Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Media and Fairness

There has been a lot of talk recently in liberal circles about reviving the Fairness Doctrine, a government regulation of the media to keep political debate, as FOX would say, fair and balanced. The liberal case for this does seem right on the merits... namely its destruction during the Reagan-era helped pave the way for things like FOX News and talk radio, bloviating pundits, and the general dumbing down of the media in general. Conservatives, in turn, oppose it because they feel all the aforementioned stuff just helps combat what they believe to be pervasive 'liberal media bias' (a laughable concept).

I agree with that, but I don't think reviving the Fairness Doctrine is the answer to our prayers.

The problems with the media-- intellectual incuriousity, journalistic laziness, gossip-y fluff stories, celebrity trash, etc-- cannot be solved by any piece of legislation or government regulation. As liberals tried to warn before the Iraq war, regime change/democracy can't be forced on someone through force; change must come from within.

How to accomplish that change then when the problems in the media seem so entrenched? I honestly don't know, but I think the Doctrine is not the right solution. I'm open to being convinced otherwise, of course.

The Anonymous Liberal has a a good post pondering this issue as well, asking "If conservatives are going to insist that everything except Fox News and talk radio are 'liberally biased,' don't they at least owe us some sort of explanation as to how market forces could possibly allow for this sort of liberal domination? Is the public overwhelmingly liberal?" They wouldn't agree; they claim conspiracy (oMG, George Soros!).

As for the related question of why conservative talk radio has done better than its liberal counterparts-- Air America is not only a flop financially, it's not very good radio either-- I'd add that's less a sign of overwhelming conservative support in America (polls prove otherwise), but rather a difference in taste between liberals and conservatives. I'll note that this is a bit different on cable TV, where liberals like Keith Olbermann are seeing rising ratings, while conservatives like Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly are seeing declines.

Few liberals want to listen to some idiot on the radio ranting and raving his opinions, because since we may share many of them, what's the point? Echo chambers are no fun. Maybe I'm being biased here, but it seems conservatives feel more comfortable just having their opinions reinforced by someone loud and angry (also, it helps keep the talking points straight). It's why so many liberals listen to NPR... it's reporting (and actually fair and balanced, to boot), not opinion shows/punditry. We want the media to inform and educate, not pontificate.

In the end, maybe the best we can/should do is ignore the crazy people, while fighting to make sure their talking points don't become the media conventional wisdom. Right now, I'd rather Congress worry about the war and healthcare and global warming... not Rush Limbaugh.

[PS- I have been listening to KCRW's 'Minding the Media' lately. A very good show.]

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