Dark Horizon


I continue to be haunted by the right-wing BS I encountered at OregonLive yesterday, and the stunning success it represents in recruiting committed followers to some of the most reprehensible and elitist ideas ever conceived, all in the name of a twisted and yes, Hitlerian “populism.”  Reagan may have been a doddering old fool in many ways, but getting rid of the Fairness Doctrine was one of his masterstrokes, and its legacy poisons our politics, destroys the very concept of  e pluribus unum, and leaves us in the mess we find ourselves today.  No wonder crypto-fascists like Sean Hannity et al are so afraid it could return.  Because he and all of his ilk rely on a fact-free bubble of lies and smears for their political success, they recognize its demise as their very own Enabling Act, and its return would be their VE Day.

Right-wing radio and Fox News could not exist within the strictures of the Fairness Doctrine, and for good reason.  Americans saw the power to inoculate people to the most heinous and repressive of governments made possible by the media manipulations of Goebbels and Reifenstahl, and that immediacy and manipulative power of Radio and film were key to their rise to power.  Just like Hate Radio and FOX, the Nazis appealed to the darkest but most powerful and tribal elements of human nature… and found that lies, repeated often enough, were especially effective if they chose outsiders and minorities as scapegoats, and equated military conquest, violence, and racism with national pride and glory.  The Nuremberg Trials revealed how well evil could become banal, and accepted, if it was relentlessly touted through the media.  At the time, newspapers were still plentiful enough that with a few ownership restrictions might be left alone, but the limited spectrum of radio and television left America open to the fate of Germany in the 1930′s, and the Fairness Doctrine grew out of that understandable fear.  Big Brother wasn’t just a fantasy in those days, and it was well understood that opposing viewpoints were critical in keeping Big Brother away from a screen or speaker near you.

Just as those hard lessons of that moment in history were lost when Glass-Steagall was repealed in 1999, and an economic crash quickly and inevitably followed, the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine led to the place we find ourselves in today.  Fascism is back, broadcasting 24/7, with the same nativism, bloodlust, worship of authority and military conquest, wrapped up, just as predicted, “wrapped in the flag and carrying a Cross.”

Then as now, economic hardship has turned Americans hard and vengeful, and Hitler’s old targets: unions, academics, gays, minorities, liberals, and more enlightened countries are trotted out to be flogged for the disaster.  Then as now, the wealthy, the well-connected, and the largest industries (not incidentally including the deregulated media) are happy to get on board.  And then as now, the goal is not to attempt to solve problems through dialogue and compromise, but to eliminate, by whatever means necessary, any and all dissent from the programs chosen by the amoral and self-serving elite.

I was in Journalism school in the early 80′s when the Fairness Doctrine was being discussed, and ironically, my professor, Lauren Kessler, didn’t see its demise as a bad thing.  In her liberal naivete, she mused that objectivity was unattainable anyway, so why not let journalists express their views in the open?  Just a few years after Watergate and the Church Commission hearings, she evidently thought that liberal ideas would win in the marketplace of ideas, so why not let a thousand flowers bloom?  I was inclined to agree, because I felt that Reagan’s destructive policies were being given undue credence because journalists had to present them alongside more sane proposals.  Neither of us saw that a lot of wealthy conservatives were poised and at the ready to “invest” in a big way in the media, to bend it to their will once and for all.  When the Fairness Doctrine finally fell, Rupert Murdoch and the people who would eventually build Clear Channel, Sinclair Broadcasting, and on and on, didn’t waste a moment, and the results will go down in the history books as an unmitigated triumph for the Right in selling, once again, its discredited ideas.

