Much has been made of the role of President Donald Trump and other radical politicians on the right in the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Any instigation committed by these political leaders, we believe, should be investigated.
But simply focusing on the actions of politicians is ignoring the root cause. It’s like trying to fix a water leak in your ceiling by plastering over the crack.
Until you address the roof leak, water will still pour into your home.
The radical politicians are a manifestation of a bigger problem that has plagued this country now for decades.
Before the internet, there was a time when the dominant media, television and radio, did not offer nonstop 24/7 one-sided political views. Simply put, the constant airing of radical dogma — complete with false information and manufactured facts — basically didn’t exist. And we were all the better for it.
Two things happened in the country that were major contributors to our current situation. First was the removal of the Fairness Doctrine.
Created in 1949 by the Federal Communications Commission, the Fairness Doctrine required holders of broadcast licenses to present controversial topics of public importance and to do so in an honest, equitable and balanced manner. The rule required contrasting viewpoints be presented in the process. Anyone watching television news programming when the doctrine was in place probably remembers seeing a person speaking on a controversial topic only to be followed by another individual giving an opposing viewpoint. And it was done, shockingly enough, in a dignified manner.
However, in 1987, after legal challenges, the FCC was no longer mandated to enforce the measure and subsequently revoked the Fairness Doctrine.
Within weeks, the impact was felt. One of the first partisans to arrive on the scene was conservative Rush Limbaugh, whose nationally syndicated talk radio show began airing the following year. In the subsequent years, Limbaugh’s arrival was followed by others, including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Tucker Carlson and Ann Coulter.
The second big occurrence was the arrival of the internet in the early 1990s. Internet podcasts and live streaming added dozens more far right and left wing programming along with conspiracy theories from outsized personalities like Alex Jones and Michael Savage.
The Fox News Channel also launched in 1996 with its conservative programming. Hannity and Carlson landed regular slots on the Fox evening lineup.
Liberal media personalities such as Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Rachel Maddow, Don Lemon and Maureen Dowd battled back with left-leaning programming.
Over the years, the results began to show. People who leaned toward a certain viewpoint could tune into programming that reenforced their views 24/7. Where before they were isolated, they could also find support from other like-minded people on the internet, further hardening their views.
Today, the business of one-sided political programming has become a billion dollar industry, while the content is more outrageous and more venomous.
We feel the time has arrived for a review of these toxic root causes. Maybe it’s time to set back the clock on fairness. Should intelligent and fair-minded people step in to place guidelines on radical media programming? We feel the time has arrived to reconsider at least some form of the Fairness Doctrine.
Yes, any effort to cool the rhetoric will be fought tooth and nail by those profiting by the division they sow. But a return to guidelines like the Fairness Doctrine could be a return to a more civil country. It would be difficult but worth the fight.
Politicians could no longer take advantage of a segment of the population that has been whipped into a frenzy by nonstop radical programming with little to no truth at its core.