This column originally appeared in the American Thinker on March 9, 2009
What do President Barack Obama and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have in common? Besides their socialist economic policies, they don't abide media critics well.
The Obama White House has Rush Limbaugh, king of talk radio, in its crosshairs. When a president of the United States targets one media personality for criticism, those who live and breathe by the First Amendment should be aware they're on life-support. The executive branch can pull their plug via the FCC, which decides who gets or keeps a broadcast license.
In Venezuela, Chavez has done just that. With all the talk about a revival here of the so-called Fairness Doctrine, is Obama far behind?
Chavez made himself dipstick in chief when he nationalized Venezuela's privately owned oil fields. His oil dependent economy is running on empty, leaving him with a $40 billion dollar deficit. It's further proof that socialists know only how to run private enterprise into the ground. Even self-described "progressives" recognize Venezuela's impending fall. "Inflation is hovering around 30% and the opposition is beginning to unite," according to a Wall Street Journal editorial.
Even so, Chavez was able to get voters to pass his no-term limits referendum in February, allowing him to run for a third term as president. How?
Chavez controls the message of his state-run media. A media watchdog group found that "over 93 percent of coverage on the state news channel, Venezolana de TelevisiÃ³n (VTV), was in favor of the constitutional amendment." Chavez's weapons include refusing to renew a station's broadcast license for allegedly backing a coup against him in 2002. He's ordered government officials to "draw up a map of the media war." It's his latest tactic against his media critics.
Now let's take a look at the Obama record. During a speech to Planned Parenthood in October 2008, candidate Obama said the American people "get confused" by listening to the "wrong talk radio" and "TV networks":
The one thing that I want to insist on is that, as I travel around the country, the American people are a decent people. Now they get confused sometimes. You know, they listen to the wrong talk radio shows or watch the wrong TV networks, um, but they're, they're basically decent, they're basically sound.
One can only imagine the media backlash against George W. Bush if he had described any media, including Al-jazeera, as "wrong."
Obama isn't leaving the lashing of Limbaugh to his White House staff and media devotees. Six days after taking office, Obama personally named his chief nemesis: "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done," he [Obama] told top GOP leaders, whom he had invited to the White House to discuss his nearly $1 trillion stimulus package.
Media are ignoring the big story: what does targeting Rush portend for reviving the Fairness Doctrine, which would require broadcasters to provide opposing viewpoints on controversial issues, and cripple talk radio? Instead, they're obediently following the White House lead in stoking an alleged feud between Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele and Limbaugh.
When a government official is complicit in suppressing protected speech, it undermines the 1st Amendment by chilling the very political discourse the Amendment is meant to protect. When the commander in chief becomes the heckler in chief, there is no greater threat to freedom of speech, and to the public's freedom to listen. It's the "Heckler's Veto" on steroids. Robert Gibbs, White House Press Secretary, "pleaded guilty" to feeding "counterproductive" cable news chatter by criticizing Rush Limbaugh and other media personalities.
The administration's recent claim that it "opposes any move to bring back the Fairness Doctrine" doesn't pass the smell test. David Brody of CBN reported March 3 on a video clip of Obama on that subject during the presidential campaign:
I'm committed to having the FCC review what our current policies are in terms of media diversification and part of what I want to do is to expand the diversity of voices in media or have policies that encourage that, taking into account that the nature of our media itself is changing so rapidly that the most important thing that we can probably do is to preserve the diversity that's emerging through the Internet.
Call it "media diversity" or "localism." The Fairness Doctrine by any other name smells just as bad.
There are signs that the White House conspiracy to demonize Rush in order to divert attention from Obama's failure to curb the crashing economy may be backfiring. Even liberals are starting to complain. Time Magazine blogger Michael Scherer calls it "Team Obama's Petty Limbaugh Strategy."
No doubt, the media faithful are confident that Obama will never turn on his own. It's one more reason why the American people distrust them to report accurately and objectively on Obama and his policies, and are turning instead to alternative media, such as talk radio.
There's nothing "petty" about the threat to the1st Amendment posed by a heckler in chief who gets to pick the person in charge of broadcast licensing and "media diversity."