Democracy Death Match results: Limbaugh & Clear Channel defeat Fairness & Public Interest

Once upon a time in America there was a thing called the “public interest.” The airwaves were a publicly owned resource, and broadcasters profiting from their use were obliged to serve “the public interest, convenience and necessity.” These principles were codified in 1927 and 1934 legislation and were accepted (if not universally loved) for decades. This policy was built on a philosophy that believed public resources existed for something more than the generation of corporate profit, a concept that might strike us as quaint these days. What is there in life but the service of corporate profit, after all?

The idea that there’s more to life than private ownership and profit began unraveling in earnest when Reagan took office and appointed Mark Fowler to head the FCC. In a truly landmark moment, Fowler and Senior Legal Advisor Daniel Brenner co-authored a 1982 paper that “updated” our concept of public interest, stating that the public interest is “what the public is interested in.” And no, I’m not making that up.

By now I think it’s evident to anyone with a television, radio or Internet connection what the public is interested in and what impact that’s had on our culture.

Perhaps the strongest expression of the public interest impulse was the Fairness Doctrine, established in 1949 to force the networks to present all sides of the issues. This standard was set aside – guess when? – in the 1980s, but there are certainly those who think it should be brought back.

So, what’s all this have to do with Rush and Clear Channel?

Recently Limbaugh, an admitted drug addict, alleged doctor shopper, and chickenhawk who sought a deferment from military service because of a cyst on his tail, created a furor by calling American servicemen and women who disagree with the Bush administration’s Iraq policy “phony soldiers.” He has attempted at length to suggest that he was only referring to one particular soldier, but those efforts have been hampered by the fact that some people record his shows and pay attention to what he actually says.

In response, VoteVets produced this ad featuring “phony soldier” Brian McGough, an “Iraq war veteran who was compared by Limbaugh to a suicide bomber.”

It then sought to place an audio version of the ad on WJNO-AM, the station that airs Limbaugh’s show in his hometown of Palm Beach, FL.

The Clear Channel outlet refused to air the ad because it “would conflict with the listeners who have chosen to listen to Rush Limbaugh.” There’s no reason to be surprised here, given Clear Channel’s rabid pro-war activities.

But don’t Americans – especially conservatives, who profess reverence for the core principles upon which our nation was founded – don’t we value open debate? The public square? The marketplace of ideas? The agora? Seriously – do you expect me to believe that listeners of the Rush Limbaugh Show, who are among the most devoutly committed citizens in all of America when it comes to free speech and the pursuit of truth, would object to the chance to hear an opposing voice so that the rightness of their own beliefs could be tested and validated?

How gullible do you think I am?

In a world where real fairness mattered, WJNO and other Clear Channel stations, which are profiting mightily from their use of a public resource, wouldn’t be allowed to duck their responsibility to open debate on an issue of such importance, especially when only three weeks ago the same blowhard host used thier airwaves to lambaste a MoveOn ad for allegedly questioning the integrity of General David Petraeus.

In a nation that had even the vaguest concern for the public interest, we wouldn’t even need government action on this one – outraged citizens would lay siege to the studios of all Clear Channel properties, demanding at the very least a public apology.

But we don’t live in that world, do we? We have meekly accepted that our legitimate interests have been sold to what the whores at Clear Channel think we’re interested in. We have sold our rights as citizens in return for the privilege of being consumers.

If this is allowed to continue we deserve the worst that can happen to us. Thanks to Rush Limbaugh and Clear Channel, we’re already getting a taste of it.

Now playing: Drowning Pool – “Rebell Yell

36 replies »

  1. I had forgotten about that disingenuous semantic trick used to redefine “public interest.” Yet that does go right to the heart of the matter. A subset of conservatives seem afflicted with the insane notion that going forward with autocratic initiatives will produce better results than going forward with initiatives that triumph (and typically undergo refinement) in a public clash of ideas. That seems to me as un-American as un-American can be . . . and I think it has already become clear that the results are horrible for the nation as a whole.

