What a difference a few days makes. Last week, the signs and portents suggested the Democrats' dynamic duo of Gore and Lieberman were cutting back on the media bashing, at least during campaign season, a tack that would make them more palatable to First Amendment defenders (and the ticket's Hollywood benefactors) at election time.
Since then, Lieberman has decided to testify at this week's hearings on the marketing of violent media, apparently deciding that move would appease an even larger block of voters. Even more troubling, we have connected the dots between a March campaign speech by Al Gore (see story, page 31) and the party's addition to the platform of a call for the reinstatement of the fairness doctrine. That plank has the candidate's fingerprints all over it.
Although Gore seems most interested in issue advertising and free response time for candidates (surprise, surprise), rather than the doctrine's broad applications to enforce balance in news coverage, the doctrine appears to be his vehicle of choice. It is one that would ride roughshod once again over an independent press (the doctrine was deemed unconstitutional and scrapped by the FCC in 1987). The picture emerging is one of a party increasingly comfortable with micromanaging media content if the perceived ends are laudable. By testifying, Lieberman is staking a claim on media violence as a campaign issue. And by vowing to make campaign-finance reform his first order of business, Gore is putting the fairness doctrine back on the table in a big way.
A Democrat-controlled White House, particularly in concert with a like-minded Congress, could spell trouble for the Fifth Estate and the First Amendment.