In a Sunday column, George Will revisited conservative commentators’ biggest fear – the return of the Fairness Doctrine. Will went into depth on the history of the doctrine, the growth in the number of broadcast outlets in recent years, and growth in talk programming since the doctrine was abolished, all to argue against its reimposition. This column prompted a response on MSNBC’s Countdown Program the next day, ranking Will third on Keith Olbermann’s Worst Person’s segment – not for Will’s argument against the return of the Fairness Doctrine, but for his even bringing up the issue of the possible return of the Doctrine. Olbermann in effect accused Will of inciting unfounded fears of the doctrine’s return, citing President-elect Obama’s statement that he did not favor its return, and claiming that the Democrats in Congress otherwise were not pushing for its reimposition. So what’s the truth here?
As always, the truth always seems to lie somewhere in between these two extreme points of view. The President-elect has indeed stated that he did not favor the return of the Fairness Doctrine and, while there have been no major efforts to reinstate the Doctrine yet announced, there is a proposal in almost every Congress for its return (see, for instance, our post on Congressman Kucinich’s proposal to reimpose the Doctrine made two years ago and another post about the suggestion in support of its return made by Congressman Dingell six months later). Other Congressional statements have also not ruled out an effort to bring it back, including a statement by Senator Schumer of New York who, when asked about the Doctrine, asked: who could be against Fairness? While we won’t see the Doctrine return in what little is left of this year, who knows what efforts could be made next year to try to resurrect it – though the changes in the media landscape since the FCC declared the doctrine unconstitutional, as outlined by Will and about which we have written before, would seem to make its justification almost impossible on constitutional grounds (e.g. there is seemingly little scarcity that would justify the rule applying only to broadcasters and not any other medium). But a simple matter of probable unconstitutionality has never stopped Congress from considering legislation before, so who knows what we might see considered this year – though, as Olbermann and Will’s comments demonstrate, it seems as if neither end of the political spectrum really want the Doctrine to return.