    Thanks for sharing these insights and drawing such keen focus on a crucial negative trend that underlies so much else in the realm of politics run amok.

  2. The reason the shift is so successful – and I admit that I’m philosophically conflicted here – is that it has at its core an assumption that people know what’s best for them, and that the alternative is some kind of state paternalism that smacks of socialism. I’ve seen the extreme left end of that philosophy and it makes me uneasy at time.

    However, the idea that people always know what’s best for them is simply ludicrous – anybody who knows actual human beings knows that folly up close and personal. Still, if it stopped there I wouldn’t care. If idiots were making decisions that only harmed them, I’m hands off – that’s their right, and I believe it completely.

    But that’s NOT how it works. People choose to be uneducated, but then they go to the polls, and all of a sudden I’m paying the price for their ignorance, as is the rest of the world.

    You have the right to fuck your own life, but not mine. Like I say, I feel the inner philosophical conflict here, and I know we have some conservative readers who feel differently from how I do.

    Ultimately, I guess I’m feeling the same here as I do on things like smoking and vaccinations. Your failure to get vaccinated for a dangerous communicable disease puts ME at risk, and that’s not acceptable. You want to smoke, I wholly support your right to do so, but you have ZERO right to put that smoke in MY lungs.

    You have the right to destroy your own life through stupidity, but not mine….

  3. Unfortunately, the conservatives are winning because the opposition party doesn’t have that “go for the throat” mentality needed to win.

    It’ll take a new Bolshevik movement specializing in the Czar Nicholas treatment to clean up the conservative mess.

  4. Out of curiosity, what reliable source can you cite that provesLimbaugh is a chickenhawk….Just curious


  5. Your question doesn’t sound like one inclined to believe my answer. But here’s what we KNOW:

    1: Limbaugh has been pretty damned gung-ho about sending others to war.

    2: When faced with the chance to go to war himself, he sought a deferment.

    I can provide a number of sources, but can’t imagine that either of these points is terribly controversial.

    I’ve never had a cyst on my tail, so I can’t say how debilitating it would be (or how hard it would be to remedy if you really did want to serve). But there have been innumerable times where people who probably had excuses at least that good actually sought to serve.

    When that sort of person agitates for war – especially one like what we have in Iraq – one invites the term into play.

  6. If one wants to make the argument that Rush Limbaugh is entertaining, or even provocative, I could debate that with respect. Some people enjoy the politics of hate, and many are challenged by it. However, if one makes the argument that he is genuine and earnest — well, that’s such an extreme and absurd failure of judgment that it complicates the matter of being respectful.

  7. If being revulsed to the point of vomit is considered “entertaining”, then –yes –Limbaugh is entertaining. I’m no psychologist but I suspect that people who listen to Limbaugh and find him “entertaining” lack self-esteem. They are haunted by demons of their own devising and find, in Limbaugh and his ilk, a way to rationalize their own hate filled prejudices and general bitterness. These are the same folk who swooned wistfully about Ronald Reagan at the 1992 GOP convention in Houston “Ronald Reagan made us feel good about ourselves!” Ummmmm Maybe some people –bigots, war mongers, and hate filled demogogues –ought NEVER to feel good about themselves! They need to get a life!

  8. ** Sam….

    The agenda of our corporate-owned press is not to “inform” or educate citizens; It is not profitable. Infotainment “news” bring in profits. Sensationalism attracts viewers, the more viewers the more revenue. Advertising is big business. That’s the bottom line: news for profit — which I have no problem with profit, except when it comes to the news. An informed society makes educated choices; otherwise democracy cannot survive.

    Currently about 6 – 8 mega-corporations regulate the flow of information. They literally own, thus control, the news media: TV, cable, magazines, newspapers, radio stations, etc. Additionally they own publishing & literary houses, movies, music, et al. They are powerful — too much so. IMHO

    And because the FCC (?) regulates how much one company can own in a market-district they pander to gain favour with the government.

