By Mike Weland
You hear it over and over in these days of political turmoil, and it’s yet another hollow cry by the radical right to negate any chance at logical, productive discourse. I’m talking about their propensity to invoke a once sacred tenet of journalism, the fairness doctrine, done away with in 1987 during the tenure of Ronald Reagan and the rise of cable. The fairness doctrine of the United States Federal Communications Commission, introduced in 1949, was a policy that required the holders of broadcast licenses and postal mailing permits, both considered government controlled commodities, to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that fairly reflected differing viewpoints.
Even though the doctrine is no more, most mainstream news media still follow its tenets voluntarily in the interest of fairness and balance. But in broadcast media especially, news makes up a small fraction of programming, and free of the fairness doctrine, music faded from radio and the airwaves became filled with talk shows, the more controversial the better; Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh and many more. That was 36 years ago, yet today, if you speak out against Donald Trump or MAGA, you’ll invariably be hit with a skewed variation of an attempt to invoke the principles of the FCC Fairness Doctrine.
“The mental gymnastics necessary to come to this conclusion while maintaining a blind eye to anything that left has done since President Trump Announced he was running for office the first time, is truly amazing Mike. I mean this is Olympic level mental gymnastics,” a reader wrote in response to my opinion piece, “Whatever is happening to the GOP … again?” “You are so blinded by your anti Trump, you refuse to cover ALL the stuff Biden (our current president, who is also running for reelection) is accused of. You say the Hunter story is nothing. The bribes are not factual. You point the finger at Trump, but refuse to point fingers at your own party. I can. Watch, it’s simple. Trump dropped the ball big time when he backed down on the Hearing Protection Act. He isn’t pro 2A enough. He was wrong on the COVID response. See it isn’t that hard. Now you try it … Biden …”
First off, the fairness doctrine doesn’t say, “if you write bad about one person, you must write bad about all.” Just because I write horrendous things about Jeffery Dahmer, fairness doesn’t mean I have to report that Mahatma Gandhi had atrocious breath.
Second, the fairness doctrine applied to issues, not people. To news, not opinion. The fact that I don’t write ill of Biden, or Obama or Millard Fillmore when I often write about Trump by no means indicates that I am showing favor, that I am a fan of those I seem to ignore or that I side with them, their party or their policies. It simply means that their shortcomings haven’t anywhere near risen to the level of malignancy as Trump’s … they have not, for instance, amounted to collusion with an adversary foreign government to sway an election, say, or to withholding congressionally approved funding from a foreign nation in an attempt to coerce that country’s president to dig up dirt on a political rival.
To my knowledge, Fillmore, Obama nor Biden ever considered inciting an insurrection or used lies and friendly propaganda outlets willing to disseminate one-sided and baseless claims so as to erode trust in our nation’s elections, threatening to undermine and overturn the U.S. Constitution they swore to uphold and defend. They never tacitly advocated violence against sections of the very people they served, never looked upon or referred to any group of this nation’s citizens as vermin.
In the letter, “Nation must restore trust in elections,” published December 11, esteemed Republican public servants Phil McGrane, Idaho Secretary of State, Michael Adams, Kentucky Secretary of State, Deidre Henderson, Utah Lieutenant Governor, Brad Raffensperger, Georgia Secretary of State, and Scott Schwab, Kansas Secretary of State, took the fairness doctrine in another direction, also in error.
They firmly called out the threat to our democracy posed by the distrust sown in our nation’s elections by “the toxic stew of disinformation, misinformation and deliberate lies for profit or political advantage.”
“And as conservatives,” they wrote, “we recognize the damage caused by the drumbeat of falsehoods repeated about the 2020 elections. Despite the fact that the 2022 elections were largely undisputed and noncontroversial, there are still many voters who don’t believe they can have confidence in the 2024 elections.”
But they followed up with “This is a bipartisan problem, though. Democrats have also sown doubt about high-profile election results in 2000, 2004, 2016, and 2018. While Republicans acknowledge our responsibility, it will take both parties to break the cycle and restore voter trust.”
