In The Public Interest?

In 1934, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was given the power to license wire and broadcast communications, demanding that licensees prove they operate “in the public interest.” Not long afterward, the FCC implemented The Fairness Doctrine, which required licensees to present issues of public importance and do so in a manner that was deemed “honest, equitable and balanced.”

Unfortunately, the Fairness Doctrine was eliminated in 1987, following years of attacks by the political right beginning with Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. Since then, our media has failed on almost every level…except for generating massive amounts of money.

It’s no coincidence that, following the end of the Fairness Doctrine, broadcast stations and networks have been swallowed up by large media conglomerates.  To maximize profits, the new owners diminished long-established news-gathering organizations, such as the once-proud CBS News which was home to legendary newsmen like Edward R. Murrow, Douglas Edwards, Walter Cronkite, Eric Severeid, and far too many others to mention.

At the same time, radio was hijacked by blathering, angry wingnuts such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.  And the newspaper industry has been virtually replaced by on-line “news” sites that provide a few headlines with little depth or context.

The result of all this is that we no longer have in-depth reporting, especially with regard to politics.  TV networks are filled with “human interest” and are almost devoid of “public interest.”  The most popular cable news network is little more than a megaphone for Teapublican talking points.  Radio is filled with conservative lies.  And newspapers have redirected their efforts toward local news gathering.

(Ironically, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones and Vanity Fair, which were once special interest magazines, are now doing more in-depth investigative reporting on national and international issues than nearly all of the so-called “news” media combined.)

It is precisely this news void that has allowed the Republican Party, the Tea Party and its unscrupulous candidates, such as George W. Bush, Richard “The Dick” Cheney, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to become serial liars. And we’re all paying a price for it through tax cuts for billionaires and tax subsidies for large corporations, resulting in enormous deficits and endless wars of choice.

What can you do about it?

For one thing, you can ask your Congressional Representative and Senators to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. You can demand your state universities teach students that journalism is more than mere reporting; it’s a never-ending search for the truth. You can call out candidates whenever you hear them lie. And you can support the few media left that actually practice real journalism.