President Donald Trump recently called for an investigation of “Saturday Night Live” skits that portray him as a fool, and The New York Times wrote that this was “the kind of threat usually wielded by autocrats in countries where there is no independent media.”
Well, yeah, but it has also been wielded by progressives in this country where some media do not consistently reflect their views.
“Saturday Night Live,” we all know, is a rambunctious, popular TV show that holds back little in producing laughs and has held back zero on the subject of Trump. On just about every show, he’s there in the form of ultra-liberal actor Alec Baldwin adorned in Trumpian ignorance, narcissism, stupidity, vulgarity, callousness and gibberish. Wrap these attributes with satiric intent and you have Baldwin winning an Emmy and Trump tweeting anxiously.
Trump took a look at a recent rerun — “Saturday Night Live” was not live — and said it walloped him as it does all the time without mention of “the other side” and its transgressions. He asked whether the Federal Election Commission or Federal Communication Commission should look into this.
What his language suggested was that he maybe thinks an equal-time campaign advertising law would apply to this situation — it does not — or he believes the Fairness Doctrine is still around. It isn’t.
Formulated in 1949, the doctrine said broadcast radio and TV stations on public airwaves should air views on controversial issues but make sure all sides were voiced through one of a variety of different ways.
Intended to foster fair presentations on public issues, the rule pretty much did the opposite. Radio stations would stay away from such issues because of the endless complications of assuring balance. Having an outspoken talk show host would be one mess after another. The rule was actually getting in the way of free speech.
So President Ronald Reagan persuaded the FCC to reconsider the rule and get rid of it in 1987, and guess what? Radio commentary shows, mostly conservative, soon enough began to take off much to the chagrin of pugnacious progressives. Democrats wanted to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine, with some denying their motivating angst about Rush Limbaugh, the power of his spoken word and the millions who listened to him. He is dividing up the nation, some still insist, thereby cluing you in to their delusionary perceptions.
The liberally biased or outright leftist news and commentary outlets vastly outnumber those on the right, reach far more millions of people and are as quick or quicker than Limbaugh with his uppercuts and jabs. If you doubt me, tune in to late-night broadcast TV and watch the comedians pound Trump, or maybe watch broadcast news or tune in the cable news shows that vie for a liberal audience.
The Fairness Doctrine is not coming back, but leftists have talked about going after the company that puts Limbaugh on the air and have fought for other speech restrictions, such as wanting to apply gangster laws to corporations that disagree with them on global warming.
None of this makes Trump innocent. Satire is terrific. It is part of what we are as a nation. Leave it alone. Leave free speech alone. Quit declaring emergencies to keep Congress out of important decisions. Don’t generalize about fake news.
But if there are going to be generalizations about autocracy in America, those making them should understand that, while President Barack Obama did not like the Fairness Doctrine, he did unilaterally write and rewrite laws, aimed to wipe out some state laws, spied on reporters and bolstered the regulatory state like no one in history. And understand that Trump the populist has so far been better at giving people the jitters than equaling leftists in their abuse of our rights.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at [email protected].