- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Just desserts for a reprobate is one thing. A purging campaign by modern-day Torquemadas is quite another. That’s what we’re worried could happen in the wake of the sacking of Don Imus.

Some well-placed media and political personalities with friends inside the palace want to end the careers of those outside the palace — to the point that hard-leftist Rosie O’Donnell is now defending Mr. Imus. Miss O’Donnell depends on a let-it-rip media culture. She understands what’s going on here.

Sift a little deeper into this story and an epic struggle for free speech — a cultural struggle as much or more than a constitutional one — is at hand. Start with the talk of the “Fairness Doctrine,” the Orwellian airwave speech code vetoed by President Reagan in 1987. Some heralds of creeping authoritarianism actually want it back. Several Democratic members of Congress have called for it. They want government bureaucrats parsing statements over the airwaves for political bias.

In other words, they cry foul at the mere suggestion that Broadcasting Board of Governors Chairman Ken Tomlinson assigned an underling to look for political bias in public broadcasting programs. But they have no problem assigning several city blocks of federal bureaucrats to wield much more intrusive regulatory powers over the many private voices on the airwaves.

Ask for a moment who would benefit from a reimposition of such government meddling. The left would need to give up the struggling Air America. The right would give up just about everything it has on talk radio. Much as the establishment has kowtowed for years to the likes of Don Imus, it can afford to sever those ties. The outsiders cannot. The flowering of conservative talk radio these last two decades is one of the era’s more remarkable media phenomena. It would be devastated.

Here’s our own columnist Nat Hentoff, describing in January the Fairness Doctrine’s effect on the Boston radio station where he once worked. After a number of Fairness Doctrine inquiries from the Federal Communications Commission, “the boss summoned all of us and commanded that from then on, we ourselves would engage in no controversy at the station… For any other controversial statements by nonstaff members, opposing views had to be given equal time to reply.”

In the broader culture, the most disturbing thing is the apparent impunity for talk that this is “just the beginning.” First voiced by the Rev. Al Sharpton, now The Washington Post editorializes that this is, in fact, “Just the Beginning” (its title), and that Mr. Imus “should be the start, not the end, of the dialogue.” It weakly concludes with the hope that “the revulsion will extend to the gangsta-rap artists and their record companies.” Fat chance.

In questions of sweeping government power like the Fairness Doctrine, it is always best to ask: Cui bono? Who benefits? In this case, it is the political and cultural left. We can already hear their knives sharpening.

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