Recognizing the power of radio and the new technology of television, Congress, in 1949 codified equal time when programming concerned public policy. The Fairness Doctrine the second of its kind (the first governed radio programming) was enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandating stations present equal sides of an issue. And that doctrine governed news coverage until killed by the Reagan Administration in 1987.
Televised debates between party candidates gained popularity with the 1960 Presidential campaign between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Though the views spoken varied little, one from another, Kennedy looked a helluva lot better than sweaty Dick Nixon appearing haggard with his famous five o’clock shadow.
Nationally, CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite was called “The most trusted man in America.”
When Cronkite publicly judged Vietnam a losing cause, and that Woodward and Bernstein were on to something with Watergate, the end of the war in Southeast Asia, and of the Nixon Administration followed.
Now that’s real power.
Vice President Spiro Agnew did not mince words concerning television news, and the press in general. “Nattering Nabobs of Negativity,” was the verdict of the later disgraced VP. Now I’m not trying to imply that the Reagan Administration retired the Fairness Doctrine in order to kneecap the “Liberal” media, but then again, maybe they did.
The central problem with losing equal coverage is Americans still assume news coverage is fair. Across countless cable channels, rife with unregulated news sites, viewers never have to hear journalists present opinions contrary to those they already hold.
In turn, mainstream networks are today compelled to cover lightweight bubbleheads like Elise Stefanik, and Marjorie whatshername as serious public figures. And as TV personalities Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz understand, outrage is the point
So this brings us to The Apprentice. Through the magic of producers, writers, and directors a wannabe strongman rose to the highest office in the land. His supporters/viewers bought the business tycoon image hook line and sinker, even with confessed “alternative facts.” The blowhard, himself was gratified, and intoxicated with the television character he contrived.
Now this story would be funny, except that it is deadly serious. On January 6, 2021 a fired-up mob attacked and vandalized the United States Capitol, on the word of this frightened, undisciplined man. Without a blush, the aforementioned wannabe and his political cronies told Americans it wasn’t as it looked. Just an ordinary day of ordinary tourists, a dodge known as “alternative facts.”
Dutifully, partisan networks chimed in verifying that characterization.
Compromised media outlets with their repetitious distractions have numbed us through an endless sliding scale of reality. The Fairness Doctrine forced Americans to measure information with gravity.
Perhaps before 1987 Americans worked harder to make America work.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle.