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Hushing Rush after 20 Years

August 1 marked the 20th anniversary of Rush Limbaugh's national radio show.  If the liberals now running Congress have their way, the show will be a shell of its former self by the time it reaches 21.  The Congressional left wants to reinstate a suspended FCC regulation called the Fairness Doctrine, and with Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling the shots, the regulation poses a profound danger to the First Amendment.


Just today, Americans witnessed – more precisely, Americans were not permitted to witness – an abuse of power unprecedented in the Congress of the United States.  Pelosi literally shut down the House rather than allow a fair vote on offshore oil drilling.  A Pelosi stooge held a "voice vote," declared the House in recess, and headed for the hills.   


Republicans responded with a loud, passionate protest, reducing the House floor to pandemonium.  Pelosi reportedly ordered the microphones cut off in the middle of a Congressman's speech, expelled the media, ordered C-Span to turn off its cameras, and shut off the lights and sound system.   Amazingly, the spectacle was virtually ignored by the liberal media for hours as indignant Republicans delivered fiery speeches.  In contrast, talk radio hosts and conservative bloggers were diligently getting the message out to the American people, underscoring the need for freedom on the radio dial. 


For months now, this thuggish congressional leadership has been blocking a vote on U.S. Rep. Mike Pence's H.R. 2095, the Broadcaster Freedom Act, which would ensure that no future president could bring back the Fairness Doctrine without getting a bill through Congress.


The Fairness Doctrine required radio stations that aired opinions on controversial issues to give free air time to the other side. The stated purpose was to enable the public to hear both sides of an issue, but in practice the Fairness Doctrine caused radio stations to avoid tackling controversial issues, so the public heard less information, not more. Also, the policy was abused by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to harass and silence opponents. For a detailed explanation of why bringing back the Fairness Doctrine is a bad idea, check out CMI's special report, “Unmasking the Myths Behind the Fairness Doctrine.”


The Reagan administration suspended the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, and led by Limbaugh, political talk radio took off like a Saturn V rocket.  Talk radio remains a powerful, conservative-dominated political influence, but the medium's importance would wane if the Fairness Doctrine were reinstituted. Many radio stations could not afford to provide free air time to everybody who disagrees with a talker, so they would have to drop political talk radio.


Liberals in Congress view talk radio as a profound threat to their power.  They intend to do whatever they can to reduce the impact of conservative talkers, First Amendment be damned.  Pelosi has clearly stated that she wants to bring the Fairness Doctrine back. She plans to do it without a vote. The liberal strategy is to wait until a Democrat is elected president, then reimpose the Fairness Doctrine by executive fiat.


The second ranking Democrat in the House, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), acknowledged yesterday that he supports the Fairness Doctrine as well – and that Pence's bill will probably not be voted on this year.  “No, I do not expect that bill to come to the floor, certainly not in the time that is remaining,” Hoyer told CNSNews.com. 


Hoyer went on to present a rationale for supporting the Fairness Doctrine:  “Obviously, if one group, or a large group, controls information and only allows one perspective to be presented, that's not good for democracy. That is not good for the American public. That is, of course, what the Fairness Doctrine is directed at, and it can have great merit.”


The Majority Leader gets it wrong.  Thanks to cable television and the Internet, the public has access to far more news and opinion that any single person can possibly watch, read or hear – and the vast majority of that information comes from liberal sources.  Liberals dominate broadcast television, cable television, newspapers and newsmagazines.  The one conservative-dominated news medium is talk radio.  


In reality, no single group controls information in America's news media.  Where we do have a problem with one group controlling information is the House of Representatives under Nancy Pelosi. 


Congressman Pence's bill will be voted on only if 218 Congressmen force the issue by signing a “discharge petition.”  Pence has 198 signers, including virtually every Republican in the House.  He needs 20 Democrats.  If you want to continue to enjoy listening to your favorite talkers, and you want to show Speaker Pelosi that the American public, not the Congressional majority, rules in this country, then demand that your U.S. Representative sign the discharge petition.


Brian Fitzpatrick is senior editor at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.