July 4, 2007

Strakon Lights Up

"Fairness" in broadcasting
How about a Justice Doctrine?

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I'd like to say that I heard a debate on Central Government control of the electromagnetic spectrum while watching Fox News Sunday for July 1, but actually all I heard was a frustrating exchange about the so-called Fairness Doctrine between veteran left-wing activist Mark Green and conservative talk-show host Mike Gallagher, with moderator Chris Wallace jumping in occasionally to hold Green's feet closer to the fire.

The Left is moving to resurrect the old Fairness Doctrine — which the FCC finally dropped under pressure in 1987 — in an attempt to restrict conservative commentary on the airwaves and especially on talk radio, where such commentary dominates. As leftists well know, that would damage the profitability of radio stations and networks now making good money by serving as outlets for right-wing talk. As leftists know equally well, broadcast outlets for left-wing views do not make much money.

The exchange on the Wallace show was frustrating, as I said, but also educational, at least for those who still expect leftists to operate in good faith once in a while. Green denied that he, at least, wants to bring the Fairness Doctrine back as a Central Government censorship tool; no, no, all he wants is for local "communities" (i.e., local governmental elites) to be able to tell the FCC which licenses to approve and which to pull ... all in the interests of, you know, fairness. Mark Finkelstein of Newsbusters, for one, ventures to characterize that as doubletalk.

In any case, it appears that Green's criterion for "fairness" would be whether the broadcaster included as much "progressive" commentary as conservative commentary in his programming. Gallagher scored a solid hit when he asked Green whether the latter would like being forced to program conservative analysis on his left-wing Air America. Green didn't answer.

What got my goat as much as anything was Green's references to broadcasters' notional responsibility to feature "both sides." That is to say, in Green's world of categories, only two sides exist: the "progressive" side and what he is polite enough to call the conservative side (though I'm sure he'd like to say "reactionary"). Apparently the anti-statist side simply doesn't exist for him. (Does it for Mike Gallagher?) Nor, apparently, does the whole panoply of statist subcategories, including anti-Zionist leftist, Zionist leftist, War Liberal, paleoconservative, neoconservative ... And what of those good gray "moderates"? They need more equal time than anybody, since everything they say is confusing.

But of course the totalitarian mentality has always favored false dichotomies and false polarities; in fact, hammering all humanity and all human thought into one of two false categories can be seen as crucial for totalitarian rule. You didn't think Mao was serious when he talked about letting a hundred flowers bloom, did you? Totalitarians let a hundred flowers bloom — in their one big state-operated garden — only to see what subversive blossoms they need to root out. (It's illuminating that only anti-statists ever propose the basic, and true, dichotomy of statist vs. anti-statist.)

By the way, how many distinct varieties of flowers do you detect blooming in America's ever-more-centralized system of government schools? You may stumble across a few different types of poison ivy, I suppose.

Also goat-getting, for me, was Green's use of the old "everyone" claim. "Everyone watching this program," he declared, was in favor of Central Government "ownership" of the broadcast spectrum. Conservative Gallagher, please note, did not disagree. But anti-statists do disagree, and we would politely ask Green, however omniscient he may take himself to be, to include us out of his "everyone."

I grant that almost everyone agrees with Green. Why is that? Owing to the decades-long operation of the Fairness Doctrine and the other elite manipulations of the American mind that are still in progress, in the government schools and elsewhere, viewers and listeners rarely have the chance to hear anti-statists insist that private people should own broadcast frequencies, in the same way they own shoes and CDs and factories.

When was the last time you tuned into a talk show and heard, not a left-wing Bush-basher or a right-wing warfan droning the same old same-old, but a freedom-lover demanding the abolition of the FCC? Yes, you can hear it if you try, and according to a piece by Objectivist Robert Garmong you can even hear it from Howard Stern, if you can stomach Stern. But it's rare, despite the fact that, for anyone building a free society, abolition of the FCC tyrants and their tyrannical gate-keeping has to be on the first page of the program — for the same reason America's 18th-century skeptics of state power sought to defend freedom of expression in their First Amendment.

So often, the more you think about a state depredation the more shocking it becomes, even if it is not surprising given the growth of leviathan and the ruling class that owns it: and how shocking it is that the new technology of expression arising in the 20th century was quickly swept under state control in an America that still pretended to honor the First Amendment. It is always shocking when people of at least average intelligence do not seem to understand anything of what they are saying.

Conservative Gallagher did har-har when Green explained that government must "own" the broadcast frequencies because they're a "scarce" resource, but only — I'm pretty sure — because he rejected Green's factual claim. However, Green was absolutely correct. Broadcast frequencies turn out to be more numerous than some had thought, thanks to technological progress, but like any other economic good, they are scarce. Gold is scarce; Toyotas are scarce; opinion columns, believe it or not, are scarce; and broadcast frequencies are scarce, too. As Murray Rothbard pointed out long ago, even Pepsi is scarce; otherwise you could wish for Pepsi and, magically, effortlessly, costlessly, it would be pouring down your throat.

As for "monopoly" — which totalitarians pretend to fear as they work to squelch competition and monopolize Power — it is worth keeping in mind that you possess a rightful monopoly on that can of Pepsi you purchased with honest money at an agreed price from a rightful owner.

The fact of scarcity is the ground of the entire economic question. Oblivious to rightful ownership, freedom of production, and freedom of exchange, the totalitarian sees state rationing of goods and services as the only conceivable way to manage scarcity. Proponents of freedom, which is to say proponents of justly held property, see another way. Because mainstream people fail to understand that freedom entails the right to property, they cannot clearly see the way; and they are always at risk of being blinkered by the true totalitarians. Down with "fairness"! Our countrymen need to grasp the Justice Doctrine.

July 4, 2007

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