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Censorship again: TV shows up for scrutiny

February 7, 2014

Lee Goodman, chair of the Federal Election Commission, wrote in the Feb. 5 Wall Street Journal that once again the commission is considering censoring television shows. He thinks this is a very bad idea.

The shows in question are the Sunday morning panels that discuss current politics. Some of his fellow commissioners believe that the choice of persons to be interviewed is producing slanted news. Duh? If you invite people who are in the public eye, won’t you get folks with opinions?

All that is surprising here is that most of these talk shows have liberal hosts. Not so long ago the hunt was for conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, whose retort was essentially, “Politics, hell! I’m an entertainer.” By implication, if liberals had anything interesting to say, they would have big audiences, too.

From 1949 to 1987 we had the Fairness Doctrine that required broadcasters to put on programs of public interest, with all parties fairly represented. The penalty was to lose their licenses. I remember those years well — wall to wall music, sports, and weather. Nobody wanted to stick a neck out, and those in power were happy to have nobody complaining.

When the web was first made available to Monmouth College students about fifteen years ago this was greeted by anguished cries, “How can we keep our students from reading the wrong stuff?” Picking the books for the library, the textbooks and handouts, then giving all the lectures, wasn’t enough — there had to be a total monopoly on what students heard. My own opinion was that we can’t follow our students around after graduation and tell them what to read — we have to teach them how to determine what is good and why, and encourage them to read widely and intelligently, then make good decisions. Of course, people who read widely sometimes change their minds. Making students from small towns into global citizens is good; making them into Republicans is bad.

If I am right, this whole censorship business is a bad idea. Moreover, I doubt that these commissioners are the ones I want to judge whether I am allowed to listen to diverse viewpoints or even which ones.

There are many Democrats who want the Fairness Doctrine back. That is, they want a monopoly on opinions. First and foremost of these Democrats is Barack Obama. Listen to him read “The Audacity of Hope” himself. You can hear his disdain for those he dislikes better than by reading the words on the page. He appoints to office and commissions people who think like him. Nothing unusual in this except the depth of their convictions and their determination to get their policies through before the next election.

william Urban

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