Despite FCC Retreat, Free Speech Still Under Fire from Obama Administration

Family Security Matters

The Federal Communications  Commission (FCC) is claiming that it is backing off of its Orwellian plans to  intimidate newsrooms across America into joining the Obama Revolution in  “transforming America.” Their latest message is, in essence, if you like your  sources of news, you can keep your sources of news. But just like when President  Obama made that promise as it related to your doctors and your health care plan,  they don’t mean it for a second. It’s just what they believe they need to say at  this time to deceive the public and advance their agenda.  

The FCC was due to start its  Critical Information Needs (CIN) survey in Columbia, South Carolina last week  amid a media firestorm over this regulatory body’s decision to peer into  newsrooms’ news-making philosophies and story selection criteria. Now the FCC  says it will revise the study but still move forward with it, which raises as  many questions as they sought to quell. For example, an article in National Review Online says that up to now, the FCC  “has been consistently blocked in its efforts to establish race-based media  ownership rules-on the grounds that it did not have data to justify such  rulemaking.” But, it adds, there is now “a movement to make the CIN a mechanism  for gathering such data.” As The Daily Caller points out, this “raises a new  concern that the FCC may use the new version to revise media ownership rules and  base them on race.”

The FCC, in  a statement on February 21st concerning the change of plans, said that “Chairman  [Tom] Wheeler agreed that survey questions in the study directed toward media  outlet managers, news directors, and reporters overstepped the bounds of what  is required.” Who says anything is required, in terms of the government shaping  the news we see and hear? In fact, they overstepped the bounds of what is  acceptable, and what is constitutional. And they acted like this was just a  messaging error. Investor’s Business Daily called for abolishing the FCC in an editorial, and pointed out that the commission claimed in  its Friday press release “that it was ‘Setting the Record Straight  On The Draft Study’ (as if the problem was bad reporting rather than an  atrocious idea).”

As Accuracy in Media reported on February 7, this  is but one of several threats to free speech in our nation, and could lead to  the revival of a new version of the Fairness Doctrine. And we weren’t the only  ones, or the first to attempt to call attention to this outrageous attempt by  the Obama administration to try to intimidate newsrooms into compliance with  their ideas of what should be reported and how. We already know which of their  scandals they want to convince us are phony scandals-such as the IRS’ targeting  of conservative groups and Benghazi-and which news sources they believe need  re-education, or banning, which would include the Fox News Channel and most of  talk radio. They appear to be tossing out a big net to attempt to regulate what  those sources put out.

And while this story is still  largely confined to conservative media outlets, it has gotten a lot of attention  in recent days. The trigger for the story gaining critical mass appears to have  been a February 10th Wall Street Journal op-ed  piece by Ajit Pai, one of the two  Republican members of the current five-person commission, who was appointed by  President Obama. Fox News and talk radio have been reporting on the story  starting a few days after the piece appeared in the Journal. But the rest of the  media have continued to largely ignore this story. CNN’s “Reliable Sources”  didn’t even mention it on its weekly Sunday show about the media, while Fox  News’ “Media Buzz” did a full segment on it.

As a news story, this has had a  fascinating evolution. It appears that The Daily Caller has led the way on  coverage. They wrote about this survey back in October, and covered most of  the details that comprise the story today. And then in December, they noted how the  survey seemed to be going nowhere. Mark Levin commented on it several times on  his radio show, but few others paid any attention to it.

In December, House of  Representative members also decried this survey as reviving the Fairness  Doctrine. Tom Wheeler, the recently  installed FCC Chair-a true Obama  believer and top Obama bundler-responded  to Congressional criticism in December, saying during a hearing that “…what we  did was, there is a study that has been proposed by a consulting firm that we  were working with, and we put that out for public notice to exactly get the kind  of input that you’re suggesting.”

