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THE REPUBLICAN NOISE MACHINE:  Right-Wing Media and How it Corrupts Democracy

David Brock

Crown Publishers, New York, 2004


A fundamental change in law (repeal of Fairness Doctrine) under the Reagan Administration has permitted the conservatives, who through ownership dominate the media, to use it to set the table of general opinion far further to the right.  This section of his book goes into the history of how that was accomplished; and why now, after they have packed the courts, this shift is here to stay--jk.


Picking up where Nixon left off, Ronald Reagan took office determined to further deregulate the communications industry. The Reaganites viewed the broadcast media not as a public trust that was obligated to operate in the public interest by providing a free flow of ideas from a variety of sources, but as any other commercial business—a position at odds with fifty years of federal policy, court decisions, and journalistic traditions. The Reagan era saw a number of media companies absorbed into larger con­glomerates, increasing pressures for profits and relaxed standards.

As broadcast properties were swallowed up, by the late 1980s there was a discernible impact on content, favoring, for example, the kind of profitable right-wing trash talk offered by Morton Downey. "Deregulation has brought in a new breed of broadcaster to whom public service matters less. They're willing to close their eyes and say 'Go ahead and put it on.' This creates pres­sure for broadcasters who know better and say privately they hate this land of programming but have to do it to compete," Andrew Jay Schwartzman of the Media Access Project told the Washington Post in 1988.

The Federal Communications Commission is a government agency established in 1934 to regulate the public airwaves to maximize "the public interest and to encourage a diversity of voices so as to promote a vibrant democracy." To chair the agency, Reagan appointed Mark S. Fowler, a com­munications lawyer who had served on the Reagan campaign staffs in 1976 and 1980. "The perception of broadcasters as community trustees should be replaced by a view of broadcasters as marketplace participants," Fowler said. Fowler famously compared the TV broadcast media to a "toaster with pictures." And he declared his contempt for public affairs journalism as "Dudley Do-Good" programming.

Earlier, Fowler had been an announcer, disc jockey, and station man­ager in Florida and West Virginia, where he had been irritated by federal regulations, known as the Fairness Doctrine, to provide balanced program­ming. The regulations, adopted by the FCC in 1949, were written to ensure that licensed broadcasters provided ample opportunity for contrasting points of view. Their premise was that scarce broadcast licenses—unlike readily available printing presses—made it incumbent on broadcasters to air all sides of controversial issues, a standard that they had to meet contin­ually to win license renewals.

Fathers Coughlins right-wing tirades appear to have provided some impetus for the fairness rules.4 The Kennedy administration used the Fairness Doctrine to challenge the imbalanced presentations of right-wing radio broadcasters. And throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Fairness Doctrine was invoked by, among others, parties seeking time to respond to biased broadcasters of the religious Right.

In 1969, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the Fairness Doctrine, ruling for an author, Frederick J. Cook, who had been attacked on a Christian Crusade broadcast aired on a radio station in Pennsylvania. When Cook requested time to reply under the Fairness Doctrine, the station refused. The court ruled that the station failed to meet its obligations under the FCC rules and wrote a sweeping opinion holding that under the First Amendment, citizens had the right to a full and free exchange of ideas, including opposing views, on the public airwaves:


But the people as a whole retain their interest in free speech by radio and their collective right to have the medium function con­sistently with the ends and purposes of the First Amendment. It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of broadcasters, which is paramount.5


Mark Fowler disagreed. On the air, he had been known as "Madman Mark." At the FCC, he would be called "the Mad Monk of de-regulation."6 Assuming the reins of the commission, he set about "pruning, chopping, slashing, eliminating, burying and deep-sixing" fifty years of regulations that guarded against monopolistic practices and excessive commercialism and protected the public interest standard. Rupert Murdoch, who would win favorable regulatory rulings from the Reagan FCC allowing him to expand his media empire, called Fowler "one of the great pioneers of the commu­nications revolution" and "perhaps the most successful of any Reagan appointee."7 (A decade later, under new leadership, the FCC concluded that Murdoch had misled the Reagan-controlled agency when giving assur­ances that News Corp. was not foreign-owned and -controlled.)

Among other changes, Fowler aimed to gut the Fairness Doctrine, opening the public airwaves to "rigidly partisan" views, with no safeguards for balance. To act as general counsel of the FCC, Fowler appointed the right-wing lawyer Bruce E. Fein, a creature of the right-wing network's sub­sidized legal arm. Fein held research posts at the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute and was "Supreme Court editor" of a publication called Benchmark, published by the Center for Judicial Studies, which was directed by a former aide to Senator Jesse Helms. As a midlevel official of the Reagan Justice Department, he had been tasked with judicial selection. Though in the Fairness Doctrine debate he would pose as one, Fein was not a friend of the First Amendment or of independent journal­ism. He argued that the landmark Supreme Court case New York Times v Sullivan was "wrong," and he called for congressional investigations into "media inaccuracy, bias, and misreporting."

