Seeing the Round Corners

January 14, 2019

  A column from not long ago – 2016 (and 2007) – follows these opening remarks. Readers may be wondering why the continuing re-run of columns from the writer’s archives. Here’s one of the many reasons why.

  As a member of the profession identifying themselves as journalists, this writer cringes at the arrogance shown by on-air news readers/interviewers. The $30 million NBC/Megyn Kelly matter says it all. Kelly’s most notable claim to fame were the questions she asked during the Presidential debates. Kelly’s style is referred to by some as pointed interviews, but by this journalist as opinionated  . . . meant to make headlines, and demonstrates a lack of knowledge about the purpose of political debates.

January 11, 2016


  In a typical Presidential Campaign year, the column title would most likely be “The American News Media,” but as the Presidential campaign has played out, “The Donald” (as in Trump) now the leading Republican candidate, has meant quite a different “deal” for the America public/voter. (For the purposes of this and the next few columns, “media” refers to on-air and all print venues.) The 2016 campaign for the Presidency is going into the history books like none before.

  This week's edition of Seeing the Round Corners will bring back the first of a four-part series written in 2007 by this writer on the media, with an introduction relating to present day coverage, the differences and other such trivialities.

  There was a time when the media could be relied on to provide both sides of an issue fairly and objectively, also known as real true job of the journalist. The on-air shooting during a live interview was the first of such an incident here in America, at least in modern times, but the beheading of a journalist by ISIS has added a new aspect to what the media must consider in reporting on the events of the day – the safety of its journalists. Is that a fair consideration of management, setting aside the humane portion of the aspect?

  As we shall see, the fairness doctrine as discussed in the 2007 columns, was often-times misinterpreted (see the October 12, 2007 column), and underwent substantial re-visions and re-interpretations as Presidents, then Congress and finally, the United States Supreme Court got involved. (The original adoption of the fairness doctrine was in 1949, subsequent to the Communications Act of 1934.)

  This brings us to these questions:  

  • Is the media dealing fairly with Donald Trump as a candidate for the U. S. Presidency?

  • Does Trump's position of funding his own campaign and accepting no political campaign contributions affect the media's coverage and treatment of his candidacy?

  • Does the National Republican Party's inability to control Donald Trump affect how the media covers the Presidential Campaign for 2016?

  Now here is the first of the columns from 2007.


  Abandoning the fairness doctrine in the 1980’s could be described as a really bad idea masquerading as a good one, or vice versa, depending on your perspective. The fairness doctrine was passed in 1949, subsequent to the Communications Act of 1934 – an act that called for (among other provisions) stations to offer “equal opportunity to all legally qualified political candidates running for office.” As a point of historical information, the Communications Act of 1934 was passed at a time when there were very few frequencies available over the airways – no computers, no internet.

  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also applied a policy at the time that prevented stations from editorializing, but by 1940, the ban was softened and out of that developed the policy to allow editorializing “only if other points of view were also aired to balance those of the station.”

  With adoption of the fairness doctrine in 1949, station licensees became “public trustees” with the “responsibility of addressing controversial issues of public importance,” and thus the requirement evolved for providing the “opportunity for discussion of contrasting points of view on these issues.”

  The fairness doctrine was expanded in 1967 and broadened the responsibility imposed in 1949 on two points: “The political editorial rule requiring that if a station editorialized either for or against a candidate for public office, the stations had to notify the disfavored candidate within 24 hours and allow him to reply to the editorial.” If a personal attack was made, the rule stated “When a person or group’s character or integrity is impugned during the discussion of a controversial issue, the station must notify the person within one week, and offer a reasonable time for response.”

  By 1980, there were many more stations in existence, and of course, there were vastly more reporters in all areas of the media (on air and print) than ever before.

  Journalists joined forces in attempting to make the case that the fairness doctrine was unconstitutional, a violation of reporters’ rights of free speech under the First Amendment, and that reporters were entitled “to make their own decisions about balancing stories.” This led to reporters not covering controversial issues rather than comply with the requirement of presenting contrasting viewpoints.

  In 1969, the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the fairness doctrine in the Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC case, 395 U.S. 367 (1969). The ruling said: “A license permits broadcasting, but the licensee has no constitutional right to be the one who holds the license or to monopolize a radio frequency to the exclusion of his fellow citizens. There is nothing in the First Amendment which prevents the Government from requiring a licensee to share his frequency with others and to conduct himself as a proxy or fiduciary with obligations to present those views and voices which are representative of his community and which would otherwise, by necessity, be barred from the airwaves. The Court also stated, “The First Amendment is relevant to public broadcasting, but it is the right of the viewing and listening public, and not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount.”

  For several years, reporters’ theory of free speech infringement was “quieted.” Throughout the entire history of the FCC, the fairness doctrine was enforced until 1987.

  The Reagan administration was known for its deregulation philosophy in the zeal for smaller/less government, and that policy swept across the broadcasting industry like wildfire. By 1985, technology had brought about such changes as multiple channels on cable television that broadcasting was no longer seen as a limited resource.

  Then, in 1987, the courts decided that since the fairness doctrine was not mandated by Congress, enforcement was not required and suspended all of the fair doctrine except for the two provisions relating to the endorsement of a candidate requiring equal time for the opponent and the personal attack rule allowing time for rebuttal when discussing controversial issues.

  Congress then attempted to codify the doctrine into federal law by passing the Fairness in Broadcasting Act of 1987. It was vetoed by President Reagan and Congress lacked sufficient votes to override the veto, or at least that was the published story at the time. More on that next week.

  Representative Louise Slaughter, a Democrat from New York’s 28th District, has battled for the fairness doctrine and against media consolidation since her election to Congress in 1986. Her battle is based on the simple premise that the “airwaves belong to the people.” Slaughter adamantly maintains that “information coming to us is controlled, and at least half the people in the United States have no voice because they’re not allowed in on talk radio.”

  Slaughter has attempted over the years to reinstate the fairness doctrine and blames the 1993 defeat to reinstate the fairness doctrine on Rush Limbaugh and the rise of AM Radio. Tagged as the “Hush Rush Law,” Slaughter attributed the defeat on Limbaugh’s massive organizing of support and brands him an entertainer, saying Limbaugh “doesn’t make any pretense of being a news person or even telling you the truth – he says he’s an entertainer.”

  Limbaugh maintains it’s all in the exercise of his free speech rights under the First Amendment. The problem arises, was the First Amendment ever meant to protect someone’s right to spread false information with the intent to influence a vote in Congress. Were there lobbyists when the First Amendment was written as part of the Constitution? Hum . . .

  More next week on the media influence over our lives.


The reader's comments or questions are always welcome. E-mail me at