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March 16, 2005

I Have Come Not to Bury Dan Rather But To Praise Him

Interesing post-obituary article on Dan Rather.

It seems his testimony helped end the Fairness Doctrine, and thereby advanced his ability to be as liberal as he wanted to be... but also for conservatives to offer their opinions without being mealy-mouthed about them:

Dan Rather provided key expert testimony that figured prominently in the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine in August 1987. Some might suggest that by doing so, he unleashed a tide of real diversity in the opinion and news business, and thus helped seal the fate of his infamous 60 Minutes report on President Bush's National Guard service. And some would be right--but this irony does nothing to detract from Rather's important contribution to the demise of an egregious obstacle to the freedom of the press.

The Fairness Doctrine, instituted in 1949, mandated that each radio or TV station (a) feature news and (b) offer balanced perspectives. The penalty for noncompliance was, potentially, the loss of a license, thus encouraging broadcasters to offer news and opinion only in their mildest, least controversial form. Yet, the reigning assumption was that speech was being protected by the Fairness Doctrine, not inhibited.


What led the FCC to this bold move was a 1985 report documenting the doctrine's "chilling effect" on speech.

One historical gem it contained was the campaign launched by the Democratic National Committee after the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty encountered populist opposition. The Kennedy-Johnson administration blamed conservative radio shows, initiating (through the DNC) a system to monitor the airwaves and file extensive "fairness" complaints. As one operative later testified: "Our massive strategy was to use the Fairness Doctrine to challenge and harass right-wing broadcasters" into silence. The FCC concluded that the Fairness Doctrine provided "a pervasive and significant impediment to the broadcasting of controversial issues," and that news broadcasts and diverse viewpoints would flourish in its absence.

The prediction was dead on. Informational formats (news, talk, and public affairs), just 7 percent of all AM stations in 1987, jumped to 28 percent in 1995--dramatic statistical evidence of the doctrine's chilling effect.

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posted by Ace at 05:10 PM

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