    Add to the mix advertisers threatening to pull their ads if the content or an article is not to their approval.

    And last but not least the telecom industries attempts to control the internet which means they can charge higher prices and determine what customers are allowed to access on-line. Imagine the US government cutting off access — like China — to certain sites. Each passing day the controls are tightening. This is not an if — but when — it is only a matter of time.

    Dominated by outside influence and pressure, corporations also have their own image to protect. Thus manipulating information by omission, censure, construe “facts”, spin, misinformation etc. become necessary tools to keep the public under control.

    All of which are very, very, very unhealthy — even fatal — for a democracy.


    ** Len,

    Rush Limbaugh conditions people. His methods on some level might even be considered brainwashing. It is not uncommon.

    While he carries on with his daily tribe his listeners, not all, get a “rush” — ergo the name “Rush”. His followers would probably have withdrawal symptoms without their daily fix. Iam serious — i really believe that is — at least in part — why people watch O’Reilly, listen to Limbaugh, or read Michael Savage etc… and/or others who stir up their e_motions. It allows them to vent. However those media personalities are steering their readers, listeners and/or viewers to vent at a specific target which is a distraction from dealing with personal issues.

    Furthermore the more one grows dependent on other’s opinions the more powerless one becomes and insecure, yes. Powerlessness translates into handicapped skeptical, independent thinkers. In contrast self-empowerment allows us to search and discover solutions.

    The nation’s rational political dialogue is thwarted and impeded by media personalities. The Rush Limbaughs, the Bill O’Reillys and the Ann Coulters influence comes with a high price — at our expense. IMHO



  9. Conservative talk radio, which I don’t listen to, does well because most people are conservative. The only reason the liberals can’t do talk radio is nobody wants to hear all of the whining. Take Air America…a big failure. I was one of the few listeners, and I’m not even a liberal.


  10. Not sure I think that’s it, Jeff. I think it goes more to the kinds of personalities that align with the sorts of conservatives Rush appeals to.

    If you compare the garden-variety hard-right “conservative” – and forgive the overgeneralizations for a minute – with the garden-variety “liberal,” you’re looking at a lot more than political difference. You’re looking at cultural differences, you’re looking at differences in educational experiences, and so on.

    Also, we’ve had some years to adapt to what we think certain media ARE. I was a lot more likely to call talk radio 15 years ago than I am now, because over that period radio has pretty much established that it’s not for people like me. Even when something like Air America goes on the air, I don’t really expect it to succeed – at least not to the extent that right-talkers have.

    I imagine this is one McLuhan would have a field day with if he were still around.

  11. Actually, the free market determines the content on radio. If it doesn’t make money, it gets plugged.

    I don’t know what you mean when you said there were cultural and educational differences between garden- variety left and right people. Are liberals smarter than conservatives? Is a garden variety liberal smarter than a William F. Buckley Jr, Milton Friedman, or George Will? Most of my friends are liberal, and I don’t think they’re smarter than me:) They all think they are smarter, so that might be the difference.

    I regret the demise of liberal talk radio. It has provided me with endless hours of entertainment.


  12. Some Dems are smarter than some GOPpers. Some Republicans are smarter than most Dems. And there are independents, Greens, and LIbertarians who are smarter and dumber than both.

    The point is more that when you look at these groups, you rarely walk away thinking that they’re exactly like each other except for how they vote. By definition they’re drawn to different value sets (jeez, isn’t that what every Republican pol for last 20 years has been telling us, after all?)

  13. Rush is the modern day equivalent to Sen Joseph McCarthy. He proclaims and spoon feeds the faithful so they have their talking points for the day (critical thinking is such a lost art for some people). To be a Republican today, is to be a frightened white christian male who is afraid of debate. They’re pretty much all dead-enders at this point thanks to W. They’re the reason long-time conservatives and long-time Republicans (like the Eisenhowers, the Goldwaters, and the TRoosevelts heirs) are now abandoning the GOP.

