A Convenient Double Standard

Would a President Hillary Rodham Clinton shut down conservative talk radio?

On John Ziegler's June 21 KFI-Los Angeles radio show, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) claimed that he overheard Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Hillary R. Clinton (D-NY) saying “We have got to do something about this, these are nothing but far-right-wing extremists. We've got to have a balance, there's got to be a legislative fix to this.”  Inhofe has since clarified that the conversation took place three years ago.

Clinton and Boxer deny the conversation ever took place.  However, there is no denying many prominent liberals are trying to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine, which would require radio stations, because they use publicly regulated airwaves, to give equal time to opposing points of view on controversial political issues. However, television news and entertainment, which also broadcast over the public airwaves and which lean decidedly to the left, would be exempt.

Liberal groups including Media Matters for America, Democracy Radio and the Media Access Project, along with former vice president Al Gore, have argued recently for reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine. Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT), a self-described socialist, and U. S. Representatives Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) are presently working on legislation to reinstate the doctrine, defunct since the late 1980s when the FCC quit enforcing it. 

The practical effect of reinstating the Fairness Doctrine would be to silence conservative talk radio.  When the doctrine was in effect, radio networks generally avoided addressing controversial topics in order to avoid incurring the expense of finding and broadcasting opposing views.  The Culture and Media Institute's recent Eye on Culture report, The Liberal Attack on Freedom of Speech, explains how liberal efforts to restore the Fairness Doctrine are part of an antidemocratic pattern on the Left of stamping out dissenting opinion.

The case for restoring the Fairness Doctrine has been both bolstered and undercut by conflicting studies released June 21.  The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, just released a report claiming that conservatives have an unhealthy monopoly on talk radio.  However, MSNBC Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Bill Dedman just released the results of an investigation into FEC records listing journalists' political contributions between 2004 and 2008.  Dedman found that most of their checks were written to Democrats.  125 journalists gave to Democrats and liberal causes. Only 16 gave to Republicans. Two gave to both parties.   

Suspiciously, the CAP report does not recommend that the Fairness Doctrine should apply to other broadcast media venues, such as television news and entertainment, that lean left. The CAP report has come under fire for using flawed, handpicked data and questionable methodologies, even omitting the left-leaning NPR from its list of “talk radio” broadcasters.

CAP claims that 76 percent of talk radio shows are “conservative” while only 24 percent are “progressive,” and that conservative talk radio reaches a weekly audience of 38 million, compared to 12 million for liberal talk radio.  CAP also inexplicably omits National Public Radio, which consistently favors the left and runs many talk shows, from the mix.  NPR has an average weekly audience of 26 million, according to Arbitron.  Add the NPR figures to CAP's own numbers, and liberals and conservatives alike reach audiences of 38 million.

CAP does not release their criteria for determining a host's political views.  Michael Smerconish, a Philadelphia talk show host, reacted to the CAP report on MSNBC's Tucker Carlson show on June 21: “Ed, here is my question. I am a pro-choice guy. I am in favor of an Iraq exit timetable. And when it comes to same sex couples, I have a live and let live mentality. So ideologically, what does that make me?...I just think they were too loose with these labels. I get lumped in as a conservative.”

How many other pro-choice, anti-war, pro-gay marriage hosts were labeled “conservative?”

MSNBC reporter Bill Dedman's investigation found that 87 percent of journalists making political contributions gave “to Democrats and liberal causes.” 

A 2004 UCLA study established an Americans for Democratic Action rating for news outlets.  To provide standards for comparison, liberal Presidential candidate John Edwards (D-NC) got a 60 lifetime rating while he was in the Senate, and NPR got a score of 66.  

The CBS Evening Show has an ADA score of 73.7, ABC World News has a 61 and NBC Today Show has a 64. The average Republican has a 10.4. 

The University of Connecticut's Department of Public Policy discovered that journalists favored Democrat John Kerry over Republican George W. Bush in the 2004 election 52-19 percent (21 percent did not respond to the survey). 

If talk radio has to be fair, what about broadcast television?  A persuasive case can be made that the worst political bias in broadcast media is found on television, not radio.  Should the FCC force CBS News, for example, to give equal time to both sides of the stem cell research debate? 


David Niedrauer is an intern at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.