Wes Vernon
November 9, 2008
Talkshow hosts energized, fighting back for survival
By Wes Vernon

Here's a preview of what we're in for in the next four years of the much-vaunted "spirit of bipartisanship":

In the land of the free, we will witness the spectacle of commentators having to fight tooth and nail just to exercise their free speech rights under the First Amendment.

The enemies of free speech are on the march (Part 15)

Rush Limbaugh and other popular hosts possess the best weapons with which to carry on the fight their microphones. Conservative radio talkshow listeners can use their existing media watchdog groups to confront those who want to obliterate the First Amendment and opposition speech in the public square. Whether it will be necessary to go beyond that and form an independent political group free of 501(c)(3) (tax exempt) constraints to go after anti-free speech politicians is best left to those with better organizing experience than this column can offer.

Make no mistake: As this is written, the Obama team and its allies are laying the groundwork aimed at shutting down conservatives on the radio.

Skids already greased

President-elect Obama has chosen as his transition chief John Podesta, who is president of the Center for American Progress (CAP), a liberal think tank with a strong focus on getting conservative talk radio off the air. And as we explain below, this may involve something even more insidious than merely reviving the so-called "Fairness" (Stalinist) Doctrine.

Word has it that Mr. Obama is appointing Washington super-lawyer Henry Rivera, an advocate of the doctrine, to head his Federal Communications Commission transition team.

New euphemism: "Localism"

Just as would-be dictators often ascend to power by seizing on legitimate concerns to attract public support, so have the would-be authoritarians here in the USA seized on real anxieties to advance their political snake oil. (Remember, the Communist Party USA was at its membership peak during the Great Depression when many were starving.)

The legitimate "localism" issue

Some companies that own several radio stations in different cities have developed a system where because of the lower cost of new technology it is easier for a talkshow host to do a program in one city specifically tailored for another radio station hundreds of miles away. All it takes is for the local station to e-mail or fax the latest local information to the remote location and its talent. The host can then weave all of that into the pattern of his broadcast. Listening to it, you would never know he is not a part of the very fabric of the local community.

Broadcast properties located in multiple cities do this all the time. It cuts down on overhead perhaps without reducing the quality of the product but it also costs jobs. That has understandably raised the ire of broadcast professionals, and in some cases has made young would-be talent wary of trying to break into the business. You can call that unavoidable "progress," but the concern on the part of aspiring talent is only natural. I started my own broadcast career at age 18 at a small radio station in a town then of about 5,000. (That station went "dark" several years ago.) But that was then, this is now.

The illegitimate "localism" issue

It is clear, however, that "localism" is being used by activist liberals and left-wing special interests as a wedge to get popular nationally-known talkshow hosts off the air.

During the campaign, the Obama camp gave lip service to doubts about reinstating the "Fairness" Doctrine, per se. What the then-candidate did not say was that his supporters apparently were planning something that looks suspiciously like the "Fairness" Doctrine through the back door, probably calling it something else.

The plan?

One has only to look at a report put out last year by Podesta's Center for American Progress to see that the tried and true tactic of jumping on the bandwagon of a legitimate cause to achieve an illegitimate one is in full force:

"The disparities between conservative and progressive programming reflect the absence of localism in American radio markets," the CAP declared.

Comment: No they don't. They reflect a hunger on the part of Americans to hear the conservative side of the story not just the liberal side as spoon-fed by the mainstream media. Even the CAP report admits that the combined news/talk format "is estimated to reach more than 50 million listeners each week." Even with that, the mainstream media are far more powerful and their practitioners are overwhelmingly liberal.

The Podesta report goes on to recommend (1) restoration of local and national caps on ownership of commercial stations; (2) greater local accountability over radio licensing (i.e., more dictates by the speech nazis and various agitators); and (3) commercial owners who fail to abide by these provisions with the funds turned over to "support public broadcasting." (Those station managers who fail to get with the program and silence opponents of the regime in Washington are to be punished by paying money into the already taxpayer subsidized liberal PBS/NPR.)

The "diversity" buzzword

The report of Podesta's think tank calls for "ownership diversity." Jim Boulet of English First cites a complaint heard at a "localism" meeting that "a population of 60,000 Somali Americans in Minneapolis-St. Paul" were forced to get by on a mere 10 regularly-produced TV series accounting for "20 hours of programming a week."

The whiners talk of cultural and ethnic "diversity" never about intellectual diversity which the the liberal mainstream media clearly lack.

FCC not even waiting for Obama

Already, the Bush FCC perhaps egged on by some career bureaucrat within the bowels of the agency has proposed regulations based on the premise that radio station "programming particularly network programming often is not sufficiently culturally diverse."

Conservative icon Paul Weyrich, himself a former broadcaster, wrote a column months ago quoting FCC sources as saying, "This is in no way a back door to the Fairness Doctrine." Whereupon Weyrich challenged the FCC to "make it clear to Republicans, Democrats and the public, as soon as possible that it has no intention of reinstating the Fairness doctrine in any way, shape or form." To my knowledge, no such public assurance has been given.

Talkshow hosts fighting back

The popular conservative hosts of the airwaves are, of course, fired up about this, not to save their jobs as such, but for the principle of freedom.

A Plante rant

Here's a sample: Chris Plante of WMAL in Washington, D.C. had a caller, George (who said he was a military officer) tell him, "I hope they bring on the Fairness Doctrine and get you off the air."

There then followed another famous "Plante rant" wherein "George" was told he "was not a very good representative of my armed forces," and further that "if your political leaders have convinced you that wiping the voices of the opposition off the airwaves is an American thing to do, then this isn't the country that I grew up in....George, I want to tell you if you do wear the uniform of this country, then I'm ashamed of you and I've never said that to anybody on this radio broadcast who has ever said that they wear the uniform of this country, but if you believe it's legitimate and it's a good thing to do to wipe the voices of the opposition off of the airwaves by using the force of government then you should be wearing the uniform of another country, George."

Mark Levin vs. the senator from New York

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) told a Fox interviewer, "The very same people who don't want the Fairness Doctrine want the FCC to limit pornography on the air" and added, "That's not consistent."

The failure to distinguish pornography from political speech was too much for nightly talker Mark Levin, never one to waste good air time on "nuance." The "great one" blurted out on his program:

"Hey, Schmuckey,... "I'm coming to New York.... You're going to have a race on your hands.... I'm going to come into New York, so will other people...and we're going to campaign against you, and we're going to make a fight out of this. And we're going to try and take you out politically, of course. What do you think of that, Schmuckey?"

Putting a face on it

Liberals put the face of Tom Delay on the alleged sins in recent years of congressional Republicans. Now, Mark Levin apparently wants to put Schumer's face on the Hugo Chavez-style drive to rid the airwaves of the one strong bastion conservatives have in the media talk radio.

A fight to the finish ahead

Sean Hannity spoke ominously on his show of "back-up plans" in the event of "the worst case scenario." As to specifics, the afternoon host said he "will not divulge" them.

If anything is likely to reignite the fighting spirit of the conservative movement, this is it.

© Wes Vernon

 

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