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That’s Not A Bug…

Well, it’s now out in the open: Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA — is that any surprise?) is officially calling for a return of the “fairness doctrine.” And not just the old one, that covered radio and television: she wants it to apply to cable and satellite programming, as well.

This could be a bit problematic. According to the original Fairness Doctrine, radio and TV broadcasters’ use of public airwaves made them guardians of a public trust. As such, they were obligated to the government to promote what was deemed the common good. Cable and satellite companies are, by definition, not broadcasters, and therefore don’t fall under the same presumed obligations.

The Fairness Doctrine required broadcasters to grant equal time to opposing points of view. For example, if a host spent an hour railing against kicking dogs, the station would be obligated to offer an hour to someone extolling the virtues of puppy-punting.

For all the high-minded rhetoric behind the return of the Fairness Doctrine, the underlying  goal is the same: to rein in talk radio, where conservatism has found its greatest popular success. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Jerry Doyle, Dennis Miller, are monumental success.

Conversely, liberals on the radio have been utter failures. Air America still limps along, but its market share has continually diminished and it has never made a single dime. Indeed, at some points it had to resort to shady (if not downright illegal) practices to stay solvent. 

So, under a revived Fairness Doctrine, a station that aired Rush Limbaugh’s entire three-hour show would be obligated to air three hours of counterpoint. Fair is fair, right?

Wrong.

The station that airs Limbaugh does so because it is profitable for them to do so. Its advertisers are willing to sponsor Limbaugh’s show: that ‘s how it gets on the air.

Who will buy ads on the anti-Rush show? A lot fewer people.  In fact, it’s entirely possible that not enough sponsors will be found to cover the expenses of the anti-Rush show. So the station will have to decide whether or not they wish to continue to subsidize the anti-Rush show. But should they cut back (or cut out) the anti-Rush, then they have to cut back (or cut out) Limbaugh as well.

No, it’s not the stated goal, but this will cripple talk radio. Given the potential headaches, most stations will simply get rid of political talk entirely.

As the saying goes, that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

If this seems a bit familiar, it should: it’s another example of the principle of “equality” not being applied to opportunity, but to results. As seductive and idealistic as that may sound, it never works, because it ends up punishing success and rewarding failure. If the same result arises no matter how hard you try (or don’t try at all), why try hard?

Liberal talk radio has just as much of a chance to succeed as conservative talk radio. That it has failed is not the fault of conservative talk radio, and conservative broadcasters should not be punished for simply being more popular.

The call for “fairness” will severely cripple — if not destroy — the conservative talk radio market. And that is one of the more profitable markets in radio today, especially on the otherwise-dying AM band.

In the name of “fairness,” one of the strongest forces for conservatism will be crippled, and broadcasters across the country will be devastated.

Just keep telling yourself: that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.



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