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Reader feedback 1.14.04

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'Fairness' history

Notwithstanding Jeff Goldblatt's dismissive tone about the Fairness Doctrine and government regulation of the broadcast media ("Wronged by a Left-wing Columnist," The Mail, December 23), he is wrong about broadcast media history and misleading about the local media's performance.

            The Fairness Doctrine was enacted during the Coolidge Administration (Republican) in the 1920s after ships at sea began confronting tangled radio wavelengths. The wavelengths became tangled because there had been no government assignment and regulation.

            Recognizing this, then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover (a liberal by Goldblatt's definition) made this observation: "Broadcasting is a public concern, and is to be considered from a public viewpoint." The Coolidge Administration, he said, had a duty to present a variety of views on the limited number of airwaves available. Therefore, those airwaves were not to be sold, but licensed to individual trustees and also regulated to ensure the public interest was served.

            To preserve a diversity of views, the Federal Communications Commission was created to ensure that radio, then television, provided free time for alternative views "on controversial issues of public importance." And for four decades, the government resisted granting radio, and later television, broadcast licenses to monopolies or multi-media corporations over the airwaves.

            The FCC closely enforced not only what became known as the Fairness Doctrine but a lesser-known doctrine termed "local ascertainment," which required radio and broadcast television stations (at the time licensed for three-year periods) to ascertain major local issues and present opportunities for them to be aired free. For 40 years, that represented the embodiment of free speech and democracy in this country. (The Fairness Doctrine applied only to opinions, not to news.)

            After 40 years of court challenges by broadcasters, the US Supreme Court ringingly upheld the Fairness Doctrine's Constitutionality, Justice Byron White writing for a unanimous Court: "There is nothing in the First Amendment which prevents the government from requiring a licensee to share his frequency with others... with obligations to present those views and voices which are representative of his community, and which otherwise, by necessity, be barred from the airwaves."

            And he added: "It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the rights of the broadcasters, which is paramount.... That right may not Constitutionally be abridged either by Congress or the FCC."

            With such a unanimous, all-out endorsement by the nation's highest tribunal, how could the public possibly be deprived of free speech on the airwaves that the law still says it owns? The setback happened under two militantly-reactionary presidents --- first Nixon, then Reagan.

            Nixon began a campaign of disparagement of both the broadcast and printed media by having his vice president, later to be convicted of lying, launch a sustained attack. But it was left to President Ronald Reagan to pack both the FCC and the federal courts with reactionary judges who vacated the Warren Court's ruling, a ruling that once had been considered as fixed as the stars in heaven.

            So it's clear that Jeff Goldblatt is wrong in asserting that both political parties did away with the doctrine. In fact, Democratic legislators have more than once moved to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, bowing to an inevitable veto by either a Republican president or by the right-wing Supreme Court.

            It's sheer nonsense to equate a few minutes of news-talk on WHAM with regular half-hour as well as totally free discussion programs that had been the essence of democracy for over 40 years.

            Mitch Kaidy, Crittenden Road, Rochester

Sexist-ageist?

In the December 30 film clip for Calendar Girls, Jon Popick includes a particularly nasty potshot at the film's subject of middle-aged women posing for a nude calendar: "I used Clorox to wash out my eyes afterwards, but I've read that both Tabasco and scalding hot water with a pinch of lemon juice work equally well, too." I recognize that this is Mr. Popick's attempt at humor; in the same issue, he states that "the photography session for the calendar is Girls' best feature and, despite the nudity, I wished it were longer." However, the fact that a sexist, ageist comment is intended as a joke does not neutralize its offensive nature.

            Why did you choose to print this sexist remark? I could not care less what Mr. Popick thinks about middle-aged women and nudity: He is entitled to his own opinion. I am, however, disgusted by your decision to allow this comment to appear in print.

            I am not the first reader to accuse Mr. Popick of sexism. Why, then, do you continue to print such insulting remarks? It seems a matter of rank hypocrisy that your newspaper, which is so sensitive to social and political issues within Rochester and MonroeCounty, would decide to print something so mean-spirited and offensive. Unless you can assure me that I can read film reviews free of hateful comments, I can assure you that I will think twice about patronizing any business that advertises in your newspaper.

