A decision by President Ronald Reagan to veto [PDF] an Act of Congress that would have codified the FCC's Fairness Doctrine into law, rather than just FCC regulation, coupled with the failure of both the FCC and Congress to expand the Doctrine to apply not only to over-the-air broadcasting, but also to ubiquitous cable television networks like Fox "News", gave birth to today's mendacious right-wing media echo chamber.
The rationale offered by Reagan in his veto at the time, and by the Commissioners he appointed to the FCC when it repealed [PDF] the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, was that the Doctrine had a "chilling effect" on broadcasters' willingness to cover controversial topics. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, in Red Lion Broadcasting v. FCC (1969), brushed aside that same argument as speculative.
"It is the purpose of the First Amendment to preserve an uninhibited market-place of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail," JFK-appointee Justice Byron White wrote on behalf of the unanimous Supreme Court in the Red Lion opinion. "Speech concerning public affairs," he added, "is more than self-expression; it is the essence of self-government."
That observation aligns with the words of James Madison, who introduced the First Amendment at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. "Knowledge will forever govern ignorance," Madison proffered; "and a People who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power that knowledge gives."
Because the "goal" of the First Amendment is to produce "an informed public capable of conducting its own affairs," the Court, in Red Lion, ruled that it's the First Amendment "right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, that is paramount."
The Supreme Court has never recognized a First Amendment right of a broadcaster to lie to the public, let alone a broadcaster's right to erect a pervasive, yet entirely fictional alternative reality, like the one created when Fox "News" embraced and amplified the same "Big Lie" that led to the January 6 insurrection.
If the Doctrine had been retained and expanded to cable TV outlets, it might well have prevented the January 6 insurrection. An expanded Fairness Doctrine would also have the potential to fend off today's ominous threat to the very survival of democracy in these United States...