Jay Rockefeller: I Wish The FCC Would Take Fox And MSNBC Off The Air
Yesterday during a hearing about cable retransmission rules, West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller went off on a bit of a tangent:
At a Senate committee hearing about television retransmission consent on Wednesday, Mr. Rockefeller spoke broadly about the ways he believes television is ailing, and in doing so, he singled out the “endless barking” of cable news.
He said: “There’s a little bug inside of me which wants to get the F.C.C. to say to Fox and to MSNBC, ‘Out. Off. End. Goodbye.’ It would be a big favor to political discourse; to our ability to do our work here in Congress; and to the American people, to be able to talk with each other and have some faith in their government and, more importantly, in their future.”
Of course, Rockeller’s rant was rather pointless because the FCC has no authority to do anything about either Fox or MSNBC:
There is little the Federal Communications Commission can say about Fox News or MSNBC since the channels are on cable, not delivered over the broadcast airwaves
Not to mention this little part of American law:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Leaving aside the fact that FNC and MSNBC are outside the FCC’s jurisdiction, though, the idea that a government entity should conceivably be given the authority to shut down a broadcast entity because of its content ought to be anathema to every American. Even if you believe that cable news discourse has had a negative effect on politics in general, and I am somewhat sympathetic to that argument, that is not a justification for content based speech regulation. If you don’t like Fox or MSNBC’s programming, then don’t watch them. If enough people do the same, maybe that will persuade them to change their programming. Based on the fact that both Fox and MSNBC draw fairly decent ratings, however, it would seem that many people like their programming. That’s called the marketplace, and it’s wrong to use the power of the state to override that decision just because you don’t like it.
This isn’t a moot point, either. The argument that Rockefeller makes can be, and has been, applied to talk radio as well. The argument is the same there, however. If you don’t like Rush Limbaugh, don’t listen to him and do what you can to persuade others to do the same. However, nobody should be allowed to use the power of the state to force him, or others like him, off the air in the name of “fairness.”