The FCC: Part One. On the Death of the Fairness Doctrine.

FCC commissioners inspect the latest in television, December 1, 1939. Image Description: FCC commissioners inspect the latest in television, December 1, 1939.

Summary: This week, we finally heed the call to Unf*ck the Federal Communications Commission (FCC.) We don’t get all the way there (it’s been around since 1934), but we manage to tackle the fairness doctrine, which was intended to provide balance and equal time in broadcasting and was repealed in 1987. Many credit this Reagan-era move as the beginning of the end of civility, leading to the divide in the nation today. But, of course, the story behind the doctrine is far more nuanced. We review a history of the FCC, its limitations and whether or not the fairness doctrine ever really had a place in America given the natural tension with the First Amendment.

The subject today is communications. More specifically, the Federal Communications Commission and the death of fairness doctrine. We’re going to return to the subject of the FCC in a couple of weeks to drill into other things the FCC has killed, like competition and net neutrality, but in order to lay the groundwork for understanding communication, media and information in the United States, it’s critical to explain the rise and fall of the fairness doctrine.

The subject of communications is rife with tension. There are very few straightforward measures that we can pursue to improve the state of the media. It’s also difficult to narrow the scope of a discussion around media, information, communications, free speech, journalism, commentary and what constitutes the public square in today’s society.

So, this will be one part mechanics and one part philosophy. I’ll try to distill the mechanics of the broader communications industry into something digestible, but only to set the table for a larger discussion that involves a bunch of free and intangible stuff. Free speech, free enterprise, free markets.

Fairness, innovation, neutrality.

And, of course, there’s an economic underpinning to all of it that involves the Chicago School that we’ll get to in a follow up essay.

At the center of it all sits a commission that is either the least or most powerful agent in an industry that ranges from amateur (ham) radio to the internet and everything in between: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The broad scope of communication channels under its purview make it arguably one of the most influential commissions you never think about. On the other hand, its historical refusal to apply any of its congressionally authorized power is itself an indication of how un-influential it always has been.

This is a strange story that will find conservatives aligning with progressives, libertarians aligning with socialists, dogs living with cats and any other unholy alliance you can imagine, thus speaking to the underlying tensions. Because, at the root of this discussion, there is a recurring theme that will make thinking people all along the political spectrum question their belief systems when it comes to the media: The First Amendment.

Chapter One

What is the FCC and why should we give a shit?

Let’s start by pulling the straight dope from their website:

“The Federal Communications Commission regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. An independent U.S. government agency overseen by Congress, the Commission is the federal agency responsible for implementing and enforcing America’s communications law and regulations.”

Okay, so they oversee all things communications where spectrum is concerned. Radio, TV, satellite and… hmm… cable. Hold that thought. And, they’re responsible for enforcing regulations. Can’t wait to hear what those are! Notice that they hold no responsibility where print media is concerned.

Quick diversion here. Remember that many of the framers of the Constitution were in publishing or held tremendous sway over publishers in the colonies. Press freedom as contemplated at America’s founding was essentially related to newspapers and pamphlets. Freedom of speech extended to the public square. How far could one’s voice carry? How many copies could you print?

So there was never a public agency responsible for monitoring print in the way that the FCC exists to regulate, monitor or enforce regulations in broadcast media. Sure, there were libel laws, but court matters versus regulatory oversight are not the same.

In terms of their initiatives, or the things they claim as priorities, here’s what they have to say:

  • Promoting competition, innovation and investment in broadband services and facilities.

  • Supporting the nation’s economy by ensuring an appropriate competitive framework for the unfolding of the communications revolution.

  • Encouraging the highest and best use of spectrum, domestically and internationally.

  • Revising media regulations so that new technologies flourish alongside diversity and localism.

  • Providing leadership in strengthening the defense of the nation’s communications infrastructure.

We’ve seen this show before. Listen closely to the language. Promoting competition. Supporting the economy. Encouraging best use. Revising regulations so technology flourishes. Strengthening the defense of infrastructure.

Blah bitty blah boo blah.

Now, there are a few tangible things we can point to. One is digital discrimination. We spoke about this in the Economics of Racism essay, and it is important. But it’s also one of those problems that just never had to be, and I have a huge problem with the way they’re going about fixing it.

Anyway, essentially, this is about closing the broadband divide and ensuring that everyone has access to reliable internet, because it’s so much a part of our daily lives, from education and employment to consumerism (if you want to be cynical). Even telehealth. People had been yelling about the digital divide for years, but the pandemic finally exposed it for the fatal societal flaw it is. Again, that’s for Part two.