            Juliet Sloger, Aberdeen Street, Rochester

Baring it

Jon Popick's Film Clips of Calendar Girls and Something's Gotta Give seem to raise a similar classical issue. In Popick's words, Calendar Girls portrays "eleven bored, fifty-something British housewives ... [who] bare it all in a nudie calendar."

            "I used Clorox to wash out my eyes afterwards," he writes, "but I've read that both Tabasco and scalding hot water with a  pinch [sic] of lemon juice work equally well, too." Similarly on Something's Gotta Give, after mentioning Diane Keaton being seen "in the buff," Popick writes, "Meanwhile, the doctor says I might regain the sight in my left eye, even after stabbing a straw through it 14 times."

            I find myself pondering whether or not Popick sees the Oedipal similarities between his focus on the older female body and his violent response to damage his own eyesight.

            Valerie McPherson, Crosman Terrace

Bush is protecting

us from terrorism

You have run some bizarre letters recently concerning the death of US soldiers in Iraq. One tried to compare soldiers' deaths to aborted fetuses (you know: the little ones who can't shoot back), and the most recent lamented soldiers dying in Iraq when Iraq posed no threat and did not attack us. George Bush, our president, seemed to be the bad guy in both letters.

            On the contrary, I believe George Bush and his able administration are saving countless American lives by putting our brave men and women in uniform on the front lines against terrorism. As some of your readers may recall, New York businessmen unexpectedly found themselves on the front lines in that war some 28 months ago. I realize some of your readers are at an informational disadvantage, getting their info from the likes of Tom Tomorrow and Michael Moore, but I believe Iraq did have a hand in both WTC attacks, not to mention its encouragement of Palestinian suicide bombers ("freedom fighters," you libs may prefer).

            During the last Democrat administration, terrorists were free to attack our embassies, our troops, and our ships at sea. We didn't respond very much, did we, Mr. Clinton? For that matter, we blew a chance to declare war against another contributor to world terrorism, Iran, nearly 25 years ago, didn't we, Mr. Carter?

            Let us also recall that without the interference from one Ross Perot in 1992, Bill Clinton might not have ever been elected to begin with. Instead of Clinton allowing Iraq an attempted assassination of GHW Bush, the US might have had an extra four years to get rid of Hussein back in the '90s. I hope everyone who voted for Ross Perot in 1992 and/or 1996 will join me in voting for GW Bush for president in 2004, so the United States will be able to continue to make the world a safer place by fighting international terrorism.

            The death of each US soldier in Iraq is a tragedy for our country. The death of each innocent civilian in Afghanistan, Iraq, and, let's not forget, Israel, is a tragedy for the human race. The sooner we, the United States, rid the world of international terrorism, the better off life will be for the people of all nations.

            Joseph St. Martin, Fairport Nine Mile Point Road, Penfield

Defeat Bush

To catch the "Butcher of Baghdad," we killed thousands of people, including his two sons. I recently heard an American general on television discussing the various ways Hussein could be tortured to make him talk, from burying him in a hole to threatening his daughters. Under these conditions, how could we be sure that anything he said would be true? And most importantly, how can we resort to the same methods for which we condemned him?

            There has still been no good reason given for the invasion of Iraq. Blaming Iraq for the WorldTradeCenter tragedy is like blaming Spain for IRA bombings in Ireland. The real culprits are still at large, and most of our National Guard is out of the country. It will take us decades to recover from the cost of this ill-advised lack of diplomacy.

            This whole war has been one big photo opportunity for George W. Bush, from his absurd "Mission Accomplished" banner to the fake turkey he held on Thanksgiving for our troops. Bush literally spits on the White House lawn in front of reporters and uses profanity to describe Democrats, who are fellow Americans. I urge the Democratic Party to focus on the most important task facing our nation: keeping GW Bush from serving a second term. His corrupt administration rivals his father's.

            Carolyn Swanton, Sackett Road, Avon

Writing to City

We welcome and encourage readers' letters for publication. Send them to: themail@rochester-citynews.com or The Mail, City Newspaper, 250 North Goodman Street, Rochester14607.

            Our guidelines: We don't publish anonymous letters --- and we ask that you include your street name and city/town/village. While we don't restrict length, letters of under 350 words have a greater chance of being published. We do edit letters for clarity and brevity. And in general we don't publish letters (or longer "op-ed" pieces) from the same writer more often than once every three months.

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