legislation.
In January 1964, after Johnson had taken office, Phillips began monitoring conservative radio. “It soon became apparent to me that the extreme right-wing broadcasting was exceptionally heavy on particular stations and in particular areas of the country, and that the content of these broadcasts was irrationally hostile to the president and his programs.” Phillips eventually came on board in a more formal role as the Director of News and Information for the DNC. He hired Wesley McCune, head of Group Research Inc., which did research for the DNC, to help him with full time listening duties.
The DNC prepared a kit that it delivered to voters and activist explaining, “how to demand time under the Fairness Doctrine.”
Phillips also brought Fred J. Cook, a friend from his journalism days, into the fold to write a piece for The Nation magazine lashing out against conservative talk radio. Cook had just finished a book “Barry Goldwater: Extremist on the Right.”
The talk radio piece in The Nation ran in the May 25, 1964 issue with the headline, “Hate Clubs of the Air.” It said, “The hate clubs of the air are spewing out a minimum of 6,600 broadcasts a week, carried by more than 1,300 radio and television stations—nearly one out of every five in the nation in a blitz that saturates everyone one of the fifty states with the exception of Maine.”399
According to Friendly’s book, “Because of the close association of James Row with President Johnson and also because of [DNC Chairman] John Bailey’s standing as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, there is little doubt that this contrived scheme had White House approval.”
Bill Ruder, an Assistant Secretary of Commerce in the Johnson administration recalled, “Our massive strategy was to use the Fairness Doctrine to challenge and harass right-wing broadcasters and hope that the challenge would be so costly to them that they would be inhibited and decide it was too expensive to continue.”
The DNC mailed out thousands of copies of Cook’s Nation article to Democratic state and local parties and Democratic officials. The DNC also mailed the article to radio stations, with a letter from DNC counsel Dan Brightman warning that if Democrats are attacked, demands will be made for equal time. When McIntire criticized Brightman for sending the letter, the DNC demanded and got free airtime to respond on about 600 stations. Then, when Dan Smoot assailed LBJ during the Democratic National Convention, the DNC got free airtime to respond on 30 stations, though others declined.
Democrats believed their strategy was successful and decided to accelerate things, setting up another front group called the National Council for Civic Responsibility that took out full page newspaper ads that said, “$10 million is spent on weekly radio and television broadcasts in all 50 states by extremists groups.” Picked to head the group was Arthur Larson, a liberal Republican who had served in the Eisenhower administration. Larson insisted at the National
Press Club, “The council’s formation had nothing to do with the presidential campaign or with the right-wing views of Republican candidate Senator Barry Goldwater.” Though, he later came clean that leading the organization was not his proudest moment. “The whole thing was not my idea, but let’s face it, we decided to use the Fairness Doctrine to harass the extreme right. In light of Watergate it was wrong. We felt the ends justified the means. They never do.”
He also added, “As soon as I found out the Democrats were putting money into it, I wanted out.”

Click here to order a copy of The Right Frequency.

Explore posts in the same categories: 1950s, Early Voices, Fairness Doctrine, Game Changers, Lonely Voices, Rise of Rush, Roaring '90s, Uncategorized

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