GOP must shoot its own dog (not Trump)

Rush Limbaugh can deliver his one-sided tirades because the FCC stopped enforcing the Fairness Doctrine.
Rush Limbaugh can deliver his one-sided tirades because the FCC stopped enforcing the Fairness Doctrine. Getty Images

Sometimes you have to shoot your own dog.

And that’s just what the Republican establishment needs to do.

And, no, Donald Trump is not the dog.

But we’ll start with a dog.

If you are of a certain age, you will remember the movie “Old Yeller,” set in post-Civil War Texas. Yeller, a yellow Labrador retriever, contracts rabies after defending his adopted family from a wolf. The mouth-foaming, vicious pet is now a threat to the family.

Sometimes you have to shoot your own dog.

Now think about the current state of the GOP. It has a Trump problem. Party leaders are scratching their collective heads trying to figure out how Trumpism came to be. They might just turn on the radio to get some answers.

Tune into the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or Glenn Beck. Turn to the other conservative talkers who clog the radio dial these days. There you will hear the hosts defend the conservative family of thought with evermore corrosive, extreme and strident diatribes.

Hour after hour. Day after day. For decades, now. What are listeners hearing? More often than not, what they hear is who to blame for their problems.

And who is listening? Trump supporters. White men. They have been told over and over and over again they should be angry. Be angry with illegal immigrants. Muslims. Gays. Feminazis. Liberals. Even the Republican establishment.

Our government handed billions of dollars’ worth of our public radio airways over to these hosts 30 years ago. In 1987, under the pressure of corporate broadcasters, the Republican-controlled Federal Communication Commission (FCC) stopped enforcing the Fairness Doctrine. Later Congress tried to reinstate the doctrine, only to fail due to a President Reagan veto.

Before that, and beginning in 1949, the Fairness Doctrine required broadcasters to present both sides of controversial issues. The idea behind the doctrine: The public owns the airways and if you hold a license to broadcast, you cannot put controversial speech on the air without opposing points of view.

Political talk radio – conservative or progressive – could not pass muster under such a doctrine. Could Rush Limbaugh do his shtick if he had to interview Planned Parenthood’s head to balance a segment? A gay rights advocate? A Democrat?

The winners here are clear – enriched conservative talkers, their production companies, and corporate broadcasters. After all, that is what conservative talk radio is all about. Money. It sells to the listeners and the advertisers. What it is not about is the public interest.

Even in days of specialized social media and myriad sources of digital information, the public airwaves are still the public airwaves. The U.S. government issues radio and TV licenses. To get a license, you should have to be “fair and balanced,” borrowing the Fox News slogan.

Trump is the wrong target for Republican leaders. Unrelenting conservative talk radio should be in the crosshairs. Right-wing radio is what created Trump or, at least, the opportunity for a Trump.

If your ideas are better, they will stand up to opposing points of view. If not, they will not. It’s called the marketplace of ideas.

Republican leaders surely benefit from Rush and his crowd. However, their pet is rabid. Now, the GOP is dealing with Donald Trump and a fractured party. Now, the party is losing control. Now, the Republicans should reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. They have the power to do so.

Sometimes you have to shoot your own dog.

Hefner, a former general manager of WRAL-TV in Raleigh, is a professor of the practice of journalism at the UNC School of Media and Journalism.