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Opinionated Talk Radio: Is it Fair to Require a Rebuttal?



Updated June 28, 2007
Talk Radio is Like Cabbage

Let me ask you a question: if you stand on a corner with a sign that says, "I don’t support cabbage!" should somebody be required to stand next to you with a sign that says, "I’m in favor of cabbage!"?

Most reasonable people will answer "No." Why? Because most of us know that the guy who supports cabbage is expressing his opinion - his 1st Amendment right - and the rest of us who don’t agree can look away or ignore him.

Should market-driven talk radio be any different? At the moment, it’s not. Randi Rhodes on Air America Radio can do her daily show and Air America is not required to put on someone to rebut her opinions. Radio stations across this country can air Rush Limbaugh and are not required to air another show following him refuting everything he just said.

The marketplace speaks. Limbaugh - and conservative talk radio - has been successful because people listen. Listeners attract advertisers. Stations profit.

Listeners Should Decide Programming - Not Politicians

AM and FM stations are licensed in the public interest but the operators of these stations have a lot of latitude in the programming they choose to air because it is the only way to allow them to recoup their investment and benefit with a profit. It's called Capitalism and it's the foundation of our economic system.

Can we be honest? Conservative talk radio has blossomed and succeeded in the United States ever since the "Fairness Doctrine" was done away with in the mid-1980s. It has succeeded for one reason: the marketplace supports it.

Air America Radio has been mired in bankruptcy and financial problems since its inception in March, 2004. Yes, it is young but its success - or failure - is dependent on the marketplace and the choice of listeners. There are successful progressive (liberal) talk show hosts outside Air America Radio but generally speaking, conservatives like Limbaugh, Hannity, and others have done better.

Why? People have chosen to support these programs by listening - for whatever their reasons.

Has anyone been forced to listen? Doubtful. Has anyone restrained someone from choosing to listen to Air America Radio or other progressive talk shows? Doubtful.

Some Politicians Want to Squeeze the "Free" Out of Speech

So, then why is there this sudden campaign by some Democrats to bring back the Fairness Doctrine to talk radio?

John Kerry recently said:

I think the Fairness Doctrine ought to be there and I also think equal time doctrine ought to come back. I mean these are the people who wiped out one of the most profound changes in the balance of the media is when the conservatives got rid of the equal time requirements. And the result is that, you know, they’ve been able to squeeze down and squeeze out opinion of opposing views and I think it’s been an important transition in the imbalance of our public…

Who is responsible for all this squeezing? American radio listeners who have made listening choices - that's who. Mr. Kerry, are you suggesting the American people just make bad choices because they are not choices you agree with?

Appearing on "Fox News Sunday" this past weekend, Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) said:

...talk radio is overwhelmingly one way. In my view, talk radio tends to be one-sided. It also tends to be dwelling in hyperbole. It's explosive. It pushes people to, I think, extreme views without a lot of information.

It seems to me if there is an extreme view being floated, it's the Senator's who is implying that views unlike her views are "extreme" and lacking information. Once again, that's quite an indictment of the American radio listener.

What this comes down to is simply this: liberals have not been able to compete with conservative talk radio as well as hoped. So, instead of playing a better game (i.e., create more compelling programming), they want the rules changed to make it easier for them to WIN the game. Maybe we should call this new movement about talk radio "No Party Left Behind".

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