More polarized, more bitter, less stable?

Last night, Peggy Noonan’s weekly column was posted at the Wall Street Journal website. In a day or so, it should be posted at The title: “Rush Limbaugh’s Complicated Legacy.” She summarized the media’s reports of his death: “His obituaries in the mainstream press were mostly judgment, no mercy. It’s not nice when malice gets a final, unanswered shot. On the conservative side, TV commentaries were cloying to the point of cultish.”

She described his intense work ethic and she noted how he single-handedly changed an industry. They were friends during the Reagan revolution, and with quiet candor describes how they grew apart–much as Anne Applebaum describes her split with former friends from the early Reagan years. Peggy Noonan posted last night: “In the past 15 years my views on important issues diverged from his; he came to see me as an apostate and attacked me for my criticisms of Iraq policy, Sarah Palin, George W. Bush and Donald Trump.

She ended her column where I ended yesterday’s post, with a reflection about the FCC’s old “Fairness Doctrine.” She wrote: “There were so many voices in the marketplace, and more were coming; fairness and balance would sort themselves out.”

Noonan, a speech-writer for Ronald Reagan, wrote: “In 1987 the doctrine was abolished, a significant Reagan-era reform. But I don’t know. Let me be apostate again. Has anything in our political culture gotten better since it was removed? Aren’t things more polarized, more bitter, less stable?

“I’m not sure it was good for America.”

From “That Peggy Noonan Feeling,” by Chris Lehmann, The Baffler, April 13, 2017

6 thoughts on “More polarized, more bitter, less stable?”

  1. That Peggy Noonan piece was fun reading! I never learned the supposed benefits of the fairness doctrine. Can you enlighten me?


    1. Short answer: Like referees for football or basketball games, the FCC set up an “equal time” provision to balance the mis-use of free speech.

      Long answer: There was some form of the Fairness Doctrine as early as 1927, but Peggy dated its beginning in 1949, I think. The theory is that the airwaves are community property, not private property. That’s why today’s wireless carriers must buy spectrum from the government. It’s also why TV stations have public service announcements as “payment” for the privilege of using the country’s airwaves. Let’s say a local radio or TV station operator was big into the John Birch Society, or the American Communist Party, and decided to devote the station to promoting one of those organizations. I think it must have been put in place to prevent a station owner from imposing his or her political, religious or philosophical views on the public. It was a recognition of the power of broadcasting. From the beginning, the challenge has been to weigh the risk of possible government censorship against the risk of potential corporate prejudice. It was an attempt to provide some degree of accountability. The issues are still the same. Now the players are Facebook, Twitter, Rupert Murdoch (Fox/Wall Street Journal), etc. Who determines what is actual or fake news? What are the liabilities? Former President Trump’s attorneys argued that the First Amendment allowed him to say whatever he wanted to say at the January 6 rally. Mr. Trump was frustrated when Twitter closed his account, but since Twitter is a private company rather than a government agency, he had no recourse when they decided to stop doing business with him (i.e., closing his account). The First Amendment works both ways.


  2. Reagan, generally, was for less regulation. Jimmy Carter started that trend by beginning to deregulate airline routes and fares, and deregulation fit into Reagan’s attitude that less government tends to be better. He famously said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help. “


      1. The driving force behind the change was a belief held by many conservative folks that the major networks represented a narrow (too liberal) point of view and that we needed a broader variety of viewpoints.

        Liked by 1 person

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