Congressman And Former Trump Advisor Calls For Hearings On Media Bias, Threatens To Start Pulling FCC Licenses
from the trash-talking dept
It's always the people neck deep in partisanship that make the most noise about unfairness. In a move that bodes well for free speech, Rep. Kevin Cramer is calling for hearings to sort out this "problem" with "biased" media. Cramer also spent some time as Donald Trump's energy advisor, so it's a good guess he feels his candidate hasn't been treated fairly by The Liberal Media™ -- an entity that's always useful for easy scapegoating when things go south for candidates, legislation, etc. on the Republican side. (The liberals/left do the same when stuff goes wrong for them. Everyone does it. The only difference is the scapegoat.)
Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) sent a letter to the heads of the four "major" TV networks—CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox—threatening to hold a hearing "to explore network media bias in coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign." To justify this grandstanding and overreaching display of concerned government, Cramer cites a recent Gallup poll which put Americans trust in "media" at around 32 percent and also asserted only 37 percent of Americans think the media's coverage of the 2016 campaign has been "balanced."
Cramer's biases are clear, but he seems blissfully unaware of them. Presumably Fox is being added to this hearing's lineup for the same reason criminal informants get swept up during law enforcement raids -- to prevent any suspicion arising from its exclusion. While Cramer cited the Gallup poll, he also added in more feelings of his own, stating the media (both sides, I guess) is engaged in "surreptitious propaganda" which somehow violates its "moral" duty to inform the public without taking sides.
Rather than allow adults to address the open question of "moral" obligations, Cramer has issued threats with the weight of the federal government behind them. He brought up the Fairness Doctrine, only to drop it moments later, stating that a "free system" is only possible with unbiased media.
Media bias is something universally hated, but it's never not a partisan issue. Everyone agrees bias -- at least too much of it -- is bad. Those wanting to see it gone usually just want the other side to change, not the ones that confirm their world view. Rep. Cramer is no different, and seeing as he has somewhat of a vested interest in Trump's success, his official offendedness is incredibly suspect.
Hearings aren't the only thing Cramer threatened. He also hinted he would start pulling FCC licenses if things didn't change while implying that the First Amendment is mostly for protecting speech he likes.
So instead of wielding the Fairness Doctrine as a means of forcing the networks to rid themselves of all political bias (which would be impossible to quantify, not least because bias is in the eye of the beholder), Cramer threatens their "the use of federally-allocated spectrum" afforded by their FCC licenses, writing "Your FCC license and the liberty that comes with your First Amendment rights are not a license to broadcast anything you want or in any way you choose."
That's an odd interpretation of the First Amendment. There are very few modes of expression that aren't protected by it and "always running down my guy" isn't one of those exceptions. Not that it matters. As Reason's Anthony Fisher points out, Cramer's more angry than informed.
Cramer appears to have not read the FCC's website, which explicitly states (emphasis theirs), "We license only individual broadcast stations. We do not license TV or radio networks (such as CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox) or other organizations with which stations have relationships (such as PBS or NPR), except to the extent that those entities may also be station licensees."
Though Cramer might want to use the FCC as his own task force, the FCC's website also states the commission "cannot prevent the broadcast of any particular point of view. In this regard, the Commission has observed that 'the public interest is best served by permitting free expression of views."
So, the FCC won't be doing any of the things Cramer imagines he can make it do, and any attempt to force the issue would look exactly like what it is: an attack on free speech disguised as a call for "fairness."
Bias will always exist in the media. That's because humans are biased creatures and some of it bleeds over into the profession, no matter how much they might aspire to loftier ideals. And, of course, there are always those who don't even aspire to these ideals and wallow in fully-biased reporting.
But it's not as if dragging down the Big Four to Cramer's level would have much of an impact immediately, much less a lasting one. Only a small minority of Americans get their news exclusively from these outlets. Many more get them from a variety of other sources, all with their own preferences and biases. And humans, being humans, tend to be drawn to viewpoints that agree with their own. Hollering about FCC license and moral obligations won't do anything to make the news more fair -- not when there's a market on both sides of the political aisle hungering for a slant that agrees with their own.