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 “