The Unfairness Doctrine

The great George Will hits another one out of the ballpark with some useful reminders:

Government pratfalls such as the Disinformation Governance Board are doubly useful, as reminders of government’s embrace of even preposterous ideas if they will expand its power, and as occasions for progressives to demonstrate that there is no government expansion they will not embrace.

…Using radio spectrum scarcity as an excuse, even before the Fairness Doctrine was created, Republicans running Washington in the late 1920s pressured a New York station owned by the Socialist Party to show “due regard” for other opinions. What regard was “due”? The government knew. So, it prevented the Chicago Federation of Labor from buying a station, saying all stations should serve “the general public.”

In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration conditioned one station’s license renewal on ending anti-FDR editorials. (Tulane Law School professor Amy Gajda’s new book, “Seek and Hide: The Tangled History of the Right to Privacy,” reports that earlier, FDR had “unsuccessfully pushed for a code of conduct for newspapers as part of the Depression-era National Recovery Act and had envisioned bestowing on compliant newspapers an image of a blue eagle as a sort of presidential seal of approval.”)

John F. Kennedy’s Federal Communications Commission harassed conservative radio, and when a conservative broadcaster said Lyndon B. Johnson used the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 as an excuse for Vietnam escalation, the Fairness Doctrine was wielded to force the broadcaster to air a response.

Hat tip: Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek.


Comments for this post are closed