(February, 2009) America is having a faux debate about reviving The Fairness Doctrine. True, a handful of Democrats are talking about it and every rightwing AM talk show host is busliy convincing his or her listeners that this arcane non-issue is at the top of the Liberal to-do list. Most observers, including me, don't think it wil happen. Let's make sure it doesn't. Please. Don't bother.
UPDATE: On February 26, 2009 the Senate prohibited the FCC from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine as such, 87-11, on a bill sponsored by Republican Jim DeMint (R-SC). Prior to that, on a vote of 57-41, a amendment sponsored by Dick Durbin (D-IL) was passed affirming that the FCC would work to promote diversity in media ownership and that the FCC would still meet their obligations to serve in the public interest.
America lost it's last traveling carnival freakshow in 2006. AM talk radio will pass eventually, dying a natural death along with it's ever-aging demographics. The dime museums, minstrel shows, Vaudeville and the radio soap opera all went the way of the Locomobile. Meanwhile for the body politic, let's please allow Talk Radio to continue to be the five to twenty-five pounds of waste that, some experts say, is trapped to the colon walls like spackle or paste.(to quote one of its more pervasive ads at the moment). If it's going to pass naturally, skip the enema. Don't bother.
--The gripe of the right with the mainstream media or, as they sometimes call it, the driveby media has always seemed to be less about the fact that there might be or actually is a liberal bias, than about the steadfast refusal of the mainstream media to take an exclusively rightwing view. Is there a left-wing bias to the news? Yes, mildly so, on the lower and middle levels, but on the upper levels of publishers and owners even the mainstream media is overwhelmingly conservative. It balances out. At it's best (less and less) it tries to present the truth and give air to both sides of an issue, with one side (there's never more than two) often proving itself the fool in the face of the facts. At its worst it presents both sides of an issue as if there were no truth or fact.
--Let them have the AM frequency. Who else needs it? It's only real value is that it still exists. For its first three decades it was the ony mass media aside from magazines and the only dynamic instant media. "Oh the humanity!" If for some reason we still had all our other current media options and the AM frequency was suddenly discovered as something previously unknown, given its technical and sound limitations would the investment money rush in (no pun intended)? When high fidelity is a fifty-plus year old concept and in a world gone digital, AM talk radio screams, "Leave our vacuum tubes alone!". All yours Ace, keep your 8-12 point plurality in the ratings of every major market, you win even though 92 to 88 percent of the potential audience is tuned into anytinng but your program.
-- I'm not the only one to note that the audience is rarely truly curious. Their advertisers understand the demographics very well. It's a good way to reach small business owners, a traditional Republican base, so there are ads for steel buildings and so on, but much of the advertising is focused on the old, the sick and the easily suckered. The ads are written down, since the old and the dumb are easily confused, small words, simple concepts and no depth are the commonality. Cleverness and actual humor are frowned upon since these take thought on the part of the listener and can cause confusion. My local college radio station, on no budget at all, regularly produces PSAs that are hilarious and clever and make full use of the range offered by the radio medium. Not so for the folks who produce the expensive ads on AM radio.
--One gets the impression too that the SEC, the FDA, the FCC and maybe even the post office are even now investigating a third of their advertisers. Hair loss, prostate treatments, hebal remedies with often dubious claims, Medicare scams, guides to free govenment money...
--For Readers who grew up reading The Weekly World News -- the Weekly Reader for the weird -- as I did, think of Art Bell and AM talk radio as thus; Ed Anger was buried in The Weekly World News and Art Bell is The World Weekly News buried in Ed Anger.