Can we stop talking about the Fairness Doctrine now?

The right's been hyperventilating about the nonexistent threat of its return. The administration now says it opposes the idea, so will conservatives move on?

By Alex Koppelman

Published February 18, 2009 8:20PM (EST)

For months now, the right has been in a frenzy over the supposedly imminent return of the Fairness Doctrine, an old FCC regulation that mandated equal time for opposing viewpoints on  public airwaves. Recent statements by a handful of Democrats who said they support the idea of reinstituting the rule, or something like it, have only fueled conservatives' fear that liberals are planning to censor talk radio and the Internet.

Of course, as I've pointed out before, the chance the doctrine will actually make a comeback is right around nil, as it has been since the first time this became an issue, back in the Clinton administration. Certainly the legislative branch is decidedly unlikely to do anything -- when I asked him about it in 2007, Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told me, "To be honest, I barely even know what it is." (A quote Manley gave to the conservative Washington Times earlier this year was even better; he told the paper, "We have enough real problems facing this country that we don't need to invent ones that don't exist.")

So lately conservatives have been focusing on President Obama and the FCC as the instrument through which the Fairness Doctrine will make its inevitable comeback -- never mind that it didn't happen during former President Bill Clinton's eight years in office. But on Wednesday, a spokesman for Obama made clear that the administration has no such plans, telling, "As the president stated during the campaign, he does not believe the Fairness Doctrine should be reinstated."

Another sentence of Fox's story shows just how silly this whole thing is: "The statement is the first definitive stance the administration has taken since an aide told an industry publication last summer that Obama opposes the doctrine." That's right -- it's the first time we've been told about Obama's opposition to the Fairness Doctrine since the last time we were told about it.

Unfortunately, the latest news is unlikely to put an end to all this manufactured outrage. At Red State, Moe Lane has already written about his doubts regarding the statement. Separately, Dan Riehl  titled a post on the subject "Sorry, I'm Not Buying Obama's Fairness Doctrine Stance." Hot Air's Ed Morrissey was similarly skeptical.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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