Conservative Heresy! Trump Wants The ‘Fairness Doctrine’ Back

Trump: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Reality TV star-turned-president Donald Trump seemed to call for a return to the “Fairness Doctrine” this morning in a pair of tweets complaining about late night comedians who make fun of him.

Stung by criticism from Jimmy Kimmel this week, the notoriously thin-skinned Trump asserted that show hosts are “dealing with Democrats” by cracking “anti-Trump” jokes and suggested that “we should get Equal Time.”

To be clear, the Fairness Doctrine is distinct from the Equal Time rule, which only applies to candidates for political office — and only impacts news and opinion programs, not late night monologues. So what Trump is talking about here would definitely be a revival of the Fairness Doctrine, and even more expansive than the original.

Of course, it’s not clear who Trump means by “more and more people” who supposedly want Equal Time, capitalized. He can’t possibly mean the conservative movement or Republican politicians — two groups that spent four decades working to kill the so-called “Fairness Doctrine.”

Sean Hannity, Trump’s favorite Fox News bloviator? In 2011, he brought future Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow on his talk radio program to call the Fairness Doctrine “an assault on the First Amendment.”

Newt Gingrich, Trump ally and media surrogate? He told Hannity in 2007 that the Fairness Doctrine was “Affirmative Action for liberals.”

Rush Limbaugh, the grandfather of right wing hate media, has always hated the Fairness Doctrine, claiming that it was a slippery slope to “federal government policing, monitoring, and intimidating the media.”

The Fairness Doctrine was an early broadcast regulation that required broadcasters to air “conflicting views on controversial issues of public importance” rather than push a narrow range of opinions. The rule was anathema to right wing ideologues for obvious reasons.

After all, Fox News could not possibly exist if the Federal Communications Commission enforced that kind of regulatory regime. Sinclair Broadcasting would be unable to push pro-Trump propaganda through its local TV stations. Little wonder that the conservative Heritage Foundation has always opposed the Fairness Doctrine.

Indeed, overturning it was a decades-long project of the conservative movement.

After right wing federal judges ignored Supreme Court precedent to weaken the Fairness Doctrine, Ronald Reagan refused to enforce it. When Reagan’s FCC voted to abolish the Fairness Doctrine, Congress passed legislation to uphold it, whereupon Reagan vetoed the bill to widespread applause on the right.

The regulation still remained on the books until 2011, when Barack Obama’s FCC chairman finally put the Fairness Doctrine out of its misery. Of course, the results of all this were predictable and we live with the consequences today.

While this would not be the first time that Donald Trump has committed a heresy against conservative orthodoxy, it will be interesting to see whether his reactionary media sycophants engage in baldfaced hypocrisy by suddenly reversing their longtime opposition to the Fairness Doctrine. How would they square it with their idolatry of Saint Ronnie Raygun?

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Featured image via Gage Skidmore Flickr under Creative Commons license

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