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Editorial: Cramer should back off 'media bias' case

Does "Make America Great Again" mean bringing back the Fairness Doctrine, which for decades required broadcasters to present both sides of hot issues?

North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer says no. But his actions speak louder than his words, because Cramer's using his position in Congress to scold broadcast networks for their alleged bias and to pressure them into reporting in a more balanced way.

Cramer should stop tilting at this windmill. He happens to be making his case about bias from the right. But it isn't any stronger than it was when liberals made it, which they've done pretty continuously since the Fairness Doctrine was revoked in 1987.

Cramer should think about the company he's keeping. After all, talk radio—a medium Cramer is heard on regularly in North Dakota—uses the limited "broadcast spectrum" just like the TV networks do. Yet most of talk radio is openly conservative, which is exactly why Democrats have been the ones who've complained most often about bias.

Asked in 2008 whether she'd like to revive the Fairness Doctrine to require more balance, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said "Yes." Asked whether she'd support a proposed bill to outlaw the doctrine, Pelosi said, "No."

(The Republican sponsor of that 2008 bill, by the way? None other than Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., today America's vice-president elect.)

Clearly, Pelosi's complaining was 100 percent partisan. She was upset because the broadcasters weren't favoring her side.

The griping was petty and small-minded then, and it remains petty and small-minded when Cramer does it today. Far better in both cases to heed these words: "History has shown that the dangers of an overly timid or biased press cannot be averted through bureaucratic regulation, but only through the freedom and competition that the First Amendment sought to guarantee."

That was President Ronald Reagan, telling Congress why he'd vetoed legislation that would have enshrined the Fairness Doctrine in law.

Here's another quote, this one from Mark Fowler, the Reagan-era Federal Communications Commission chairman who helped shut the Fairness Doctrine down:

"The electronic press—the press that uses air and electrons—must be as free as the press that uses paper and ink. There are no policy reasons to regulate the content of the electronic media, only excuses."

That's the robust and freedom-friendly spirit that should animate Cramer.

The Fairness Doctrine's now where it belongs, in the graveyard of bad policy ideas. Again, Cramer says he's OK with that: "To be clear, I do not support a return to the Fairness Doctrine," he wrote in November.

But he wrote those words in a letter to the broadcast networks, and in the preceding paragraph, he'd threatened those networks with holding hearings on their alleged bias.

Since then, the talk of hearings has devolved into talk of a questionnaire. But it's still Big Government trying to suppress views with which it disagrees, and in America, that's never a good thing.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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