So that’s great and we can all applaud this, even if I dismantle the why and the how of it later. Just about the only other visible thing that might be of interest to people is that the FCC is the one working to limit robocalls and caller ID spoofing. Judging from the number of “spam risk” calls I get, I’m not entirely confident that’s working out. Dunno. Different story.

So those are some textbook talking points from the modern day FCC. For most of its existence from the late 1920s as an idea on the board to formal establishment in 1934, the FCC guarded the henhouse of broadcast information like a nun in Catholic School. A threat here, slap on the wrist there. No real punishments, though.

Editor’s note: Maybe you should clarify the kind of Catholic school you’re talking about.

Good point. I’m talking about the white America Catholic schools with head penguins that ruled through fear, but still sent kids home to their parents every night as opposed to the ones that operated illegal Native child trafficking schools for 150 year in the U.S. and Canada, stealing Native children from their parents in middle of the night raids, shipping them to Catholic residential schools and murdering tens of thousands of children who were then buried in mass unmarked graves.

We’ll talk about why the FCC originally came into existence in a moment, because it actually had nothing to do with content or regulating speech over the airwaves. Initially. But let’s continue defining the role of the FCC historically, as told by perhaps one of the most principled commissioners that ever served as the head of the FCC: Newton Minow. A couple things have changed since this video from 1963—for example, the structure of the committees and the number of commissioners—but, on balance, here’s the FCC in a nutshell:

“My name is Newton N. Minow and I’m the chairman of that commission commonly known by its initials, the FCC. Ours is an independent federal regulatory agency. Like members of the Cabinet, we are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. However, unlike Cabinet members, we serve definite terms of seven years. We are a bipartisan agency; we have four members of one party and three of another, and our authority and functions stem from the provisions of the Communications Act of 1934 and its amendments. In that act, Congress decided that all station operators be licensed and identified. Their frequencies, their licenses, their renewals of license all must be determined under a standard which has become a familiar phrase: The public interest, convenience and necessity.”

Minow was actually one of the good guys, to the extent anyone ever cared what an FCC commissioner had to say about anything. And, hopefully after this episode, you will a little. At the end of his introduction there, he mentions the FCC’s “standard,” which is the public interest, convenience and necessity. Pretty well-meaning words, if not completely innocuous. It’s one of those throwaway lines that really doesn’t tell you anything about the mission, who it serves, what it regulates, or anything really about its reason for being.

Who determines what is in the public interest? How exactly does it ensure convenience, and what does that mean? And how does that square with necessity? Necessary to whom, for what?

One of the principle sources for a chunk of this episode is an old book published in 1978 called The Fairness Doctrine and the Media, by Steven J. Simmons. The fairness doctrine is an essential part of today’s equation and squarely under the jurisdiction of the FCC. More than anything the FCC has ever done, said, regulated or been involved with, the fairness doctrine strikes at the heart of their identity, or lack thereof.

Actually, Minow wrote the foreword for the book and speaks directly to the vague phrase he himself uttered 15 years prior as commissioner. In it, he briefly addresses the origin of the fairness doctrine, insinuating the authors really had no frame of reference when they crafted it in the 1930s because the broadcast spectrum was new:

“Terminology and thinking had to be borrowed from entirely different industries and technologies. Senator Clarence Dill, principal sponsor of the Communications Act, once told me that he had borrowed the language for the FCC standard of ‘public interest, convenience, and necessity’ from the provisions of public utility laws; yet the Communications Act states explicitly that broadcasting is not a public utility.”

There’s a ton packed into this little statement.

Chapter Two

To be fair, it was never really a doctrine.

Ah, the fairness doctrine.

Progressives have agitated for its reinstatement despite the clear challenge it presents to the First Amendment.

Conservatives ultimately did away with it under the claim that it did indeed infringe upon the First Amendment, though they really did it to allow advertisers to say and do whatever the fuck they wanted on broadcast airwaves and clear the way for conservative programming that didn’t have to offer equal time.

Libertarians just hate everybody.

Regardless of where you fall along the political spectrum, if you have a sense that there was a better time and things used to be a little more polite, a little more fair and a little more balanced, you’re mostly right. Mostly.

In a nutshell, here’s what the fairness doctrine is, as told by Simmons:

“The fairness doctrine is the name given to two requirements applied by the Federal Communications Commission to radio and television broadcasters throughout the United States. The first, called the part one requirement, demands that broadcast licensees devote a reasonable amount of their programming to controversial issues of public importance. The second, called part two, requires that when such issues are presented, contrasting views on them be aired.”