    I’ve been watching some of Henry Fonda’s movies lately. His roles usually reflected his views on things. The Ox-Bow Incident, Fail Safe, and The Best Man are good examples of that. Btw, during the McCarthy era, Fonda went out of his way to be photographed shaking hands with people who were blacklisted, and for that the government took his passport.

    As far as liberal radio, some tactical mistakes by Sheldon Drobny, the founder, hurt it in the long run, but in head-to-head matchups in markets, it held its own. But again, the deck seemed to be stacked against it when most of the radio stations are owned by conservatives like Clear Channel and getting equal time was difficult. Like I said before, conservatives can’t debate anything because they’d lose the battle of ideas. Too bad the Dems let Reagan do away with the equal time provision back in the 80s. Even then, they still didn’t know what they were doing.

    Ps: Btw, Anne “Stick” Coultergiest was recently named the most unsexiest man of the year. 😉

  14. From the Ox-Bow Incident:

    “[Gil Carter reading Martin’s letter]
    Gil Carter: “My dear Wife, Mr. Davies will tell you what’s happening here tonight. He’s a good man and has done everything he can for me. I suppose there are some other good men here, too, only they don’t seem to realize what they’re doing. They’re the ones I feel sorry for. ‘Cause it’ll be over for me in a little while, but they’ll have to go on remembering for the rest of their lives. A man just naturally can’t take the law into his own hands and hang people without hurtin’ everybody in the world, ’cause then he’s just not breaking one law but all laws. Law is a lot more than words you put in a book, or judges or lawyers or sheriffs you hire to carry it out. It’s everything people ever have found out about justice and what’s right and wrong. It’s the very conscience of humanity. There can’t be any such thing as civilization unless people have a conscience, because if people touch God anywhere, where is it except through their conscience? And what is anybody’s conscience except a little piece of the conscience of all men that ever lived? I guess that’s all I’ve got to say except kiss the babies for me and God bless you. Your husband, Donald.”

  15. Hey DomPierre…I’m a Republican who’s white, Christian, and not frightened of debate. However, I am frightened when people like you write, as you did on the 4th as a response to this post.

    You said,

  16. Hey Jeff,
    Does this mean you won’t vote for me if I decide to run for president, eh? heh heh 😉


  17. You seem to be avoiding what really is the crux of what I said, and I was referring to your statement on the 4th where you said,”

  18. I gotta admit Jeff, you’re amusing.

    First, you wait almost a week to comment on something I’d written.

    Then, it was old “Help Mr Moderator, the mean ole Liberal is beating up the poor helpless Republican” ploy. 😉

    Then, it was the “Well, it must have been childhood problems” deflection. heh heh

    You’re quite amusing. Inventive too. Almost like something BillO or Rush would come up with. 😉

    As for my previous comment, it’s interesting that you take exception to something like. Does that mean you’re outraged at the Republican and conservative policies that are responsible for the deaths of over 1 million Iraqis? Or the displacement of 4-5 million Iraqis?

    The conservative philosophy which the current Republicans since Goldwater ascribe to is such a complete disaster for themselves and worse yet for the country. It can be summed up as follows: “The most desperate, despicable, seedy, grubby, hopeless, lying, hideously incompetent bunch of third rate, double-dealing disasters this great nation has ever seen. For too many, morality means not getting caught.

  19. nokomisjeff, October 5, 2007 at 4:28 pm : Conservative talk radio, which I don’t listen to, does well because most people are conservative.

    Must have forgot his earlier post:
    nokomisjeff, October 4, 2007 at 6:28 pm :

    Out of curiosity, what reliable source can you cite that proves Limbaugh is a chickenhawk….Just curious


    So, what reliable source can You cite, that proves most people are conservative?

    There isn’t one.