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.”

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Religion, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. BigFire says:

    Perhaps Senator Rockerfeller is having a bit if Henry II recital: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” (Replace priest with msmbc/foxnews).

  2. reid says:

    Smells like another Outrage! attack, since I’m sure Rockefeller knows all this and isn’t proposing anything. Though I suppose as a Senator, he should not let his personal frustrations with our crappy news media come out.

  3. Drew says:

    “Leaving aside the fact that FNC and MSNBC are outside the FCC’s jurisdiction………….”

    Heh. I was listening to Ed Schultz rant about this. He forgot – your more important observation aside – that they were on cable.

  4. JKB says:

    I wish the people of West Virginia would elect a senator who had a basic understanding of the Constitution and a love of what makes America exceptional.

    And yes, I support his right to say what he said under the First Amendment he want to subvert but I also understand that with great authority comes great responsibility. And some fool elected official running his mouth is not always in the best interests of the country.

  5. john personna says:

    His heart is in the right place.

    And, I think it’s an argument relying on accident of history and technology to so say “oh, in broadcast the waves got through the air, in cable the waves go through metal or glass and that makes all the difference.”

    If we had “public service” and similar requirements for the air-flowing signals, we could for the copper-flowing signals. It isn’t such a huge leap.

  6. jfoobar says:

    Me thinks that there are a few people here that are badly overstating both the significance and the intent of the words “there’s a little bug inside of me which wants…” Despite Reid’s valid point about a Senator probably needing to be more careful with his/her words, this is a proverbial mole hill.

  7. reid says:

    jfoobar: Sadly, sometimes the posters here feel the need to address the Outrage!!! of the day. Usually it’s tempered with some sanity and/or just addresses some interesting, perhaps peripheral, nugget buried beneath the layers of idiocy and spin. This one was weak and should have been ignored, IMHO.

    jp: It does seem like an awfully thin distinction there. Of course, the libertarians and TPers will no doubt take the opportunity to push the other way and try to get rid of all of the “over the air” policies, claiming it was imposed on a technicality…. That would be a nugget worth exploring more.

  8. Drew says:

    “His heart is in the right place.”

    LOL Right, and in some circles, so is the KKK’s, etc.

    You’ve fallen into the fool’s trap, JP, “be reasonable, my heart is better than your heart, and correct.”

  9. André Kenji says:

    I don´t like these kind of regulations as a matter o principle, but the Brits does have it. That means that Murdoch owned Sky News has reporting, correspondents and real journalists in Africa and Asia reporting the news. At least it´s very tempting.

  10. Justin Bowen says:

    If Fox and MSNBC are keeping politicians from doing their jobs, then the government should start subsidizing them.

  11. Jane says:

    You can nitpick about the details, but his sentiment is dead on. The 24/7 nontroversy cable news wurlitzer, particularly in the age of instant internet communication, creates so much noise and artificial “culture war” nonsense that it has fundamentally damaged political discourse IMO.