Thanks to the end of the Fairness Doctrine, racism is not only cool again, but has been redefined as an affliction only of uppity brown people.  Torture is back, and better than ever.  Rich people pay less taxes, and are even admired for their selfishness and greed.  War is accepted as a permanent state of affairs, with all its crippling costs and questionable aims.  Due process and fair trials are tossed aside as lightly as that Big Mac wrapper, and new, usually violent, pogroms against any dissenter, political or religious, are  dreamed up and sold like soap each day.  Working people’s wages and power have been systematically destroyed by the demonization of unions, and everything from schools to bridges are denounced as “socialist” intrusions on the “Free Market,” which is whatever the rich and powerful say it is.

None of this would have been conceivable just a few decades ago, and now, even a President of the nominally “liberal” party is powerless to reverse any of it.  Rest in peace, “Fairness Doctrine.”  You were our last chance, and we blew it.

UPDATE: I take no pleasure in announcing this, but as I predicted last week, we now have a centerfold teabagger in Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.  Thanks for the bipartisanship, Obama.  I claim no clairvoyance, only that if a liberal utopian like myself doesn’t give a shit at this point, why should the denizens of the Bay State?  If Rahm, Geithner and Summers survive this, the Democratic party won’t.


  1. dirigo says:

    The Fairness Doctrine: A Brief History

  2. cocktailhag says:

    Thank heaven I didn’t make any factual errors…. I never do any research, so I worry about that.

    • dirigo says:

      In a side conversation, Retzilian and I touched on this very thing.

      I mentioned being in radio news for a time, going back to Reagan, referring to the night I actually anchored returns on the radio when the Gipper was elected. I was on the air for a CBS affiliate in Amarillo, Texas. As an eastern kid, I nearly choked as I realized the nation was in fact electing a “B” actor and former Boraxo pitchman. At the time I couldn’t imagine any dire circumstance other than we were going to have a professional entertainer in the White House, and not a great one at that.

      Anyway, as I moved away from Texas, crablike, back to New England, and continued in broadcast for a while, I began to see the encroachment of deregulation, at least as far as radio news was concerned.

      It began to feel like someone had set fire to a house you kind of liked being in. It might have been a small cadre of arsonists who broke into the basement and lit a pile of old newspapers. And as the flames moved up, and then danced from room to room, some slower people were burned alive (in the labor sense), while others just disappeared. Poof. Still others leaped out of windows here and there and moved on, and since the firebugs, the feckless middle managers and program directors, all guarded the doors on the first floor, the only way to go, if you wanted to hang in there, was to this room and that room, up toward the attic.

      The people who set fire to the house were thrilled. They were going to stay, and rant and rant in the midst of the flames, devilishly, and make mad the people on the street who gathered, bug-eyed (or listened, slack-jawed, on their little Philcos), taking in the new, exotic noise coming from the burning house, or from the giant speakers on the roof.

      Nothing like a spectacle, I always say.

      I moved from room to room, from job to job, and eventually jumped out an attic window, landing on my feet, catlike, and moved in another direction professionally. Even then I had a sense I didn’t want to wind up in the future giving religious advice to a sex-crazed golfer, or suck up to a stick-figure blond named Ann, or a nasal whiner named Laura..

      I feel these people, the SO-CALLED “owners” of the public media spectrum, destroyed a great deal of the more or less serviceable structure of broadcast news in the United States.

      Even allowing for the rise of digital, I mourn the fact that deregulation basically wrecked legitimate local radio news around the country. The real “fair and balanced.”

      At one point I worked for Clear Channel in New Haven. There, Clear Channel essentially created Glenn Beck. Beck is, in my judgment, a media monster, a failed morning shock jock, a hack former drug addict – a menace of the first rank. I do not listen to him, or any of his peers. Clear Channel, in its ownership strategies, has been, by far, the most aggressive predator when it comes to consolidating media properties, the greatest exploiter of deregulation and the demise of the fairness doctrine.

      It comes down to this.

      I explained to Retz that one result of the end of radio news as a form in this country is the fact, reported here and there, that communities once served by local radio news departments are no longer served in that way.