We should note that the doctrine itself wasn’t specifically approved by Congress until 1959, kicking off a wave of litigation, complaints, challenges to broadcasters by special interest groups and the doctrine itself by broadcasters. From the inception of the FCC until this point, it was more of a guideline and work in progress, as broadcast technology was undergoing a revolution and the government trailed behind attempting to maintain order and control of content to some degree.

In fact, the debate over spectrum and control of the airwaves began before 1934, starting with the radios aboard ships at sea in the early 1900s. Again, Simmons:

“In 1920, there were but three radio stations in the country broadcasting regularly. By late 1924, the number of broadcasting stations had risen to 578. By 1927, there were two national networks with a total of 64 affiliated stations providing regular network service from coast to coast.”

I think we can draw some parallels between the period in the ‘20s through the ‘50s and the more recent history of the internet. Both eras saw complete transformations in communications and society as a result. And both eras witnessed a government quick to license spectrum to private interests and slow to regulate the growth and enforce any standards.

The first person to try and get their arms around this new industry was Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover. Hoover would battle other agencies and broadcasters throughout both the Coolidge and Harding administrations, and eventually he hammered out something called the 1927 Radio Act; which in many ways was the precursor to the eventual Telecommunications Act of 1934 that established the FCC and guidelines for broadcasting that would endure for more than 30 years.

Anyway, something that Hoover said addressing a conference endured so strongly as a sentiment that it nearly stood as a legal precedent. He said, “We hear a great deal about freedom of the air, but there are two parties to freedom of the air, and to freedom of speech for that matter. Certainly in radio I believe in freedom for the listener… Freedom cannot mean a license to every person or corporation who wishes to broadcast his name or his wares, and thus monopolize the listener’s set.”

As Simmons writes:

“The National Radio Conferences and other developments during the 1920s had highlighted some of the concerns that would lead to implementation of the fairness doctrine. Critical among these were scarcity of the airwave resource, the fear of powerful private entities utilizing their frequencies to further their own partisan and/or materialistic ends, the interest of the public in receiving information, and the need to treat the ether as a public resource.”

So this is a critical point. The idea of scarcity. You know when scarcity comes into play that a whole bunch of capitalists and economists are going to scramble to get a hold of whatever it is. Whether it’s oil or broadband, scarcity means that supply and demand determine one’s ability to generate profit. Whoever controls the supply, in this case of information, in a scarce environment ultimately has control over pricing, or value, assuming such information is in high demand.

That’s why spectrum was treated differently than print media. The real reason for the establishment of the FCC wasn’t actually the concern over private entities using radio frequencies, or later television, to their advantage. Though that was certainly a concern among fair minded and more progressive members of Congress. It was actually because, prior to 1934, the airwaves were the wild west. If you had the wherewithal to figure out how to transmit on a certain frequency, there was literally nothing stopping you from doing so.

So, over a matter of just a few years, radio broadcasts were popping up all over the country and they began to overlap. Basically, if you had a radio and tuned it to 880 AM, there was a chance you only heard static because so many people were competing for the frequency.

Here’s the easiest way to think about it. Radio waves, AM in particular, travel continuously around the earth. So, if there are only two broadcasts on 880 AM, let’s say one in New York and the other in California, they will carry until they essentially block one another somewhere in the middle of the country. In fact, in the early days, it wasn’t uncommon to travel across half the country while listening to a single radio station. For what it’s worth, FM is a little different. It’s a more precise and intense frequency that has the ability to pierce walls and terrain, whereas rain can interrupt AM because it’s wide and thin. But it’ll go for-fucking-ever.

What could be broadcast, who could broadcast, decency standards, fairness, balance—all of these things were being contemplated, but it took a long time to actually establish firm guidelines. So, in the meantime, the government formed the FCC to deal with the allocation of spectrum first and foremost. With respect to content, there were a few moving parts that proved tricky, and frankly, still do. What was clear from the outset was that the FCC wasn’t going to award licenses to anyone with a clear, one-sided agenda. Of course, that carries some baggage, as you can imagine.

