History of the Fairness Doctrine and Rise of Media Relativism

The intellectual erosion of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, as science sat silently on the sidelines and anti-science rose to rule on both the left and the right, was greatly worsened in August of 1987 when, during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) abolished what was called the "fairness doctrine" in an historic 4-0 vote, severing one of the last ties to a common public foundation of knowledge and its cousin, the carefully researched public record that journalists had worked for sixty years to build.

The doctrine had its roots in the Radio Act of 1927 and had been a formal policy of the FCC since 1949, when television went mainstream. It required those who held licenses to broadcast over the public airwaves to present programs on controversial issues of public importance and to present them in a way that was (in the FCC's view) honest, equitable, and balanced.

After the policy was abolished. Congress recognized that there was as danger here and tried to codify the doctrine into law, but Presiddent Reagan vetoed the legislation. As a result, broadcasters were unburdeneed from the requirement to present balanced news coverage, and the age of yellow journalism was reborn. Chief among the early gainers were z angry and opinionated baby-boomer talk jocks like Rush Limbaugh, who began engaging in political rants that charged up listeners' amygdala with outrage in a sort of pro wrestling of politics, attacking example and perpetrators of the pet peeves of cultural conservatives, driving audience numbers sky-high.

It was as if the National Enquirer and Star magazine had bought up the nation's broadcast media. The problem for science is that the nation lost its common sense of reality. The balanced programming broadcast on public airwaves had long been held as a public standard and the voice of objectivity. What was said on the air was taken to be generally true and impartial. This is why Orson Welles's 1938 radio play about an alien invasion. The War of the Worlds, could cause a nationwide panic.

To better understand what is happening, consider a bit of educational psychology and the cognitive styles of field-dependent and field-independent personalities. Field-dependent personalities are more socially oriented than others and require externally defined goals and reinforcements.^ Field-independent personalities are more analytical and tend to have self-defined goals and reinforcements. Educators have developed strategies for teaching people with each learning style. Those field-dependent citizens in the population who valued authority and looked to it for guidance needed the protection of the fairness doctrine to give them a perspective on reality. In its absence, many of today's field-dependent people have drifted under the influence of the conservative dominance in the commercial media, creating one of the most divided political climates in American history.

It made sense that this would happen. Field-dependent personalities need more externally supplied goals and structure than field-independent types, and talk radio provided them. By freeing broadcasters from the requirement of fairness and thus the need to ground their messages in established knowledge and fact, the repeal plummeted the country into a partisan public dialogue where one-sided rhetorical arguments backed by outrage and sheer wattage held sway over facts and reason. It was a further undoing of Locke's ideas about knowledge, upon which the country's founding principles are based. By removing objectivity from the debate, it set America up for endless arguments between warring pundits.

Proponents of the repeal, who have since opposed congressional attempts at correction, argued that market forces will unleash freedom and competition in the marketplace of ideas that will stimulate more broadly ranging and higher-quality discussion, but in fact just the opposite has occurred, with discussion becoming less diverse and more polarized. Without a common "objective" standard of knowledge, listeners turn into opinion "dittoheads," as Limbaugh's followers happily describe themselves. Diversity of thought has been quashed in favor of an uncritical, authoritarian, and vehemently partisan groupthink, a new conservative identity politics directing an "In your face!" response to the feminist studies, African studies, diversity studies, and science studies identity politics of the postmodern era. The talk jocks act as chorus masters, conducting the audience members' political opinions in us-versus-them sports narratives that maximize audience share and direct the anger and political contributions of millions without any accountability to the facts.


Hollywood producers will immediately tell you why this idea could never have worked: There is no marketplace of ideas; it's a marketplace of emotions. Given the choice, the majority of people want drama, sex. violence, and comedy, the four horsemen of entertainment. These four elements have driven plays, paintings, and stories for all of history. But they are not news. They are "but faith, or opinion, but not knowledge.' News is knowledge.


Once the Doctrine was removed, the media turned to emotive appeals to bring in audiences and public discourse declined.

Folksonomies: media journalism public discourse

/news (0.413312)
/art and entertainment/radio/talk radio (0.324748)
/art and entertainment/radio (0.322846)

fairness doctrine (0.951362 (positive:0.416912)), common public foundation (0.851505 (neutral:0.000000)), public airwaves (0.844599 (positive:0.341582)), Federal Communications Commission (0.826757 (neutral:0.000000)), baby-boomer talk jocks (0.825412 (negative:-0.756237)), historic 4-0 vote (0.822142 (neutral:0.000000)), partisan public dialogue (0.816323 (negative:-0.577476)), President Ronald Reagan (0.816268 (neutral:0.000000)), field-independent personalities (0.815342 (positive:0.420304)), Field-dependent personalities (0.812326 (positive:0.497160)), externally defined goals (0.808017 (positive:0.497160)), externally supplied goals (0.803216 (neutral:0.000000)), one-sided rhetorical arguments (0.792628 (negative:-0.577476)), science studies identity (0.790401 (neutral:0.000000)), conservative identity politics (0.781008 (neutral:0.000000)), us-versus-them sports narratives (0.780487 (positive:0.335091)), public record (0.745705 (neutral:0.000000)), public discourse (0.744727 (negative:-0.256240)), public importance (0.737324 (neutral:0.000000)), Media Relativism (0.734652 (negative:-0.291824)), public standard (0.730781 (positive:0.341582)), Radio Act (0.724441 (neutral:0.000000)), present programs (0.723815 (neutral:0.000000)), broadcast media (0.719426 (negative:-0.219965)), intellectual erosion (0.719050 (neutral:0.000000)), early gainers (0.718485 (negative:-0.756237)), controversial issues (0.717492 (neutral:0.000000)), formal policy (0.716107 (neutral:0.000000)), self-defined goals (0.716053 (positive:0.497160)), Presiddent Reagan (0.715900 (negative:-0.687034))

Federal Communications Commission:Organization (0.772812 (neutral:0.000000)), President Ronald Reagan:Person (0.671795 (negative:-0.687034)), Rush Limbaugh:Person (0.640994 (negative:-0.158711)), Orson Welles:Person (0.492325 (negative:-0.435593)), Congress:Organization (0.472643 (negative:-0.620234)), broadcast media:FieldTerminology (0.463985 (negative:-0.219965)), National Enquirer:PrintMedia (0.455309 (negative:-0.219965)), alien invasion:FieldTerminology (0.424191 (negative:-0.435593)), America:Continent (0.421162 (negative:-0.389394)), Locke:Person (0.418722 (negative:-0.416498)), Hollywood:City (0.414340 (negative:-0.464689)), Star magazine:PrintMedia (0.405937 (negative:-0.219965)), sixty years:Quantity (0.405937 (neutral:0.000000))

Federal Communications Commission (0.983265): website | dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
Fairness Doctrine (0.719802): dbpedia | freebase
Ronald Reagan (0.663055): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
Network neutrality (0.639958): dbpedia | freebase
Broadcasting (0.635744): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Mark S. Fowler (0.586552): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Rush Limbaugh (0.582005): website | dbpedia | freebase | yago
The Rush Limbaugh Show (0.522842): website | dbpedia | freebase | yago

 Fool Me Twice
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Otto , Shawn Lawrence (2011-10-11), Fool Me Twice, Rodale Press, Retrieved on 2013-01-08
  • Source Material [books.google.com]
  • Folksonomies: politics science