The paranoia business

    Let us bid an official goodbye, once and for all, to a classic example of conservative paranoia.The ’08 votes had barely been tallied when Rush Limbaugh and his pals in the right-wing echo chamber declared that Barack Obama was plotting with congressional Democrats to kill off conservative talk radio. According to the shock jocks and Michelle Malkin and the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the National Review website, Obama intended to whack the radio shows by reviving the Fairness Doctrine – an archaic federal rule, last enforced in the 1980s, that at one time required broadcasters to balance all commentary with opposing views. Limbaugh and company warned that the inevitable resurrection of this requirement would be a direct assault on their microphone freedom, a surefire way to end their domination of the airwaves.Never mind the fact that candidate Obama had already told broadcasters, back in June 2008, that he did not intend to revive the balance rule. Conservatives simply decided that Obama had to be lying, that his opposition to the rule had to be a trick. So when he was inaugurated, their heads predictably exploded; Malkin wrote “Fairness Doctrine here we come,” and the Journal editorial page declared that it was “likely to be reimposed,” and Limbaugh harrumphed that “it’s going to be more than just me and Hannity whose freedom of speech will be done away with via the Fairness Doctrine.” Meanwhile, a conservative think tank put out a money-raising appeal with the headline, “Hannity and Limbaugh to be kicked off the air!”Never mind the fact that in 2009 Obama appointed, as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, a guy who vocally opposed bringing back the Fairness Doctrine; and never mind the fact that an Obama spokesman told Fox News, in 2010, that the president did not, does not, and will not target conservative radio by reviving the Fairness Doctrine. Conservatives still refused to believe the good news.Here was Limbaugh, in January of this year: “So, believe me, I wouldn’t be surprised, folks, if somebody in the Obama regime, or some FCC bureaucrat, or some Democrat congressman, has already written up legislation to stifle and eliminate conservative speech, and that legislation is sitting in a desk drawer someplace just waiting for the right event to clamp down, because that’s what all this is.”Limbaugh, joined by conservative blogs and Fox News, were agitating yet again about a secret Fairness Doctrine plot, because they assumed that the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords would compel Obama and the Democrats to pin the blame on conservative talk radio – and to revive the balance rule as a form of punishment. Two or three Democratic congressmen had indeed floated the idea publicly, but talk is cheap on Capitol Hill. No hearings were held, no Democratic leaders ever lifted a finger, and Obama never said a word about the idea.But conservatives still refused to believe the good news. Yet again, they interpreted the silence as trickery. Limbaugh warned on the air that Obama’s team was surely readying a “Hush Rush” bill, and he intoned: “Do not kid yourself. What this is all about is shutting down conservative media.”That was January. But there was an outburst of hysteria as recently as Aug. 7 – when the prominent conservative Power Line website warned about a liberal attempt to “censor and shut down Fox News and Rush Limbaugh…That’s what the attempted revival of the Fairness Doctrine is all about.” (What “attempted revival?” Two months earlier, in June, Obama’s FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski, had stated publicly that the Fairness Doctrine would soon be officially buried forever. Seven months earlier, in January, he had stated in writing, “I do not support the Fairness Doctrine’s reinstatement…through a back door or otherwise.”)So now we finally come to the punch line:On Monday of this week, the FCC officially removed the Fairness Doctrine from its regulatory books.The FCC chairman did just as he had promised, acting in consistent accordance with Obama’s long-stated opposition to the balance rule.Genachowski said Monday that Obama recently ordered the federal agencies to cut unnecessary regulations; therefore, the Fairness Doctrine was consigned to the dust bin, “consistent with the values and philosophy we apply at the FCC.” Indeed, Genachowski’s longstanding take on the Fairness Doctrine is similar to Limbaugh’s; as the FCC chairman said in his announcement, “The Fairness Doctrine holds the potential to chill free speech and the free flow of ideas, and was properly abandoned over two decades ago.”So much for the right’s ginned-up hysteria.I’ve looked in vain this week for any acknowledgment, among the various conservative media players, that they had been wrong to warn of a plot to kill conservative talk radio. I’ve looked in vain for any statement acknowledging that Obama had indeed been true to his word. (Huh? No mea culpas? Big surprise.) I doubt that they feel chastened or embarrassed for being so wrong. Rather, I suspect that they’re merely disappointed to lose, forever and ever, one of their favorite straw men. Playing the victim is good business. Whipping up paranoia is good business. Fomenting controversy, however phony the controversy may be, is good business.But in business, when you lose a lucrative product line, you don’t look back. You simply move on. You look to the future, where fresh faux paranoia opportunities await. After all, we’re only four months away from the liberals’ “War on Christmas.”  ——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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