As the architect of the Reagan assault on the Fairness Doctrine, Fein argued that the advent of cable, and the explosion in the number of radio stations licensed by the government to broadcast since the late 1940s, ren­dered moot the fear that a handful of broadcasters could dominate the air­waves with a few points of view or censor opinions they didn't favor. In fact, he said, the Fairness Doctrine was inhibiting a diversity of views in the media and thus might be unconstitutional. Fein claimed that the federal regulation had made the airing of "controversial programming" prohibi­tively expensive for broadcasters, because they had to spend money airing the other side of controversies. The result was an "undisputatious and unedifying" media landscape, as Fein described it.

For Fowler and Fein, revoking the Fairness Doctrine was another way of "expanding the spectrum" rightward, along the lines originally suggested by Edith Efron, who had argued that openly biased right-wing broadcast­ers should be allowed to compete with the slanted "liberal" TV networks without Fairness Doctrine constraints requiring them to air competing per­spectives. Yet Efron s analysis of the networks was wrong. There were no partisan liberal broadcasters to compete with partisan right-wing broad­casters. Despite what he said, Rush Limbaugh was not "equal time" for Dan Rather; they were not in the same business. Only Limbaugh would benefit from the license to be unfair.

The right wing was split on the question of repealing the Fairness Doctrine; among others, Reed Irvine and Phyllis Schlafly, who had used the regulation as a way to insert their ideology into the media over the years, supported its retention. But the big guns on the Right backed repeal.  NCPAC’S Terry Dolan, who had launched and funded an attack on the "lib­eral media," was a key supporter, as was the Heritage Foundation. Richard Mellon Scaife s Landmark Legal Foundation challenged the constitutional­ity of the doctrine in the courts.

A new front group was established specifically to attack the Fairness Doctrine. The misnamed Freedom of Expression Foundation, which received money from the communications, tobacco, and beer industries, and from the Olin Foundation and Rupert Murdoch, was headed by Craig Smith, a former official of the National Republican Senatorial Committee who would serve on the Bush transition team in 1988. The foundation s pur­pose, Smith said, was to "coordinate the repeal effort using non-public funds . . . which could provide lobbyists, editorialists, and other opinion leaders with needed arguments and evidence."8

In 1986, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which had been packed by Reagan with right-wing ideologues, upheld a loose interpretation by the Reagan FCC of an aspect of the Fairness Doctrine ruling that Congress had never made the doctrine a binding requirement, despite statutory language suggesting that it had.9 The vote was 2-1, with Judges Antonin Scalia and Robert Bork in the majority. In 1987, the Reagan FCC, under the chairmanship of Dennis Patrick (a young Reagan aide who took office upon Mark Fowlers departure), used that decision, and a subsequent one from the same court, as an invitation to repeal the doctrine entirely.

The move also was supported by some professional journalists' associa­tions and many political liberals who viewed the Fairness Doctrine as an infringement of the First Amendment rights of broadcasters. They failed to see that the right wing was invoking the First Amendment while seeking to undo it.

"Madman Mark" killed the Fairness Doctrine. Congress promptly restored the doctrine by a wide bipartisan margin, but the legislation was vetoed by President Reagan. Subsequent efforts to revive it were thwarted by veto threats from the first President Bush; again it was kept down dur­ing the Clinton administration by an all-out right-wing media offensive. The Heritage Foundation warned against government bureaucrats interfering with "pugnacious talk show hosts" and Rush Limbaugh campaigned against what the Wall Street Journal editorial page called the "Hush Rush Rule."

Dominance of the radio airwaves by the political Right would not have been permissible under the Fairness Doctrine. With that protection removed in 1987—in an action engineered by right-wing activists, politi­cians, and judges—radio stations were free to program as many hours of one-sided right-wing talk as they wished and to eliminate competing views at will. The newly powerful right-wing hosts were able to say anything—to misrepresent, distort, and lie without challenge or rebuttal.

In 1988, former ABC executive Ed McLaughlin took Rush Limbaughs show national. Unlike the subsidized right-wing media such as the Washington Times and The American Spectator that provided a good deal of his content, Limbaugh had emerged on his own, catching a wave of resentment against the gains of women, ethnic minorities, and gays. He was filling a void not only in an untapped market but also in the conservative movement, following the Reagan presidency. In some ways, he literally filled in for Reagan, who had been on the radio every day for five years in the 1970s reaching millions of listeners per week. "Now that I've retired from politics, I don't mind that you've become the number one voice for conservatism in the country," Reagan wrote Limbaugh.

