Commentary: Fairness doctrine has talk-radio concerned

OK, dittoheads, that's my explanation of how all these bailouts are going to lead to a government takeover of the American economy that will bankrupt us all. And now I'm going to hand my microphone over to those fine young folks from Air America for the next two hours to explain how idiotically wrong I am about all this.

Can you imagine it? The Limbaugh lying down with the lamb? The Christians-and-lions slaughterhouse of talk radio turning the other cheek, or, at least, the other ear? Conservatives can – though in place of the word imagine, they're more likely to use fear.

They say the incoming Barack Obama administration and its Democratic allies in Congress plan to strangle talk radio with fairness: specifically, the Fairness Doctrine, a long-abandoned federal policy that requires radio and TV stations to balance conservatives with liberals and vice-versa.

At its most extreme, the Fairness Doctrine might require Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck to follow every right-to-life phone call with one from a doctor who does partial-birth abortions. Or, for that matter, pro-gun-control people calling in to lefty Randi Rhodes to be balanced by commentary from AK-47 owners.

Even a more moderate and more likely scenario – forcing stations to carry shows from across the ideological spectrum – would wreak havoc with talk radio, station managers and other industry figures say, since most talk stations brand themselves as either conservative or liberal.

"Why would you air something your listeners don't like?" says Brian Maloney, a former conservative talk-show host who now writes a blog called Radio Equalizer, widely read in the industry. "Why would you play classical music on a country station? The listeners just turn it off."

Though a resumption of the Fairness Doctrine would affect all broadcast television and radio stations, its biggest impact would be on conservatives, who by some estimates outnumber liberals on talk radio by a margin of nine to one – in South Florida, three of the four talk stations are conservative. It's become the place where grass-roots conservatives meet, organize and develop talking points with the help of Limbaugh and other movement mouthpieces.

To read the complete column, visit The Miami Herald.