Since the FCC appointed Mark Lloyd as the agency’s Chief Diversity Officer/Associate General Counsel on July 29, conservatives have made him their new target in the ongoing campaign to baselessly warn about the reemergence of the Fairness Doctrine.
The most absurd attacks have come from pundits like right-wing radio host Michael Savage, who has called Lloyd a “neo-Nazi” and “piece of garbage” intent on closing down “conservatives in the media.” He said that Lloyd’s title — Chief Diversity Officer — is “code word for the KGB.” For the record, Lloyd has a distinguished career on communications policy issues. Most recently he was a vice president at the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He taught communications policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, served as general counsel to the Benton Foundation, worked as a communications attorney at a major D.C. law firm, and has nearly 20 years of experience in journalism.
The right wing’s main problem with Lloyd is a CAP/Free Press report he co-authored in 2007 called “The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio.” The report’s authors explicitly state that they do not think the Fairness Doctrine should be reinstated, and Lloyd has since said that he has “no plans or interest” to resurrect the law. Nevertheless, conservatives are insisting that that goal is really Lloyd’s secret plan.
Unfortunately, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has agreed to do the far right’s bidding. Last week, he wrote a letter to the FCC objecting to Lloyd’s appointment:
Simply put, I strongly disagree with Mr. Lloyd. I do not believe that more regulation, more taxes or fines, or increased government intervention in the commercial radio market will serve the public interest or further the goals of diversifying the marketplace. I am concerned that despite his statements that the Fairness Doctrine is unnecessary, Mr. Lloyd supports a backdoor method of furthering the goals of the Fairness Doctrine by other means.
These claims by Grassley and the right wing are misguided and based on a fundamental misreading — that may be either accidental or deliberate — of the report. A look at some of these myths:
— MYTH #1: Conservative voices will be kicked off the air. The report actually argues that telling radio broadcasters what to put on the air is inappropriate. What the report advocates for are policies that promote local programming, so what’s on the air is responsive to those communities and their advertisers, as opposed to national syndicators and large station group business models. Right now, the regulatory structure pushes out locally-owned, minority-owned, and female-owned stations. Grassley’s fear of “diversifying the marketplace” will not necessarily create more progressive talk radio; it may even get more conservative. It all depends on the on the location and interests of the community.
— MYTH #2: Lloyd wants to impose more taxes and fines on broadcasters. Grassley’s conception of taxes and fines is convoluted and out of context. The report argues that if broadcast stations don’t want to do local programming, they can pay a fine and get out of doing it. That money would go to the local public radio station for local programming.
— MYTH #3: Progressives secretly want a return to the Fairness Doctrine. Even Grassley admits that Lloyd never advocates a return to the Fairness Doctrine. Why? As Lloyd has explained, the Fairness Doctrine “never by itself fostered coverage of important issues in a way that spoke to the diversity of interests in local communities across our country. In the late 1960’s, the supposed golden age of the Fairness Doctrine, the Kerner Commission reported the failure of mainstream media to report on minority communities.”
Approximately 91 percent of weekday talk radio programming is conservative, and just nine percent is progressive. However, “43 percent of regular talk radio listeners identify as conservative, while 23 percent identify as liberal and 30 percent as moderate.” Much of this imbalance was created in the wave of consolidation after the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which “removed the national limit on the number of radio stations that one could own.” What progressives like Lloyd are advocating is not more liberalism, but more localism.