Wheeler’s response has since  evolved. On February 14 Wheeler responded to House criticism of the FCC study by  writing that the regulatory  agency will “adapt the study in response to these concerns and expect to  complete this work in the next few weeks.” There is nothing to see here, he  contended, saying, “The Commission has no intention of regulating political or  other speech of journalists or broadcasters by way of this Research Design, any  resulting study, or through any other means.”

Yet the study did intend to  extend the probe into the newsrooms of print journalists, according to a Fox  News’ Greta van Susteren  panel and an FCC commissioner. The FCC  has no jurisdiction over print media. “The survey is clearly written by somebody  who’s never set foot in a newsroom. … They go into newspapers as well. The FCC  doesn’t even regulate newspapers,” said Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post on  Greta’s panel. Tumulty called the study and its proposed actions “completely  clueless.” That’s like saying the IRS officials were merely “boneheaded” when  they repeatedly targeted conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status.

Van Susteren called the FCC’s  proposals something different: so stupid that they could be seen as malevolent,  “almost trying to shut up journalists.”

“What in the world is going on  where somebody in our government thinks it’s a good idea to invade these  different news rooms, when we’ve got a First Amendment, we’ve got freedom of the  press, I mean who in his right mind?” she asked. “And why didn’t everybody-And  maybe if one FCC commissioner was stupid enough, where were the other  ones?”


In breaking ranks with his fellow  FCC commissioners in the pages of The Wall Street Journal, Ajit Pai wrote, “But  everyone should agree on this: The government has no place pressuring media  organizations into covering certain stories.” He added, “Unfortunately, the  Federal Communications Commission, where I am a commissioner, does not agree.”

He points to the survey as an  example, and says that “The FCC says the study is  merely an objective fact-finding mission (emphasis added). The results  will inform a report that the FCC must submit to Congress every three years on  eliminating barriers to entry for entrepreneurs and small businesses in the  communications industry.” But Pai calls that claim “peculiar.”

“How can the news judgments made  by editors and station managers impede small businesses from entering the  broadcast industry?” he writes. “And why does the [Critical Information Needs]  study include newspapers when the FCC has no authority to regulate print media?”

When Pai was asked by Van  Susteren about the origin of the idea, he said he didn’t know.

Clearly, something more nefarious  is going on here, and the media shouldn’t play along. For the administration to  think it’s okay to go into newsrooms, especially into newsrooms of newspapers,  where they don’t have even a shred of authority, is outrageous. The question is,  how will-and how should-newsrooms react to Big Brother coming in and asking such  questions? Van Susteren and her panel from the Post, Washington Examiner, and  The Hill suggested the media simply should not cooperate.

However, if this plan were to  proceed in some manner, those under the FCC’s thumb-radio and television  stations-may not have much choice but to play along. Their license renewals may  be at stake. This reminds us of how the IRS went to organizations seeking  501(c)4 exemptions, and how the conservative and tea party groups were asked  about their political and religious beliefs, for their tweets and Facebook  pages, and other organizational data. 

“This is an outrage disguised as  a study,” noted Charles  Krauthammer. “As if the IRS, and the EPA,  and NLRB haven’t done enough damage,” said Krauthammer on Fox News’ “Special  Report,” “the FCC now has to trample on what rights are remaining.”  

Clearly, this administration  includes intimidation and thought control as part of President Obama’s plan for  “transforming America.” But of course, he knew nothing about this until he heard  about it in the media. Jay Carney said, at his White House press briefing on  Friday, “The FCC is an independent agency, so you’d have to talk to them for  details.”

Many have suggested that this is  Obama’s way of reinstituting a Fairness Doctrine by stealth means, since the  long-time dream of Democrats to do it by legislation or direct regulation has  failed. But I don’t quite see it that way. The Fairness Doctrine required  measured, timed balance on the licensed airwaves, whether radio or TV. The Obama  administration would prefer that every station and network be like NBC, or  better yet, MSNBC-in total service to the Obama administration, and to a lesser  extent, to the Democratic Party and the so-called progressive movement. They  aren’t really interested in balance, or even diversity-if that diversity  includes views critical of the administration. 

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