      I had read, more than once, of incidents out in the heartland where local police, concerned about storms (tornadoes, thunderstorms, wind, etc.), or perhaps, an escaped capital murderer from the state prison – attempted to call a radio station here and there. They wanted to make sure weather warnings or crime reports were accurate, updated and timely. Protect and serve! The local cops and local reporters were a team in a way. Think Broderick Crawford in his car with the bubble gum machine on top, and young, crew-cut Walter Cronkite without the mustache and pipe!

      At its most basic, that is what a lot of radio news was about: reporting up to the minute, on storms or other events, so that listeners could get to safety, maybe check on families, get the cows in the barn – or grab a shotgun to deal with a rampaging madman who might rape your daughter.


      The anecdotal reports I picked up about local or state police calling local radio stations said it all about what was happening to radio. In these few stories lay the heart of the matter. It was said the police were surprised to find out that there were no longer people in the newsrooms, that there might be a secretary but no reporters, or even that there would be a recorded message and that the entire station was automated and there was no air staff at all.

      But you could get your Rush fix, or Mark Levin rant, or Bill O’Reilly scold, or anything like that, delivered by satellite.

      But no live local news.

      No more of that – nor any local, opposing points of view.

      • cocktailhag says:

        Your story is no urban myth. In fact, it’s the opening of Eric Klineberg’s “Fighting for Air,” about the demise of local and independent radio. It involved a spill of poison gas from a railroad derailment, and no one was at the radio station to report it. Clear Channel has killed people more indirectly all along, but in this case they did it quite directly.

      • It’s a good metaphor, dirigo. Here’s another: Once you manage to start a violently exothermic reaction, it goes to completion.

        That’s really where the folks in Washington, especially, but not exclusively the Republicans, have made their greatest mistake. They’ve assumed that in their wrestles with one another, they could set fires anywhere in the country without getting burned themselves, since no fire would ever have the power to cross the sacred Potomac.

        They don’t read much, and they disdain history, since, after all, they were bred to be its fulfillment. They’re richer, smarter, and faster than anyone who came before them. No one will ever dare to chisel the names off their philanthropies, or topple their monuments.

        Alea jacta est. Now we wait for the inevitable.

  3. nailheadtom says:

    Luckily, there are still a few enlightened souls like yourselves around to keep the flame of truth burning, despite the fulminations of the right wing elite propagandists, like Paul Krugman, Eugene Robinson, Ruth Marcus, Maureen Dowd, Glenn Greenwald, Gail Collins, E.J. Dionne, Keith Olbermann, Chris Mathews and a host of others. If only the Daily Worker had a better distribution system or maybe even their own TV show, the unwashed proletariat could realize that their large, comfortable homes with a kitchen full of labor-saving appliances and a couple late-model cars in the drive-way are the fetters of capitalism, chaining them to slavery. If only they were able to see, on their new HD TVs, just how impoverished their lives are. These uninformed serfs, if they ony knew, would push away their plates of steak, scallops, and designer pizza and pull on their Calvin Klein or Polo jackets, lace up their $150 Nike trainers and rush out to the barricades. If they only knew.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Thanks for showing up to be Exhibit “A.” Are you as vile and stupid as you come on?

    • dirigo says:

      I was talking about radio news. That is what I was talking about. Plain and simple.

      The form has been destroyed, and with it a tradition of community discussion and timely reports which people could rely on. Hard information, not non-stop ideological rants or mass intellectual arson.

      This has nothing to do with your crap, Tom – about socialism, or any other bullshit you’re peddling.

      I simply wonder, as someone who loved radio and was actually a reporter, if it has been a good thing to ruin the spectrum.

      Got it?

  4. sysprog says:

    Hey, I’m almost in the news.

    Actually, this isn’t at all about me, but I’m somewhere in the background of this Newark Star-Ledger picture, with a blue and red Haiti ribbon pinned to my shirt, at a huge church service at a Haitian evangelical church in New Jersey on Sunday night 1/17.