Here’s an example of tension with the First Amendment that the FCC simply brushed aside. And you can have feelings about this one way or another. The point is to illustrate that their prevailing sentiment at the time was that certain levels of censorship did not conflict with the First Amendment, largely because of this idea of scarcity. Scarcity removed the argument of complete freedom. Ubiquity, on the other hand, allowed for it. Here’s the example:

“In 1938, in [Young People’s Ass’n for Propagation of Gospel, 6 F.C.C. 178] the FCC faced an applicant who proposed to use its station primarily to preach the fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. The FCC declared that, in light of airwave scarcity, it ‘has accordingly considered that interests of the listening public are paramount to the interests of the individual applicant in determining whether the public interest would be best served by granting an application. A one-sided presentation of the viewpoint was simply unacceptable.’”

So, as we mentioned, the fairness doctrine itself did not formally appear until 1959. Between ‘49 and ‘59, it was drafted over and over to account for the growing medium of television and the influence it was quickly gaining.

Over time, questions would arise to challenge the nature of content covered by the doctrine. There was a case involving a corporation buying time to promote Alaskan oil development. Cases involving military recruitment. Advertisements promoting lethal gasoline additives. Then, there was the fact that any regulatory attempts still didn’t cover broadcasting counterparts in print journalism.

All told, it added layers of confusion as to what was covered by the doctrine, whether the commission had any enforcement powers over these developing challenges and whether it would extend to new areas of spectrum that would soon be unleashed on the world. Areas like, I don’t know, the World Wide motherfucking Web.

As a resource, Simmons’ book, even as far back as 1978, does an outstanding job framing the complications surrounding a commission that borrowed its standards from other industries and tried to apply them to the free market doctrine of scarcity with nebulous frameworks like fairness, best efforts, public interest and other unspecified rules in a world moving so quickly it never had a shot to realistically rein in the growth of disinformation, misinformation and special interest groups.

Here’s an excellent passage that further highlights just how tricky this whole process really is and always has been:

“At first glance, the doctrine sounds appealing. Broadcasters are lucky enough to be given the privilege, by government fiat, to use a scarce airwave frequency to the exclusion of others. Just who is going to determine whether a broadcast is being fair? What controversial issues of public importance must a broadcaster cover in its programming? What is a reasonable balance between contrasting views on issues? How are groups to be guaranteed an opportunity to speak their views over the airwaves? Is there any workable formula applicable to all issues and programming? If the government is to answer questions such as these, is this an appropriate role for government to play? In a country that values a free press, do not broadcast journalists have some First Amendment rights to determine the content of their public issue programming inhibit broadcasters from doing such programming? Does not government intervention itself create the potential information distortion it is supposed to prevent? Are not the people better off, then, in a system that minimized government intervention in the broadcast media?”

So. Many. Questions.

Chapter Three

Fairness in the eye of the withholder.

To illustrate how messy this concept is, I want to reference a couple of videos because it’s interesting to see who was on what side of the issue and when. Here’s asshat and religious zealot during the Eisenhower years, Ezra Taft Benson, decrying the death of free speech at the hands of the FCC because it required equal time for groups promoting anything in opposition to vague notions of patriotism or state’s rights, which we know is the ultimate dog whistle on the right:

“From Washington DC, the FCC—Federal Communications Commission—issued an edict to radio and television stations that if they allowed the controversial subjects of Americanism, anticommunism or state’s rights to be discussed on their stations they would be required to give equal time, free of charge, to anyone wishing to present an opposite view. Can you imagine this happening in a free country?”

So one would think that this stance wholly aligns with the broadcast community as a whole. After all, why would major broadcast corporations elect to be restricted by the government in any fashion over what they show on television or say on the radio? Don’t get me wrong, that perspective was shared among many broadcasters, and still is today. But here’s Thomas Goodgame of NBC Westinghouse offering congressional testimony in defense of the doctrine in 1987, the year it was ultimately eliminated by the Reagan administration:

“I think that the fairness doctrine articulates what we as broadcasters must do in order to hold a license, and the basic issue is that we must be fair, that we must provide a forum—we are not a newspaper, we are not a magazine—we are a spectrum space allocated by the federal government. In exchange for that, I don't think that we as broadcasters have the right to go on and express our own views or the views of an individual party or individual organization or individual special interest group without providing the opportunity for others to have that same right on the air.”

Now remember, a major conservative talking point was not just the First Amendment, but that the FCC ownership rules inhibited competition. Under their free market theory, loosening restrictions on ownership of licenses would unleash competition in the marketplace of enterprise and ideas. And that the resulting competition would therefore engender a culture of diversity among owners and perspectives. Of course, that didn’t happen. And we’ll get more into the effects of deregulation in the next FCC episode, but where the fairness doctrine is concerned, there’s clear evidence that the opposite effect ultimately came to fruition.

