Many years ago, the Supreme Court made it a crime to falsely yell “fire” in a crowded room. It was deemed to be a threat to public safety and, therefore, not covered under the First Amendment protection of free speech.
At the time (1919), the Supreme Court decision could not have foreseen an even greater threat that would be amplified by electronic media.
Since the end of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine in 1987, thousands of media outlets and dozens of radio and TV hosts have routinely committed equivalent acts by creating fear of our own government and of each other. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and many other conservative hosts routinely cause panic over a variety of falsehoods such as proposed regulations against gun violence, tax fairness, voter fraud, the Black Panther(s), Fast & Furious, Solyndra…even the national deficit and debt.
The paranoia they foment has made millions of Americans suspicious of our president, federal agencies, law enforcement…even each other. Their evil rhetoric has led to massive increases in right wing militias, racist groups, gun collectors and doomsday preppers.
What punishment do these nitwits face for creating such panic? None.
Instead, they are rewarded with higher ratings and higher incomes. Their ratings bring in more advertisements for gold, silver and guns. They have become the defacto leaders of the Teapublican Party, having helped drive away most of the Republican moderates. And officials who are elected as the result of their media-driven fear carry their fear-mongering messages into state legislatures and Congress.
As long as they continue to have unfettered access to their electronic megaphones, there will be more political anger, more deadlocks in government, more fear and bickering, more stockpiling of guns, more mass shootings and more unnecessary wars. Of course, we can’t censor what these people say. But we can demand that they stop yelling “fire” and begin to act in the public interest.
It’s time to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. Tell your Senators and Representatives that you would like to see a return of civility, honesty and trust in our media. We can afford nothing less!