I believe – as do many other liberals whom I respect from Bill Moyers to Lawrence Lessig – that in a media environment such as we have today with blogs, Twitter, cable TV, the network news, talk radio, books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, online communities, Facebook, and the other half-dozen types of media, it does not make sense for to have a law impinging on free speech as much as the Fairness Doctrine did.
But I do think it is worthwhile – as a society – to stand for fairness, including in the coverage of controversial matters in the media. We don’t need government regulation to express our own opinion and to direct our behavior as a consumer. Rather than seeking to boycott Glenn Beck because he says something outrageous, we should demand that he include alternate points of view in his show and threaten to boycott him if he does not comply with this. Rather than attacking Keith Olbermann for his rants, we should demand that he give over some minutes to a conservative and have a real debate – without using the O’Reillian trick of cutting off his opponent’s mic.
The fact is – as this Bill Moyers piece catalogues, there is a real cost to our society that comes from the one-sided extremism that dominates so much of our media. Coupled with this, we have less and less contact with people of other opinions, as Americans are increasingly clustering geographically by political views. This creates and encourages the cycle of hatred and eventually violence that we can see operating in various extremists groups around the world; it creates a dynamic of escalating moral outrage.
The government should not be the solution to all of our problems. And this is not a matter of essential security. It is about the type of society that we are, whether or not we will be a well-informed citizenry. I’m still thinking on the issue – but I would think a set of basic standards would be helpful – that can be equally applied to the right and left – with gradually escalating steps of opposition to those who refuse to honor them.
In the end, if the principles were articulated clearly, and it was not used for merely partisan ends, I could see such an initiative affecting the national debate. The fine line that would need to be drawn would be between allowing commentators to address controversial issues while giving their opinion – and determining how the other side could be treated fairly. In the end, no matter what standards were suggested, it would have to be a matter of judgment rather than of formula.
[Image by Rich Lewis licensed under Creative Commons.]