A few weeks ago, the New York Times updated its list of the “people, places, and things Donald Trump has insulted on Twitter.” At last count, the list was up to 379.
“Late Night host are dealing with the Democrats for their very “unfunny” & repetitive material, always anti-Trump! Should we get Equal Time? […] More and more people are suggesting that Republicans (and me) should be given Equal Time on T.V. when you look at the one-sided coverage?”
The president doesn’t write well – he struggles regularly on things like capitalization and subject-verb agreement – so it’s difficult to know whether he was referring to late-night hosts in general or specifically to “Late Night” host Seth Myers.
Either way, what struck me as interesting is the notion that Trump believes he may be entitled to “equal time” on broadcasts he doesn’t like. As Slate noted, “Although no one can say for certain, it seems Trump was referring to the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to present different points of views on controversial issues. But that rule was eliminated by the Federal Communications Commission in 1987.”
And in general, Republicans were (and are) delighted by the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, in large part because it helped give rise to several far-right radio hosts, who in turn have shaped Republican politics over the last generation or so.
In fact, all of this reminds me of a funny story from nearly a decade ago.
After Barack Obama won the 2008 election, Republicans somehow convinced themselves that the Democratic administration would reimpose the Fairness Doctrine and destroy conservative media. It wasn’t true – Obama actually opposed the Fairness Doctrine, and said as much publicly – but in conservative circles, the fear of the policy bordered on panic.
The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson warned at the time that Obama risked triggering an “explosive controversy” if he pursued the policy. Soon after, a Republican congressman by the name of Mike Pence – why does that name sound familiar? – joined three other far-right lawmakers in introducing legislation that would prevent Obama from bringing back the Fairness Doctrine.
Remember, Obama had no interest in doing any of this. The right’s apoplexy was based on a threat that existed entirely in their imaginations. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) noted at the time, “Somebody plucked this out of the clear blue sky. This is a completely made-up issue.”
At least, it was. Eight years later, it’s Trump who’s whining about talk-show hosts hurting his feelings, and expressing public interest in having federally mandated “equal time” on comedy shows. Perhaps those terrified about the return of the Fairness Doctrine were ahead of their time and should’ve been worried about a president from their own party?