Originally published: March 23, 2012
Last updated: April 5, 2012 - 12:45am
[Commentary] The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine gave rise to opinion-laden talk radio, mostly of the conservative variety. Better than anyone else, Rush Limbaugh rode the opportunity to wealth and fame and considerable influence within the Republican Party. Among the reasons I opposed the fairness doctrine was that it was simply superfluous. Extreme speech on the airwaves would be regulated by the marketplace — by viewers and listeners switching channels and by advertisers withdrawing their support. There was absolutely no need for a government role. Now we are seeing that marketplace regulation in action.
In his almost pathological desire to provoke, Limbaugh called a young woman a "slut" and "prostitute" for advocating insurance coverage of birth control. He picked absolutely the wrong target. Nothing about Sandra Fluke fit the ugly stereotype of liberal women that he has been fostering over the past two decades. Even the president of Jesuit Georgetown University, where she is a law student, rose to her defense. The marketplace backlash was immediate and powerful. Mainstream advertisers have been abandoning the show to such an extent that show's syndicator, Clear Channel Communications' Premiere Networks, called a barter holiday. Local affiliates could fill the national time with whatever they wanted. This anti-Limbaugh movement is starting to look like a mob. Marketplace regulation of speech is looking a little more sinister than it does in theory. If Limbaugh were chased off the air or even if he suffers financial harm, it would be a victory for the mob, and would stand as a vivid demonstration of how "corporate timidity in the face of economic boycotts" can be used to muzzle or suppress political speech in ad-supported media. This should concern everybody who cares about free speech.
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