Paul Matzko Profile picture
27 Apr, 19 tweets, 4 min read
If we did resurrect the Fairness Doctrine, it would have vast, negative, unintended effects. You couldn't just target Tucker Carlson or whatever pundit/outlet you dislike.

How do I know that? Because I wrote a book about those effects last time we tried the Fairness Doctrine.
First, let me note that the Fairness Doctrine didn't prevent "deadly lies." That was never in its remit. It was meant to balance points of view. So if your goal in resurrecting the Fairness Doctrine is to stop folks from lying, you'll be sorely disappointed.
Second, for half of its functional history (1949-1963), the Fairness Doctrine was essentially unenforceable. I could go into more detail, but for sake of time, think about how many people you'd need to employ to monitor every broadcast outlet to make sure they were being "fair."
You would need to create a vast federal government agency employing thousands of people providing an unprecedented level of direct government surveillance. There's still too many civil libertarians left for that to happen.
Instead, you can do what the FCC did, which was to rely on citizens filing Fairness Doctrine complaints. But this was a *remarkably* simple process to game. The White House and DNC created back to back front organizations to create faux complaints and got away with it!
To put that into modern context, perhaps you remember the shenanigans that both sides pulled with the FCC's notice system around the net neutrality debate. It was a mess. Now scale that up into a much larger, more intrusive system. Yeah...
Third, the Fairness Doctrine had massive regulatory capture issues. As I tell the story in my book, the Kennedy administration's weaponization of the FD was ultimately responsible for the worst episode of government censorship of the last half century.…
And both parties did it; both JFK and Nixon found ways to wield the Fairness Doctrine as a tool for suppressing criticism of their administrations and rewarding the speech of their allies.
You do remember who the last president was, right? Do you not recall him routinely wishing that he could challenge the broadcasting licenses of outlets that criticized him? And you want to give presidents that kind of power? Are you crazy!…
Fourth, faced by the threat of Fairness Doctrine enforcement, station owners started dropping controversial or politically-charged content altogether. And that will effect both right-wing and left-wing speech.
Think of your favorite news show. If you were able to deal a blow to Tucker Carlson, you'd also be dealing a blow to shows you like. Why?

Because when the rules *are* equally applied, they run both ways.
So rather than just thinking, "Oh, I wish Fox News had to air more liberal programming to balance out Tucker Carlson," realize that every liberal outlet that currently criticizes Carlson *would have to do the same*!
In the key court case validating the Fairness Doctrine (Red Lion Broadcasting), a radio host named Billy James Hargis criticized a journalist named Fred Cook. Cook--with the secret help of the Democratic National Committee--used the FD to demand response time.
A station in Pennsylvania defied Cook's demand and the case went to the Supreme Court, which upheld the FD and forced the recalcitrant station to give Cook free airtime for his response.
Now imagine if every time a news show--say the Daily Show or Jon Stewart--aired someone criticizing Tucker Carlson, Carlson could *demand* free response time to give his own point of view. What would that do to the discourse?
So the Fairness Doctrine could *help* people like Carlson as much as it could *hurt* them.

And which way it went would depend on which interest groups had the raw political power to swing the regulatory process in their favor.
The idea of resurrecting the Fairness Doctrine is a perfect example of how some solutions are even worse than the admittedly bad problems they are meant to resolve.

Be careful what you wish for.
If you want to read a longer thread about the history of the Fairness Doctrine:

And while my book is a primer on the misadventures of the Fairness Doctrine, you'll also learn about the origins of modern conservatism, radio segregationists & the partisan transformation of the South, Polish ham housewife boycotts, and much more.…

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More from @PMatzko

23 Feb
It's worth noting that Senate Democrats on the Commerce Committee did something very similar in 1967, sending a letter to every radio station in the country asking which of them aired "Radical Right" broadcasters and notifying them of upcoming hearings on the Fairness Doctrine.
Indeed, the letter was so successful at intimidating stations into dropping right-wing programs, that the point man on the effort, Bob Lowe, told an ally that "The Senate simply was losing interest in the issue" since the broadcasters "were not gaining ground."
This cleared the way for the next item on the agenda, which was to create a nationalized, public radio network to counter-balance conservative broadcasters.
Read 8 tweets
20 Feb
Having spent 2020 telling covid denalists that they were overly optimistic about the pandemic, I now look forward to spending 2021 telling covid maximalists that they are overly pessimistic about the end of the pandemic.
Telling a denialist in May that we shouldn't open bars back up = telling a maximalist in February that we should open schools back up.
Look, folks, the math is straightforward. ~13% of Americans have been vaccinated as of this week.…
Read 11 tweets
13 Feb
The New York Times article about SlateStarCodex is finally out and it is...bad. There's a lot I could parse, but let me just walk you through one paragraph that is so misleading as to be deceptive.…
Take the first sentence of this paragraph. Now, technically the clause--"who proposed a link between race and IQ"--could simply modify "Murray" and have nothing to do w/ SSC.
But 99% of readers are going to assume that the clause actually defines SSC's alignment with Murray. In other words, the author is strongly implying that SSC shares Murray's racist beliefs.
Read 12 tweets
9 Feb
If you think Marjorie Taylor Greene is an unprecedentedly conspiratorial, bigoted nut job, well, then let me introduce you to Republican Congressman James B. Utt, who represented Southern California back when the state was a reliably Republican state in the 50s & 60s.
Utt was a John Birch Society ally. The JBS was somewhat analogous to QAnon, heightening every political disagreement into a sinister conspiracy.

He was also a Republican racist at a time when that was still somewhat novel, blending racism & conspiracism in a now familiar combo.
Take how Utt responded to civil rights protests in Savannah, Georgia in the summer of '63. Civil rights activists were winning concessions in the city that year, w/ MLK even calling it "the most desegregated city south of the Mason-Dixon line."…
Read 23 tweets
27 Jan
Folks think futzing with Section 230 will be some kind of quick fix for the toxicity and craziness in our politics. But the causes of our national illness are far deeper than the internet platforms that host their content. Shooting the messengers won't solve that.
We should know this, right? I mean, we had a national experiment with this approach during the First Red Scare. The government harassed socialist newspapers, jailed activists, and tried their best to shut them up.
And it didn't work. The persecution only fueled a resurgence of left-wing radicalism leading to the Popular Front era of the 1930s.
Read 5 tweets
26 Jan
It's another example of a classic (and doomed) effort to deploy illiberal methods in order to protect liberalism.

But let me focus on the problems in just one paragraph of @emilybazelon's article.
It's rooted in what is--to be fair--the received understanding of broadcast regulation, a hazy idea of a past, golden era of equity, reasonability, and freedom in broadcasting.
But the government actions that are waved at by the author were actually responsible for major episodes of government censorship and the repression of political dissent, which affected people from across the political spectrum.
Read 13 tweets

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