[first, take over the radio stations]

Topic: Politics

It’s widely understood that if you want to control a country, you need to control its media. The disastrous rise of Serbian nationalism wass aided and abetted by Yugoslav state television, while in Rwanda the call to genocide was put out over the radio.

The United States has a more diverse and complex media market than either Rwanda or Yugoslavia, of course. But in the New York Review of Books, Michael Massing reports on the conservative takeover of American radio, starting with the abolition of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987:

Introduced in 1949, [the Fairness Doctrine] required TV and radio stations to cover “controversial issues” of interest to their communities, and, when doing so, to provide “a reasonable opportunity for the presentation of contrasting viewpoints.” Intended to encourage stations to avoid partisan programming, the Fairness Doctrine had the practical effect of keeping political commentary off the air altogether. In 1986, a federal court ruled that the doctrine did not have the force of law, and the following year the FCC abolished it.

At that point, stations were free to broadcast whatever they wanted. In 1988, several dozen AM stations began carrying a show hosted by a thirty-seven-year-old college dropout named Rush Limbaugh.

This leaves open the question of why conservatives have exploited the post-Fairness Doctrine media landscape so much more effectively than liberals. But if you’ve ever wondered why the tone seemed to change in Washington sometime around the first Bush administration, the abolition of the Doctrine is the reason. It has opened the door for people like Mark Levin, “a lawyer turned talk show host who specializes in right-wing name-calling (he called Joseph Wilson and his wife ‘finks,’ Judy Miller ‘a rat,’ Ted Kennedy ‘a lifelong drunk,’ The New York Times the ‘New York Slimes,’ and Senator Charles Schumer ‘Chucky Schmucky’).” That kind of invective has become painfully common in our political discourse (the left does it too, though usually with more wit and tact, and to much smaller audiences).

How can this trend be countered?