Here’s then-presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich sparring politely with Lou Dobbs in 2007 over this very issue:

Dobbs: “As you know, there is a school of thought that the fairness doctrine, which of course hasn’t been around now for some 27, was stifling and therefore also contravening of the First Amendment, free speech. How do you respond to those who would charge that?”


Kucinich: “Well, there’s been some real changes in media in the last 20 years since we’ve seen the fairness doctrine go. We’ve seen 50 large media companies suddenly shrink to six. So this idea of uninhibited exchange of ideas in a marketplace needs to be looked at in an era of consolidation.”

Of course, you can make the case that eliminating the doctrine and loosening ownership regulations expanded the field of play and invited more participants in the discussion from the left and the right. This is a critical point because there were many who felt that the fairness doctrine actually had a chilling effect on free speech because broadcasters were afraid of running afoul of FCC guidelines. Therefore, it was easier to eliminate conflict than lean into it. It’s a compelling argument that bears no resemblance to lived experience, however.

The elimination of the doctrine allowed for the rise of unchallenged thought and opinion journalism, most associated with the rise of Rush Limbaugh.

And here’s an excerpt of scumbag loofah scrubbing cheat bitch Bill O’Reilly accurately portraying the end of the fairness doctrine and rise of conservative talk radio star Rush Limbaugh:

“So 1960, there are only two talk stations in the United States. By 1995, there were 1,200. Once talk radio started, the fairness doctrine went out the window. So Rush Limbaugh, for example, he began in the early ‘90s. By 94, he had 20 million Americans tuning in to hear a conservative point of view. There was no balance. It was Mr. Limbaugh’s show and for three hours he espoused conservative tenets.”

O’Reilly, of course, paints this as a positive development. After this, he goes on to say that if anyone presented a problem with respect to one-sided journalism, it was Dan Rather and his leftist ideology. This, again, is a popular talking point among conservatives who continue to cast all media as liberal, despite clear evidence to the contrary. Conservative media is the mainstream media today, especially on the broadcast spectrum, because corporations consumed all competing outlets amid the deregulatory frenzy of the 1990s.

Thanks Bill Clinton!

And it must be said that the one person who not only foresaw this all coming, but specifically advocated for it, was Nixon and Reagan advisor Roger Ailes. In the new book Free The Press, by veteran reporter Brian J. Karem, he details the plan behind the combined actions of deregulation and killing the fairness doctrine. Here’s Karem:

“Ailes had immediate success in getting politicians that he supported elected, but there were two key obstacles that kept Ailes from realizing his dream for media domination. The fairness doctrine and rules governing media ownership were huge obstacles. The fairness doctrine dictated that any story of controversy carried with it the need for contrary and competing coverage. There were no real teeth to the doctrine and few proscribed remedies other than losing a broadcast license—a fate no major network ever suffered.


“Far from a perfect plan to deal with providing equal time, what the fairness doctrine did was effectively build a philosophical buffer into the news. News organizations could not play exclusively in one philosophical or political lane. The fairness doctrine worked because it got broadcasters into the habit of providing competing ideas. Ailes, as a former Federal Communications Commission chairman Minow pointed out, didn’t want that. He wanted to dominate the airwaves with companies that thought like he did. The fairness doctrine hobbled that idea, but so did a large number of diverse companies owning broadcast and print media outlets.”

Now, according to Congressional Quarterly, “The Reagan administration’s deregulation drive in television was led by communications lawyer Mark Fowler, who served as FCC chairman from May 1981 until April 1987. Arguing that television was merely a toaster with pictures, Fowler sought to make the broadcasting industry as free from government control as the appliance industry—and the print media. In the space of a few years, the commission abolished limits on what stations could show, such as the number of commercials, as well as requirements on what they had to broadcast, such as news coverage. In addition, relatively liberal FCC policies allowed a substantial increase in the amount of sexually oriented material being broadcast.”

As Karem concludes:

“As a final thumbing of his nose, when Fowler left the FCC, he claimed that he wished he could close it for good. ‘Free market forces and competitive forces are better able to serve the public and police companies’ than the government, Fowler claimed. Former FCC chairman Newton Minow, on the other hand, said Fowler was a key architect of the one-sided media we have today.”

Chapter Four

Bring it home, Max.