    * * * * *

    At another church, earlier the same day, a daughter hugs a devastated New Jersey Haitian man.

    * * * * *

    The service I attended was tri-lingual, English and Kreyòl and a little bit of French. There was simultaneous translation for the benefit of me and the other Anglophones.

    Contrary to what a Pat Robertson fan might expect, there was nothing satanic from any of the dozen or so different Haitian pastors who spoke. (Nor was there anything satanic in Boukmann’s 1791 Vodou prayer, which Robertson mischaracterized.)

    The first pastor led the congregation in reading from Psalm 46.

    God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

    Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, [...]

    The hymns in the Haitian service were ones that I’ve heard in that past, when walking past the Haitian church (I’ve never been in there before) and were mostly ones that you’d hear (though only in English) anywhere in Tennessee – - hymns such as “How Great Thou Art” (in English and French) and “I’ll Fly Away” (in English and Kreyòl.) Yes, it was a little bit foreign to me, but certainly no more foreign than for me to visit a white evangelical church in Tennessee. When these evangelicals talk about “biblical” disasters, they’re not speaking figuratively. And they disdain Vodou in general, so they’d never have Boukman’s prayer in their church, but Boukman’s prayer has essentially the same imagery and the same view of god as the hymn, “How Great Thou Art”.

    A lot of New Jersey Haitian people shook my hand and introduced themselves, and, surprisingly, they all turned out to be related to me. I learned that I have more brothers and sisters than I knew I had.

    Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh should’ve been there. They’d have learned something.

    • cocktailhag says:

      I looked and looked, but I couldn’t see you with your ribbon. (The crowd was pretty large, so unless you’d been wearing an oversized propeller beanie, you’d be difficult to spot…) Pat and Rush wouldn’t have been caught dead in that crowd, and not just for the hostile reception they’d deservedly receive. Neither of them give a shit. Glad to hear a first-hand account; out here in the NW we don’t have much of a Haitian presence, and I’ve felt oddly detached from it all. (One UP grad who was killed in an orphanage where she was working with disabled kids was pretty poignant, but she was just visiting…)
      I haven’t written about this, because I’m bad at that kind of thing, with my often inappropriate attitude.. I wish all of your new-found siblings well….

  5. nailheadtom says:

    Another case of epic voter imbecility, just pulling the wrong lever for all the wrong reasons. None of them cared about Martha’s record as AG, keeping an innocent man in prison for her own aggrandizement, or her D.C. fundraiser/party with all the health insurance bigwigs, or her thug bodyguard invisibly slapping down a reporter right before her very eyes. No, none of that mattered to the Massachusetts voters, they were just having a hissy fit that a female, an engaging female with a sparkling personality and an ally of our first black president, had the unmitigated gall to run for office in that most masculine of states, the state that has sent Barney Frank and Gerry Studds to Washington.

    • dirigo says:

      Brown won by just under five percentage points, hardly a landslide.

      While the choice by Bay State voters to send Brown to Washington was a thunderclap, given the fact that it was the former “Kennedy” seat, it was still a narrow win.

      Also, Brown will have to run again in 2012.

      Aside from the “arrogance” of Coakley and the Democrats, the historical (and embarrassing) fact is no woman running for statewide office in Massachusetts has ever been elected in her own right, whether she was a Republican or Democrat.

      That, I would argue, is more of a stain on the reputation of Massachusetts than the fact that a “hillbilly” Republican state senator from Wakefield will replace the late Ted Kennedy and perhaps embarrass the incumbent Democratic president.

      Forgetting Brown for a nanosecond (I’d prefer to forget him completely), it may be good that Barack Obama got hit by this electoral two-by-four.

      There are many levels of meaning in this race.

      We’ll see.

  6. rmp says:

    Glad to see you also posted this on FDL’s Seminal. Your great work needs to get more attention. I suggest you keep doing that for those posts that you are most proud of. So that means you need to do it fairly often.