Most of you kids are too young to remember the Fairness Doctrine. In fact, you can count among the kids me, and last month I turned 42.
The Fairness Doctrine required that broadcasters provide equal time for opposing viewpoints. It was intended to make sure that everyone had their say.
It was based on an idea that today is sadly old fashioned. The airwaves weren’t owned. They were used. Companies that used them had a responsibility to the public interest.
When political activism broadcasting became big, the Fairness Doctrine became a hassle, so they did away with it. It was driven in part by the fact that Rush Limbaugh wanted to bloviate daily without fear that if he went astray of the facts – which he frequently does – that someone was entitled to call him out. Nowadays, he’s free to attack members of the public using their own property as a conduit without fear that they might want to defend themselves.
It was more than the liberation of rightwing talk radio from facts and decency. It was part of an ongoing campaign to privatize the airwaves that today have had far-reaching and awful consequences. I’m speaking particularly about this year’s election, and about one campaign in particular.
I’m talking about is Proposal 6, the question being sold to you primarily as “Let the people decide.” It’s a great tool for selling snake oil to unsuspecting rubes.
What you should know is that there is nothing about Proposal 6 that is about “the people.” It’s about one man’s business monopoly and a second bridge to Canada. That bridge is going to be built anyway, and at issue is whether it’ll be built in Detroit or in Buffalo. The answer will determine who benefits from the expected increase in international commerce.
Manual “Matty” Maroun wants the answer to be something other than a second bridge that is owned by the public. That’s because he owns the existing bridge, the aging and crumbling Ambassador Bridge, and a second span will cut into his business.
For years, he blocked it through hired goons who draw a paycheck as state senators. One of them was Alan Cropsey, who represented Isabella County for years and once famously said that the Canadians should shut up. This last summer, the governor – who by all appearances gets bored easily with political games – simply signed a deal with the Canadians on the ground that as long as Michigan didn’t have to appropriate any money for it, he could dodge Maroun’s henchmen in the Legislature. Proposal 6 is a reflection that with the Legislature short circuited and the courts increasingly fed up with him, Maroun’s options were quickly dwindling.
The problem is that a campaign intended to benefit one person to the detriment of the entire state is a born loser. So, they came up with this phony baloney stuff about letting the people decide and that a second span would leave Michigan deeply in debt and force the layoffs of teachers and cops. If it passes, they’ll be able to thank a dedicated campaign of Tee Vee commercials.
There’s a reason for that, by the way, which is that every claim made on behalf of Proposal 6 has been reviewed and rejected as an outright fabrication. It could go down as the most hopelessly dishonest political campaign in living memory. That’s not my opinion, by the way, but the summing up of every independent analysis done of the campaign. Not one claim has held up very well to factual scrutiny, and the worst of them have been panned as outright fabrications.
The worst of the bunch is the idea that Michigan has a choice of either a bridge or teachers. All you really need to know is that the governor was empowered to sign his deal with the Canadians because he didn’t have to spend any money. It’s all Canadian money. If the state had to spend money, he’d have to get the Legislature to appropriate it, which they wouldn’t do.
If you’re only hearing about this now, don’t feel bad. It doesn’t appear that the media does much campaign journalism now, and the concept of the public interest has nearly given way entirely to private enterprise as it relates to broadcasting. Some of that is no doubt attributable to the fact that broadcasting is no longer a matter of airwaves but cables.
A couple of decades ago, when the public’s interest was a priority, you could challenge a permit renewal for a Tee Vee station that sold ad time to air bald-faced lies masked as political advertising. Now, no one cares about the public’s interest, and not only are stations this year broadcasting lies, but there is no Fairness Doctrine requiring that they air an opposing viewpoint. The truth isn’t determined by the facts, but who has the deepest pockets, and I’ll leave you with the deeper question of whether this promotes good self-government.