On a 309 to 115 vote (with one congressman voting present) last night, the House amended an unrelated appropriations bill, adding a ban on the use of government spending to revive the doctrine. The bill then passed the House. The amendment was passed at the urging of GOP conservatives in what Democrats charged was "a political stunt."
Democrats admitted that while they had some concern about the issue of balance in talk radio, there were no plans to resurrect the fairness doctrine and that Republicans were simply pandering to conservative talk-show hosts.
"It's long since gone by the board because of court decisions and various FCC decisions," said House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey, D-Wis., who readily accepted the GOP amendment, then watched as conservatives spent half an hour rising to praise the amendment. He called the move "another political exercise" intended to fix fears coming from "talk radio and yap, yap TV."
'As important as Paris Hilton'
But he did take the opportunity to go after conservative talkers. "I want to see the real Rush [Limbaugh]. I want folks like him to be exposed to American audiences in all his bloviated glory. Let right-wing radio go on just as they do now. ... Rush and Sean [Hannity] are just as important as ... Paris Hilton. I would hate to see government moderate it to give them an ounce of credibility."
U.S. Reps. Mike Pence, R-Ind., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, proposed the amendment, acting after Senators Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., endorsed the doctrine's revival and Matt Drudge's drudgereport.com website featured a clip of what turned out to be a months-old interview in which Massachusetts Senator John Kerry also endorsed it. Aides to Mr. Kerry and Mr. Durbin said neither senator is sponsoring legislation. An aide to Ms. Feinstein said she has directed staff to look at the possible changes to the communications law "to ensure there is a degree of fairness" but that she has no active proposal.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, chairman of one of the energy committee's panels, have talked of holding hearings.
During the debate, conservatives called the fairness doctrine outmoded.
"As kids say, this doctrine is so 20th century," said Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.
"If the fairness doctrine is put back in place, you will silence the public," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore, who owns a radio station.
'Attack on free speech'
Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., called any plan to reintroduce it, "a bald-faced attack on free speech. Proponents don't like what they hear on the radio. The content of radio and television shows should be directed by station managers, not the government," he said.
Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., said Republican conservatives on the air acknowledge what they stand for. "The difference is that Rush Limbaugh knows and admits he is a conservative. Dan Rather and Katie Couric don't admit they are liberals," he said.