The difference between Reagan in the mid-1970s and Limbaugh in the late 1980s was that Reagan was one voice among many competing ones, just as Joe Pyne had been in the 1960s. Pyne usually had a liberal on the air with him; with their one-sided messaging, Limbaugh and his progeny would cor­ner the market in radio, which now had government permission to become a purely commercial enterprise like the entertainment or pornography industries.





Among other things, the end of the Fairness Doctrine meant that stations could reflect the political perspectives of their owners. Alongside efforts to eliminate the fairness requirements, the Republicans were working to make it easier for a handful of corporate owners to dictate content. Beginning in the Reagan administration and continuing through the administration of George W. Bush, waves of Republican-backed deregulation undid govern­ment protections against ownership consolidation and concentration. As fewer owners chased the same audiences, the right wing tightened its grip on the broadcast media, and other views were shut out.

The political effects of deregulation were felt most keenly in radio. For fifty years, government limits on radio ownership were designed to encour­age local and diverse programming. Regulation made radio a very compet­itive industry and kept many small owners viable. Under long-standing rules, a company could own no more than twenty-four stations nationwide and only two in the same local market. In 1996, these ownership caps were lifted by the Gingrich-controlled Congress, creating in effect a government-sanctioned oligopoly that all but ended competition and diversity of views on the radio airwaves, that sabotaged First Amendment principles, and that threatened democracy.

Today, three companies own half of the radio stations in the United States. By remaining true to no higher principle than milking the highest profits possible from the right-wing market niche, station owners saw to it that virtually every talk show personality who gained a foothold in national syndication in Limbaugh s shadow was a Far Right conservative, while lib­erals were effectively shut out of what would become an ideologically uni­form medium more like that of a totalitarian society than of a democracy.

Radio is ruled by niche markets, and Limbaugh was the first to develop a profitable niche just as talk was emerging as the fastest-growing format in the country—the savior of AM radio. In 1981, there were 82 all-talk sta­tions. By 1995, there were 1,308. By and large, radio station programmers were opportunistic followers, not innovators. Programmers were loath to challenge what was buoying the ratings. Station profits are built on loyal audiences with particular tastes—be it country music or conservative talk— that advertisers want to reach. Just as country music fans do not want jazz interrupting the programming on their station, right-wing listeners expect wall-to-wall right-wing opinion whenever they tune in, and they balk when they don't get it.

The right wing and its financial backers had gotten to market first and locked up the entire day's programming on desirable high-powered stations around the country. Because radio's electromagnetic spectrum is finite, there was less room to establish powerful liberal talk stations or networks even if there had been the financing to do so. While conservatives like Sean Hannity could be "discovered" by doing practice runs while substituting for Limbaugh, liberals had no viable launching pads. The few brand-name lib­erals who were given an opportunity in radio (such as former New York gov­ernor Mario M. Cuomo) were not seasoned broadcasters; they were typically sandwiched between right-wing hosts on right-wing stations and, predictably, failed to find wide audiences. Then, too, fundamentally, talk radio is an antimedia medium, and liberal constituencies were not organ-!zed around charges of media bias in the way the right wing was.

Radio is also a populist medium. Right-wingers of the Limbaugh variety become faux populists with their cultural appeals, while remaining supportive of the agenda of economic elites. Former Texas railroad commis­sioner and best-selling author Jim Hightower is a left-wing economic pop­ulist who sees politics on an "up-down" rather than a "left-right" continuum. Hightower's well-rated ABC radio show was canceled after he criticized ABC's parent company, Disney, and station sponsors began to complain about his ideological slant. Hightower's experience suggested that while there may be a radio market for left-oriented populism that exposes the nexus of money and politics, highlights corporate abuses, and advocates economic equality, radio s corporate owners and advertisers may be reluc­tant to support it.10

The ending of the Fairness Doctrine under resulted in the vast majority of content of the media being slanted to the right.  Below is an article which describes this shift.  For a detailed account of what happened David Brock’s book is the best--jk.


From Wikipedia Encyclopedia at

Fairness Doctrine


The Fairness Doctrine is a former policy of the United States's Federal Communications Commission. It required broadcast licensees to present controversial issues of public importance, and to present such issues in an honest, equal and balanced manner.

In Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC [1] (1969), the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Fairness Doctrine, under challenges that it violated the First Amendment. Although similar laws had been deemed unconstitutional when applied to newspapers (and the court, five years later, would unanimously overturn a Florida statute on newspapers), the Court ruled that radio stations could be regulated in this way because of the scarcity of radio stations. Critics of the Red Lion decision have pointed out that most markets then and now are served by a greater number of radio stations than newspapers.

Critics of the Fairness Doctrine believed that it was primarily used to intimidate and silence political opposition. Although the Doctrine was rarely enforced, many radio broadcasters believed it had a "chilling effect" on their broadcasting, forcing them to avoid any commentary that could be deemed critical or unfair by powerful interests.

The Doctrine was enforced throughout the entire history of the FCC (and its precursor, the Federal Radio Commission) until 1987, when the FCC repealed it in the Syracuse Peace Conference decision in 1987. The Republican-controlled commission claimed the doctrine had grown to inhibit rather than enhance debate and suggested that, due to the many media voices in the marketplace at the time, the doctrine was probably unconstitutional. Others, noting the subsequent rise of right-wing radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, suggest the repeal was more likely motivated by a desire to get partisans on the air.

The two corollary rules, the personal attack rule and the political editorial rule, remained in practice even after the repeal of the fairness doctrine. The personal attack rule is pertinent whenever a person or small group is subject to a character attack during a broadcast. Stations must notify such persons or groups within a week of the attack, send them transcripts of what was said, and offer the opportunity to respond on the air. The political editorial rule applies when a station broadcasts editorials endorsing or opposing candidates for public office, and stipulates that the candidates not endorsed be notified and allowed a reasonable opportunity to respond.

The Court of Appeals for Washington D.C. ordered the FCC to justify these corollary rules in light of the decision to axe the fairness doctrine. The commission did not do so promptly, and in 2000 it ordered their repeal. The collapse of the fairness doctrine and its corollary rules had significant political effects. One liberal Pennsylvania political leader, State Rep. Mark B. Cohen of Philadelphia, said "The fairness doctrine helped reinforce a politics of moderation and inclusiveness. The collapse of the fairness doctrine and its corollary rules blurred the distinctions between news, political advocacy, and political advertising, and helped lead to the polarizing cacophony of strident talking heads that we have today."

Conservatives, in contrast, see attempts to revive the Doctrine as an attempt to silence conservative voices, noting that sectors of the media they believe to have a liberal bias (major newspapers, newsmagazines, evening newscasts of the broadcast networks) would not be touched by the Doctrine.  {It is not that the Conservative talking heads believe in liberal bias, rather they claim such bias as part of their talking points—used to sway opinion and promote their own programming—jk}. 

Books such as Brook’s and several carefully constructed studies show the Conservative position to be without merit.  The very logistic of the situation—confirmed by experience and numerous paradigms—confirm these studies.  Simply put, the vast majority of those who own significant chunks of the media are political conservatives, and their political and social beliefs determine the imbalance of content--jk









PBS Run by Neocons


Patricia Destacy Harrison is president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in the United States, a position to which she was appointed with strong backing from CPB chairman Kenneth Tomlinson. Her candidacy arose in the midst of criticism from American conservatives that the CPB and public broadcasters, CPB indirectly funds, namely NPR and PBS, exhibit a "liberal bias" that excludes conservative viewpoints and participation.  In June 2005 she was appointed as President and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


She was elected Co-Chair of the Republican National Committee in 1997, serving until 2001 when she was appointed to the post of Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell.


Kenneth Y. Tomlinson (born August 3, 1944) is an American government official. He was the former chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which manages Voice of America radio. He served there from 1986 until 1994, when the BIB was dissolved by the International Broadcasting Act of 1994, and replaced by  Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).  Tomlinson became a close friend of Karl Rove while they served together on the BIB.  According to The New York Times, there is an ongoing inquiry concerning possible criminal misuse of federal money by Tomlinson.  Investigators at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting said on 15 November 2005 "that they had uncovered evidence that its former chairman had repeatedly broken federal law and the organization's own regulations in a campaign to combat what he saw as liberal bias."   According to the New York Times, State Department investigators determined in 2006 that he had "used his office to run a 'horse racing operation'," that he "improperly put a friend on the payroll," that he "repeatedly used government employees to perform personal errands," and that he "billed the government for more days of work than the rules permit."

He is a former board member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, appointd chairman of CPB by George W. Bush and served as chairman from September 2003 to September 2005. During his time as chairman, he pursued aggressive policies of adding conservative viewpoint to CPB's programming. An internal investigation into his acts as chairman led to his resignation in November 2005.