The White House is promising new reviews of the "obligations" to the government by broadcasters who "occupy the nation's spectrum" just as the president has targeted conservative talk radio icon Rush Limbaugh for a public attack, raising concerns over the possible restoration of the "Fairness Doctrine," a policy that failed as unneeded and unconstitutional two decades ago.
Paul Ibrahim of NorthStarWriters.com cited Obama's warning to congressional Republicans that "you can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done" in suggesting the president has become the "driving force" because a new "systematic" plan to "intimidate and demonize Obama's opponents."
That such a campaign was launched only days after Obama's inauguration is "tremendously perturbing," he wrote.
"Welcome to the politics of hope 'n' change. Obama's startling attempt to hang Limbaugh's scalp on the wall is a warning that the new ruler does not want unity – he demands it," Ibrahim wrote.
On Obama's agenda, according to his White House website, is the goal to "encourage diversity in media ownership."
Obama elaborates on the site that his aim is to "encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints, and clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation's spectrum."
The plan apparently aligns with longstanding Democratic suggestions to resurrect the "Fairness Doctrine."
The policy was abandoned in 1987 under President Reagan when there were 75 radio talk shows in the U.S. Reagan opposed the policy because it required broadcast TV and radio programs to air "opposing views" on political issues, which had the practical effect of virtually eliminating opinion programs.
Since abandonment of the Fairness Doctrine, the number of radio talk shows has risen to more than 3,000.
WND founder and editor Joseph Farah long has warned about Democrats' plans to revive restrictions on the airwaves.
"If the Democrats and their me-too Republican allies are successful at sacking talk radio, there will be no stopping them," Farah warned. "Broadcast will be first. Then they will go after the Internet with taxes and new regulations and hate-crimes laws. And when they succeed at muzzling dissenting voices there, they will even turn to print. Remember, we are dealing with a neo-fascist mentality here."
Many fear the Fairness Doctrine would drive talk radio hosts – like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage – out of business.
During the presidential campaign, spokesman Michael Ortiz indicated Obama thought the debate was "a distraction."
But author Brad O'Leary examined Obama's legal and organizational attempts to silence media detractors during the presidential race and came to a different conclusion.
"Barack Obama has shown a stunning lack of tolerance for free speech throughout the course of [his] campaign," said O'Leary. "His presidency, combined with supermajorities for Democrats in Congress, would almost certainly bring back the so-called 'Fairness Doctrine' and allow the Democrats to snuff out any broadcasters with whom they disagree."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., affirmed her support to Human Events reporter John Gizzi for a "Fairness" policy, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., told radio host Jim Villanucci, "I would want this station and all stations to have to present a balanced perspective and different points of view, instead of always hammering away at one side of the political [spectrum]."
Ibrahim noted the president's public verbal condemnation of Limbaugh makes clear his "rejection" of the old "Bush" politics.
"You see, President Bush did not launch assaults on private citizens, nor did he ever label anyone as 'unpatriotic' for disagreeing with him. Thus, Obama and his friends are now effecting the change they promised. Welcome to their 'new' politics," he wrote.
The National Review's Byron York said Obama's criticism of Limbaugh makes it appear he considers the talk host "the true leader of the Republican opposition."
York said Limbaugh responded that Obama was trying to make the arguments about the radio show instead of Obama's actual plans.
"To make the argument about me instead of his plan makes sense from his perspective," Limbaugh told York. "Obama's plan would buy votes for the Democrat Party, in the same way FDR's New Deal established majority power for 50 years of Democrat rule, and it would also simultaneously seriously damage any hope of future tax cuts.
"I believe his stimulus is aimed at re-establishing 'eternal' power for the Democrat Party rather than stimulating the economy because anyone with a brain knows this is NOT how you stimulate the economy," Limbaugh continued. "If I can be made to serve as a distraction, then there is that much less time debating the merits of this TRILLION dollar debacle."
Limbaugh added: "One more thing, Byron. Your publication and website have documented Obama's ties to the teachings of Saul Alinksy while he was community organizing in Chicago. Here is Rule 13 of Alinksy's Rules for Radicals: 'Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.'"
Michael G. Franc, writing on the National Review's "The Corner" blog, noted that attorney general nominee Eric Holder also has refused to commit to opposing to Fairness Doctrine.
Obama's choice to head his FCC transition team, Democrat Henry Rivera, added to fear in media circles that the Fairness Doctrine might return to silence conservative talk radio.
Brian Maloney of the blog The Radio Equalizer said in his post "Meet Talk's Executioner" he believes Rivera will use his position to bring back the law for that very purpose.
Rivera, according to Maloney, "is expected to lead the push to dismantle commercial talk radio that is favored by a number of Democratic Party senators. Rivera will play a pivotal role in preventing critics from having a public voice during Obama's tenure in office."