The last phrase is perfectly true, the former not so much. Guilt, in this case, is not shared. The blame for the extreme distrust we see today rests squarely on the shoulders of Donald J. Trump, his sycophants in the Republican Party and, once again, their radical right propaganda machine.
Again, I say this not because I’m a Democrat, I isn’t, because I think the Democrats are perfect, I doesn’t, or because I’m trying to stir up hate and discontent or further divide a community already ripped asunder, I aren’t, though I’m so accused on occasion.
“OMG! WTH is with this insane picture???” another reader wrote in response to my aforementioned opinion. “These ‘Opinion’ articles are really getting waaay too unhinged! It is starting to sound like the ‘Author’ would actually love to see all the MAGA supporters, Trump supporters, and basically every Republican in this Country, all rounded-up, imprisoned, and then executed! This IS Scary Stuff, because this ‘Author’ is actually influencing some people! How very, very sad to have so much resentment towards a former President and a possible future one. – Trump is NOT causing all the troubles the USA is in right now! But Biden is itching to start WWIII and that is OK with this ‘Author?’ Can anyone do some sort of intervention for this poor ‘Author” who seems to be suffering from some serious mental breakdown. His bad case of TDS is getting way out-of-hand.”
I base my opinions not on partisan politics or ideology, but to the best available facts and data to which I have access. Those facts are seldom found on Fox News, OANN, Newsmax, Infowars or other MAGA propaganda outlets so efficiently spinning snippets of facts with heavy doses of conspiracy and delusion to weave a narrative bought whole cloth by the MAGA masses.
In the case of McGrane et al, I contend the election challenges of 2000, 2004, 2016 and 2018 were all carried out as allowed by law and in each case the challenger acceded to the decisions of the courts and participated in the orderly transfer of power. Those challenges were as they should have been and bolstered trust in our elections.
The only presidential candidate in U.S. history to lawfully challenge an election and then ignore the findings of the courts and insist he won but the election was rigged, now memorialized as “the Big Lie,” was Donald J. Trump, who not only still insists without evidence or proof that his 2020 loss to Joe Biden was due to widespread election fraud, but who incited insurrection in his attempt to thwart the will of U.S. voters. Only Trump and the propaganda arm of the GOP, the “conservative” media, spread disinformation, misinformation and deliberate lies and so instill widespread distrust in our elections process.
It will take both parties to break the cycle and restore voter trust, but for that to happen, the GOP has to accept its culpability and face it head on. To insist that this is a bipartisan problem is to evade responsibility, to be complicit by virtue of doing nothing. Those in GOP leadership who say and do nothing enable the further spread of disinformation, misinformation and deliberate lies and give credence and undue succor to the “big liar” who bears full responsibility, Donald J. Trump.
Until the sane majority of GOP leadership stands up to Trump and those radicals in their party who are deliberately and purposely responsible for eroding trust in the processes of governance established by our constitution and hold them accountable, until they call out the liars and rabble rousers in every level of their own ranks and restore them to sanity or vote them out, until the GOP accepts that Donald John Trump is inimical to everything good this nation has ever stood for and that he and his MAGA cult pose a clear and present danger to our constitutional Republic and demand that justice be served, the rot of distrust will metastasize and spread until the edifice crumples.
Today’s Colorado Supreme Court decision to remove Trump from their state’s ballot isn’t a “thinly veiled partisan attack,” as House Speaker Mike Johnson says, “what dictators do,” Matt Gaetz, or “an actual attack on democracy,” as says Vivek Ramaswamy. It was instead the thoughtful application of the law, “without fear or favor, and without being swayed by public reaction to the decisions that the law mandates we reach.”
It is a first step in the right direction, dimmed by the unfortunate but expected reaction of the sycophants in or aspiring to high positions in the MAGA firmament. Dimmed further by the shameful silence of all those in the GOP who know better, but still say nothing. It’s time they overcome their unreasonable fear of Trump and MAGA and do what they know must be done to save our union.