George Will’s Paranoia

Someone please help me out.  Why is George Will obsessed with the possible return of the Fairness Doctrine?  Who are the “reactionary liberals” he fears who want to reinstate the doctrine that called for a balance of perspectives on the publicly-owned airwaves?

Because liberals have been even less successful in competing with conservatives on talk radio than Detroit has been in competing with its rivals, liberals are seeking intellectual protectionism in the form of regulations that suppress ideological rivals. If liberals advertise their illiberalism by reimposing the fairness doctrine, the Supreme Court might revisit its 1969 ruling that the fairness doctrine is constitutional. The court probably would dismay reactionary liberals by reversing that decision on the ground that the world has changed vastly, pertinently and for the better.

Until the Reagan administration extinguished it, the doctrine required broadcasters to devote reasonable time to fairly presenting all sides of any controversial issue discussed on the air. The government decided the meaning of the italicized words.

Now that cable and the Internet have supplanted the airwaves, there could hardly be a rationale for reinstating it anyway. But Will devotes today’s column to dredging up the history of the fairness doctrine; hurling epithets at liberals: reactionary, illiberal, worrywarts; and getting all worked up about the specter of liberals trying to censor public discourse.

some liberals now say: The problem is not maldistribution of opinion and information, but too much of both. Until recently, liberals fretted that the media were homogenizing America into blandness. Now they say speech management by government is needed because of a different scarcity —- the public’s attention, which supposedly is overloaded by today’s information cornucopia.

Honestly, there’s surely a progressive agenda for media reform. Just go to the Consumer Federation of America’s communications page or the Consumers Union media page and see some of what is on it.  But if you type “fairness doctrine” into either of their search engines, you’ll get nothing back calling for the return of the fairness doctine.  It’s simply not part of the agenda.

That was a policy that made sense during an analog, broadcast era; not one that makes sense in an era of digital media.

Surely I’m missing something.  George Will may be wrong but he’s not stupid.  What is he all worked up about?

By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.

1 comment

  1. George Will is often surprisingly unstupid. But this does not mean he isn’t paranoid.

    Maybe it is some odd wishful thinking that liberals would do something that he considers outrageous and then everyone would see them for the craven thugs they are? Or it might be the result of one of those columnist things where he has this one liberal friend he talks to and his liberal friend told him this was on the liberal agenda–to eliminate the fairness doctrine.

    I don’t know that we can always make perfect sense out of George Will’s thinking. The bow ties alone cry out for explanation.

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