Fairness follies

I break ranks with many of my Democratic and progressive brothers and sisters who believe the Fairness Doctrine is a road to renaissance for media fairness. It is not.

Memo to President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.): Find progressive Rupert Murdochs and you will change the world.

The Fairness Doctrine follies are a road to nowhere, dooming progressives to table scraps rather than a seat at the big table of media power.

Three cheers for Rupert Murdoch. He had a vision based on his values. He put his money behind it. He knew his customers. He built his business. He made it work. I commend the biography of Murdoch by Michael Wolff and the discussion of his book on C-SPAN this past weekend. Murdoch did it the old-fashioned way. He earned it.

Think about this: America elected a Democratic president, Senate and House by large margins. The president has 3.5 million donors, which is larger than any show on MSNBC. He has more than 15 million active supporters, which is larger than the ratings of almost all Fox News shows put together. The voters who strongly support Obama dwarf the combined ratings of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and all television networks.

And yet: It is only Rupert Murdoch and conservatives who have built and earned, the old-fashioned way, their voice on cable television. Give Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge credit. They did not build their audience through government regulation.

For 30 years the conservative movement found conservative financiers, created sound business plans, attracted investment, invented products, targeted customers, marketed their products to them and built interlocking networks of television, radio, newspapers and publishing to cross-promote their products, personalities and ideas.

Leaders such as Ronald Reagan nourished these ventures. Financiers such as William Simon and Richard Mellon Scaife funded them. Corporate giants such as Murdoch built them.

Washington is a strongly liberal market: a heavily African-American city, increasingly Democratic suburbs and a Democratic president and Congress. And yet: The declining-circulation Washington Post kills its book section and has a neoconservative tilt on its editorial and op-ed pages, while its two major competitors are conservative.

Give The Washington Examiner and Washington Times credit. In one of the most liberal markets in America, conservatives have two newspaper properties. Liberals have zero. Whose fault is that?

There are some great hosts on liberal radio such as Ed Schultz, Randi Rhodes and Stephanie Miller.

There are also some weak owners, some of whom specialize in using other people’s money and asking talent to do their own marketing, turning weaker shows into infomercials where lower-rated hosts must raise their own cash in “pay for play” deals.

If radio owners have marketing plans so weak they can’t sell a 10-cent Pepsi to a man dying of thirst in the desert, a Fairness Doctrine won’t bail them out.

Thomas Jefferson was right. When he was attacked by the Federalist newspapers supporting John Adams, he supported his own friendly paper.

Liberals have leaders, numbers, supporters and capitalists among them. Forget the Fairness Doctrine. Compete to win in the private market of the battle of ideas.


Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.