The mess that is America in 2011. We have an absolutely polarized American electorate. We have a void of leadership that same electorate sent to Washington, D.C. The federal credit rating is diminished. So, how did we get here? How did we move from widespread visions of hope and change in 2008 to equally widespread fear and discontent in 2011? How did "We, the People" become "We, the angry masses"? How did this happen, America?
According to an essay written by Val E. Limburg for the Museum of Broadcast Communications, it's a long, long story, one that begins with President Ronald Reagan and a former policy of the Federal Communications Commission called the "Fairness Doctrine". According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications, the Fairness Doctrine was a policy begun in 1949 meant to ensure that all coverage of controversial issues by broadcasters was fair and balanced since broadcasters were viewed as "public trustees" given the limited number of broadcast frequencies available at the time and the massive number of people who could be reached (and influenced) despite the scarcity of those frequencies. The doctrine wasn't a law, however, although the Supreme Court sanctioned it in 1969 when it ruled in favor of the FCC in the case of Red Lion Broadcasting Co., Inc. v. FCC. Despite its intent, the doctrine upset many who considered it a violation of First Amendment rights of free speech and free press through which the freedom to make stories as balanced or unbalanced as reporters saw fit should be granted to the media. Lacking that freedom to slant coverage, some reporters avoided certain controversial issues simply to avoid the FCC's requirement to find alternate points of view.
The doctrine remained in effect until the 1980s, according to Limburg, at which point two things changed: Ronald Reagan became President and cable television began to spread across the nation. Reagan, a champion of smaller government and federal deregulation, noted that the consideration of broadcasters as "public trustees" due to the scarcity of broadcast resources was rendered moot since the proliferation of cable systems meant that diverse opinions on controversial topics would be readily available to viewers, and Mark Fowler, the new Chairman of the FCC as appointed by President Reagan, publicly vowed to end the doctrine. In 1985, the FCC, still under the control of the Reagan administration, issued its Fairness Report in which it validated earlier concerns about the doctrine's constitutionality and its effect on reducing the press coverage given to controversial topics. In 1987, the case of Meredith Corp. v. FCC saw the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit verify that the Fairness Doctrine was not law, but policy, and as such the FCC did not have to continue to enforce it. The FCC dissolved the doctrine in August of that year.
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