Cross-posted to BloggingForMichigan.com
Ann Arbor, Michigan's Thomas More Law Center has been on a roll these past few months. Last December, it sued the U.S. Treasury Department, arguing that the government was promoting radical Islam by paying federal bailout money to the insurer AIG. Now it has joined forces with Michael Savage to stop Congress from re-instituting the Fairness Doctrine, which existed between 1949 and 1987.
What is the Fairness Doctrine, you ask? Steve Rendall of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting explains that it has two basic elements:
It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials. The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented.
To say that Michael Savage provides contrast is an understatement. In a 2003 Salon magazine article, David Gilson called him "America's angriest, most vicious conservative radio host" who has "launched a one-man mission to save America from its enemies." Those enemies include "liberals, gays, academics, the homeless, the Clintons, immigrants, feminists, CNN, the American Civil Liberties Union, Muslims and other minorities."
Gilson wrote that article before Savage's on-air meltdown in July 2003:
"Oh, you're one of the sodomites....You should only get AIDS and die, you pig. How's that? Why don't you see if you can sue me, you pig. You got nothing better than to put me down, you piece of garbage. You have got nothing to do today, go eat a sausage and choke on it."
Savage has the kind of legal representation he deserves. The head of Thomas More is Richard Thompson, the former Oakland County, Michigan, prosecutor who pursued assisted-suicide doctor Jack Kevorkian with the zeal that would put Inspector Javert to shame. The voters weren't amused: in 1996, Thompson lost to David Gorcyca. By 12 points. In a Republican primary.
But Thompson landed on his feet at Thomas More, whose board of directors have included Rick Santorum and Alan Keyes.
Under Thompson's direction, Thomas More has gone to court to advance the Religious Right's agenda. Among other things, it tried to force Planned Parenthood to warn women that abortions caused breast cancer, supported Justice Roy Moore's attempt to erect a Ten Commandments monument inside the Alabama Supreme Court building, and urged Governor Jeb Bush to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case.
Thompson and the center are best known for the Dover, Pennsylvania, intelligent design case. Journalist Matthew Chapman, who wrote a book about the case titled 40 Days and 40 Nights, was less than impressed with Thompson's management of the case. He called Thomas More's legal team "a dysfunctional family," with Thompson often playing the role of absent father. And when Thompson turned up in the courtroom, it wasn't pretty: he bullied one witness so badly that Chapman likened it to a boxer taking on a chess player at a chess match.
Subtlety is not Thompson's strong suit. His press release announcing the center's representation of Savage is an anthology of right-wing talking points. Including this doozy:
With the stink of public corruption blanketing Washington, with our elected officials passing the single largest spending bill in our nation’s history without even reading or debating it, with the increasing nationalization of our financial institutions, with almost dictatorial control of Congress by one political party, and with increasing signs we are becoming a socialistic country, Americans need more dynamic talk show hosts like Savage, not less.
Thompson also said that "Michael Savage is the personification of what the liberals hate about conservative talk radio." Feel free to offer your own rebuttal to that one.
And Thompson earns an F in media law for this: "If the Doctrine is so fair, why are the liberals limiting it only to radio? Why not television, the internet, and all the print media?"
The answer is "spectrum scarcity": there are more would-be broadcasters than there is bandwidth to accommodate them. As a result, the government established a system by which it licenses broadcasters. One condition of holding a license is that the broadcaster act in the public interest.
Until 1987, one aspect of the public interest was airing both sides of controversial issues. Which is the last thing in the world that Dick Thompson and Michael Savage want. They like talk radio just the way it is: a daily 50,000-watt diet of pure, uninterrupted, right-wing invective.