Reversing the Reagan Revolution

For the past 20 years or so, liberals and conservatives alike have loved to complain about the content of the broadcast media, albeit for different reasons. Rarely have they recognized that their complaints have a common root cause, or that they could have a common solution—the Media Ownership Reform Act (MORA), introduced by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y.

Since the Reagan era, conservatives (especially religious ones) have moaned about Howard Stern's leering, Marilyn Manson's faux Satanism, Janet Jackson's breast, et alia. Meanwhile, in the same two decades, liberals grew increasingly bewildered as the AM radio band was taken over by Far Right political talk shows—Rush Limbaugh and his countless imitators—and the Fox News cable channel brought talk radio culture to the world of 24/7 TV news.

Little noticed was the fact that these two media phenomena—rampant vulgarity and ideological media hegemony—shared a common source. Both were products of the sweeping media deregulation undertaken in the 1980s by President Ronald Reagan's appointees to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

For 60 years, beginning with the Radio Act of 1927, the federal government asserted that the broadcast airwaves were a national commons, and a license to use them was a public trust. In the debate before the passing of the Radio Act, Luther Johnson, a Democratic member of Congress from Texas, noted presciently, "American thought and American politics will be largely at the mercy of those who operate these stations, for publicity is the most powerful weapon that can be wielded in a republic."

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Sojourners Magazine August 2007
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