Does President Barack Obama believe that the greatest threat to progress resides in Rush Limbaugh? Earlier this week while trying to sell his Trillion Dollar Debt Plan to Republican leaders, Obama said, “You can’t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.” Thankfully House Republicans listened to the hundreds of constituents calling their offices asking them to vote against the bill and not the guy who thinks he can buy their votes with a couple of cocktail and Super Bowl parties. Now we find out that Obama’s far left allies are upping the ante. The leftist umbrella organization American Untied for Change is pouring money into radio ads in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Nevada. The ads ask listeners, “Will you side with Obama or Rush Limbaugh?”

Clearly the left believe they can get Republicans to sacrifice their principles by demonizing and isolating Rush Limbaugh. So much for that new era of bipartisanship. But what if all of Obama’s old-school politics of division fails to win him any Republican votes? What is the next arrow in his political quiver?

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell previewed what may be the Left’s next line of attack at a speech to the Media Institute in Washington this Wednesday. McDowell warned that when the left comes to silence Rush and other Obama critics, they will not be dumb enough to try and do it under the label Fairness Doctrine: “That’s just Marketing 101: if your brand is controversial, make a new brand.” Multichannel News reports that McDowell even suggested that a stealth version of the doctrine may already be teed up at the FCC in the form of “Localism” rules which empower community advisory boards to help dictate local programming.

No one should be surprised by this development. Last year the brain trust for the Obama Administration, the Center for American Progress released a report entitled: The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio. Here is what they said about already existing legal authority to implement Fairness Doctrine/Localism-type rules:

First, from a regulatory perspective, the Fairness Doctrine was never formally repealed. … the original Communications Act still requires commercial broadcasters “to operate in the public interest and to afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views of issues of public importance.” … Thus, the public obligations inherent in the Fairness Doctrine are still in existence and operative, at least on paper.

So what new policy recommendations does CAP advise?

The Fairness Doctrine was most effective as part of a regulatory structure that limited license terms to three years, subjected broadcasters to license challenges through comparative hearings, required notice to the local community that licenses were going to expire, and empowered the local community through a process of interviewing a variety of local leaders.

We recommend the following steps the FCC should take to ensure local needs are being met:

  • Provide a license to radio broadcasters for a term no longer than three years.
  • Require radio broadcast licensees to regularly show that they are operating on behalf of the public interest and provide public documentation and viewing of how they are meeting these obligations.

So under the old Fairness Doctrine, free speech on the radio was stifled by an FCC rule that required broadcasters to devote reasonable time to fairly presenting all sides of any controversial issue discussed on the air, with the government deciding the meaning of all the italicized words. Under the CAP Localism rule broadcasters must renew their licenses every three years instead of every eight and when they do so the must “show that they are operating on behalf of the public interest” with public interest being defined as whatever ACORN like community organizers the left can rustle up to help define “community needs.”

Whenever controversial issues come up that President Obama wants to avoid talking about, he calls them “distractions.” And the Fairness Doctrine/Localism Rule issue may be just that. Commissioner McDowell also said, through aides, Obama had signaled to him that he would not re-impose the Fairness Doctrine. If Obama wants to prove his desire to protect the First Amendment is deeper than his desire to silence Rush Limbaugh, then he should go on record and disavow both the Fairness Doctrine and its equally perniciousness cousin, Localism.

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