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The Coming Counterrevolution To Hush The Alternative Media

October 10, 2008

By Brian C. Anderson

Conservative-friendly media better get ready. Should Barack Obama win the presidency and the Democrats control Congress, as now seems likely, they will launch a full-scale war to drive critics—especially on political talk radio—right out of legitimate public debate.

Conservative-friendly media better get ready. Should Barack Obama win the presidency and the Democrats control Congress, as now seems likely, they will launch a full-scale war to drive critics—especially on political talk radio—right out of legitimate public debate.

Signs of what the new environment will be like for the right are already evident:

— When the National Rifle Association recently released television and radio ads in Pennsylvania targeting Obama's history of anti-gun votes, the Obama campaign's general counsel fired off bullying letters to stations that ran the spots, implying that they may have violated public-interest obligations.

— When the 527 group, the American Issues Project, came out with a commercial linking Obama to former Weather Underground terrorist William Ayers, the campaign (unsuccessfully) complained to the Department of Justice that AIP had broken campaign finance laws, and managed to spook some stations away from the ad.

— When two different conservative writers looking into Obama's background appeared on Chicago's WGN-AM Radio, the campaign's "action wire" energized its activists to bombard the station with rage-filled phone calls and e-mails, making the program more difficult to conduct.

(The show, hosted by the eminently reasonable Milt Rosenberg, had on both occasions invited the Obama campaign to send a representative to respond; the campaign preferred to answer with digital brownshirts.)

These crude efforts are only a start.

A Democrat-controlled Washington will use sweeping new rules to shush conservative political speech. For starters, expect a real push to bring back the Fairness Doctrine.

True, Obama says he isn't in favor of re-imposing this regulation, which, until Ronald Reagan's FCC junked it in the '80s, required broadcasters to give airtime to opposing viewpoints or face fines or even loss of license. But most top Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, are revved up about the idea, and it's hard to imagine Obama vetoing a new doctrine if Congress delivers him one.

Make no mistake: a new Fairness Doctrine would vaporize political talk radio, the one major medium dominated by the right. If a station ran a successful conservative program like, say, Mark Levin's, it would also have to run a left-leaning alternative, even if—as with Air America and all other liberal efforts in the medium to date—it can't find any listeners or sponsors.

Then there are all the lawyers you'd have to hire to fend off the government regulators. Too much hassle, many radio executives would conclude; better switch to entertainment coverage or some other anodyne format. In 1980, it's worth recalling, talk shows of any kind numbered fewer than 100 nationwide, not thousands like today.

And Obama does say he wants to tighten media ownership regulations and expand the public interest duties of broadcasters, including by imposing greater "local accountability" on them—that is, forcing stations to carry more local programming, even if the public isn't demanding it (which it isn't).

This measure—aimed at national syndicators like Salem Radio that make conservative shows available from coast to coast—is just a sneakier way of shrinking the listenership of hosts like William Bennett or Hugh Hewitt, or even getting them off the air altogether.

Obama, like congressional Democrats, also wants to regulate the Internet, the only other medium in which the right does well, via its influential bloggers.

The means here: something called "network neutrality." Neutrality, if enacted, would give government overseers at the FCC the power to ensure that Internet providers treated equally all the information bits surging across the Web's "pipes"—its cables, fiber optics, phone lines and wireless connections.

This measure makes zero economic sense. Broadband providers want to manage more actively—and thus profitably—those information bits. They'd like to offer, for instance, new superfast delivery for sites or users willing to pay more (not unlike how FedEx speeds delivery of packages for a fee), or other new services such as online video or telephony.

Network neutrality would render all that illegal. But why, then, should broadband investors keep building the Web infrastructure needed to keep pace with surging use? Where's their financial incentive?

Yet if that infrastructure isn't in place soon, the vast amount of data pouring online will begin to slow the Web to a crawl, many experts believe. Needless to say, neutrality also will be a gold mine to telecom lawyers, who'll have their hands full figuring out what constitutes "digital discrimination."

But the biggest potential danger of neutrality is that its concern for equal treatment of bits will extend to sites' content, creating a kind of Fairness Doctrine for the Web, as FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell has warned—and as Obama adviser and law professor Cass Sunstein once called for.

Not coincidentally, hampering the alternative media with new regulations would leave the liberal mainstream press, which still enjoys full First Amendment protections, comparatively empowered.

Given how the "MSM" has covered this presidential race—fawning over Obama and pummeling John McCain and especially his charismatic running mate Sarah Palin at every opportunity—it's easy to see why many liberals may be hoping for a media restoration.

Original Source:



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