I wanted to begin a deep dive into media and communications with a discussion surrounding the fairness doctrine because, for many, it seems like a simple fix. Put it back, require equal time and everything will be a little better. But, like most of the FCC’s history, this horse has left the barn, finished the race, is back in the paddock and sleeping. This shit is over.

First off, aside from a handful of cases over several decades, the doctrine was toothless. It operated as more of a suggestion. But prior to deregulation, it can be said that most of the big outlets operated on some version of the honor system. They offered public affairs programming. Ensured that differing opinions were heard. But this also ignores periods like the 1940s and ‘50s, when socialists were kept out of the national discussion and refused airtime. The situation worsens along race and gender lines, as most of the big companies who held themselves out as principled broadcasters had boardrooms, editorial boards and reporter bullpens filled with white men.

And, of course, this says nothing about the predominantly patriarchal control over newspapers.

Now, it might sound like I’m somehow opposed to the doctrine or the concept of equal time. I’m really not. And the patriarchal control of all media throughout our history is and always was bigger than the FCC. In fact, if not for the FCC, there would be no minority interests in broadcasting. This is something they took very seriously, even if it only slightly moved the needle. No, patriarchal control over information is endemic to the social and economic fabric of the country and not something the FCC was ever going to influence or change in a meaningful way.

When we cover deregulation under Telecom ‘96 through to the end of net neutrality in a separate episode, we’ll tap more into some of the economic decisions that were heavily influenced by the work of Ronald Coase and his cohorts at the Chicago School. It’s an important part of the discussion.

The point here is to illustrate the complexity surrounding the relationship between the government, the First Amendment and corporate interests, as well as new and old technologies. Remember that the fairness doctrine was specific to the scarcity of broadcast licenses and didn’t apply to newspapers. Likewise, when the internet was born, the government was presented with a challenge that is equally as messy.

Should the internet be regulated? Is it a utility? A right? Covered under the First Amendment, or is it a pipeline of information no different than a radio transmitter or printing press? Is Facebook a media outlet? Are they the arbiter of content and what is fair? Is Twitter? The New York Times? Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire? Alex Jones?

The fairness doctrine rightly touches upon the most important, and yet most difficult economic and social concepts, of the republic. And nothing makes sense at face value.

The free market ideologues who protest monopolies pushed to deregulate media, resulting in the near monopoly of media.

A government agency that serves as the arbiter of fairness is, by definition, infringing upon its own drafted First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

Then again, the provision of free speech was only contemplated when printing and yelling were the only forms of known communication.

Was it fair to regulate behavior of broadcasters, but not publishers?

Why are commercials covered under free speech? Or are they?

As it was in our BlackRock essay, we now have corporations that are involved deeply in every part of this discussion and yet somehow operate with impunity on the fringes of it. BlackRock isn’t a bank, but it owns them. It’s not an investment bank, but it owns them as well. Facebook isn’t a media outlet, but it controls the flow of information from them. Google isn’t a publisher, but it controls what you see. Cable companies aren’t regulated as utilities as the phone companies once were, but now most of us get our home telephony from them.

Censorship. Free speech. Free market. Antitrust. Over the air spectrum. Wireless and broadband. Scarcity versus open Internet. Utility. Public benefit and natural right.

We look to the wisdom of Adam Smith or Milton Friedman. We rely on anachronistic theories and models. We expect self governance from conglomerates. The reality is, we cannot regulate fairness or even define it. Especially today, because we live in a paradigm that bears no resemblance to the circumstances of our founding and what interests we were trying to protect.

Like I said, very unsatisfying. But there are answers. Answers that cannot be found in guidelines and recommendations, doctrines or expressions of faith around loose interpretations of fairness and equal time. A combination of re-regulation and antitrust measures, proper categorization of certain technologies as utilities for the public good and broad set of measures designed to beat our corporate masters into submission are required to restore balance to the media universe and actually improve upon the false notion of fairness that pervaded when the old patriarchal system prevailed. As opposed to the current patriarchal system, of course.

A fairness doctrine is only necessary in an unfair society and economy. The so-called free market produces the exact opposite of what it implies. So work backwards.

A less free market creates more free competition.

A less free market allows for more free speech.

A less free market frees us from corporate tyranny.

Here endeth the primer on fairness.

Max is a basic, middle-aged white guy who developed his cultural tastes in the 80s (Miami Vice, NY Mets), became politically aware in the 90s (as a Republican), started actually thinking and writing in the 2000s (shifting left), became completely jaded in the 2010s (moving further left) and eventually decided to launch UNFTR in the 2020s (completely left).