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Rep. Slaughter: Censorship or Fairness?

         WASHINGTON - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told political journalists on Wednesday that Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport, was one of the political powers in the House that wants to restore the so-called "Fairness Doctrine" to broadcast news and discussion.

     Slaughter, the chair of the powerful House Rules Committee, has been active in the attempt to revive the doctrine "for a while now," Pelosi told reporters at a breakfast.

     Republicans view attempts to pass a law embodying this doctrine as an attempt to silence, censor, conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, to name a few. Pelosi said there is growing interest among her Democratic majority to pass such a law.

     A product of the New Deal, the Fairness Doctrine required broadcasters to faithfully report both sides of all important issues, or risk fines, and possible loss of license. To stay out of trouble, most just stations stayed close to the middle.

     The Federal Communications Commission, which issues and monitors all radio and TV licensees, declared the rule unconstitutional in 1987, and President Reagan, who named the FCC commissioners, vetoed a Democratic bill to restore the rule.

     Pushed by Limbaugh & Co., Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., got a bill through the Democratic-controlled House that would prohibit reestablishment of the rule. It died in the Senate. Pence, a former broadcaster, moved to pass a one-year moratorium on revival of the doctrine. Blocked by Speaker Pelosi, Pence then filed what is called a motion to discharge that would force a floor vote on the moratorium.

     It needs 218 signatures, but so far only 196 have signed. The number includes Reps. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, and John R. "Randy" Kuhl Jr, R-Hammondsport. But unlike the bill that Pence got approved last year, the discharge petition has no Democratic support. Pence charged Thursday that Pelosi is personally blocking the legislation. Pelosi said Wednesday there would be no floor vote on Pence's moratorium.

     One leading Democrat who is not supporting the fairness doctrine is Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, the probable Democratic presidential nominee. He calls the dispute "a distraction."

     Slaughter had no immediate comment on Pelosi's remarks about her, but in a 2004 interview on PBS with Bill Moyers, Slaughter said that in the 1980s even then Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., supported the fairness doctrine. (Helms is 86 and living in North Carolina.  My original post mistakenly referred to him as deceased.) 

     Slaughter told Moyers "when we tried to reinstate [the fairness doctrine] again in '93, one of the reasons we couldn't was that Rush Limbaugh had organized this massive uprising against it, calling it "The Hush Rush Law." Which again said that while Rush can speak and anybody that he wants to can speak on those stations, the rest of us can't. But he aroused his listeners so that they contacted their members of Congress and killed the bill, and that's not the first time we've seen that."

     In the wake of Pelosi's comments , Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who opposes the fairness doctrine, said its revival would be "nothing less than a sweeping takeover by Washington bureaucrats of broadcast media, and it is designed to squelch conservative speech on the airwaves."

     President Bush has threatened to veto the bill, and even it passed the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., is unlikely to uphold such a law that brushes up against the free speech amendment to the Constitution.

     But it is strong ideological meat for the presidential and House and Senate elections. What do you think of the fairness doctrine? Is it fair or is it censorship?

---Douglas Turner    


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Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

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Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

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