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Hannity Accuses Podesta and Center For American Progress of “A Sinister, Concerted Effort… To Silence Politicians and the American People.”

Reported by Ellen - June 29, 2007 -

Sean Hannity came up with a new conspiracy theory during last night’s (6/28/07) Hannity & Colmes. This time, he claimed that John Podesta and his liberal think tank, The Center for American Progress, were part of “a sinister, concerted effort” to have the Fairness Doctrine reinstated (despite the fact that a recent joint CAP/Free Press report stated otherwise) in “a direct assault on the First Amendment,” all in an effort to influence the 2008 election. Somehow, McCain-Feingold is involved, too. Unlike previous nights, Hannity forgot to mention Hillary Clinton! Fortunately for him, the FOX News producers had his back. With video (coming).

It was another unfair, unbalanced discussion about talk radio with another Republican as the sole guest, and another night where Alan Colmes essentially agreed with the other two opinions (minus the conspiracy theory).

Last night’s guest was Republican Congressman Mike Pence who had just gotten an amendment passed in the House (just what got amended was never explained) prohibiting the FCC from using any funds to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine over the next year.

The discussion began with a clip of Democratic Congressman Dave Obey on the floor of the House of Representatives. That was all the “balance” Democrats got in the discussion. Obey was shown saying he wants “(Rush) and folks like him to be thoroughly and fully exposed to the American listening audience.” That hardly sounded to me like someone trying to silence the voice of opposition but maybe Obey wasn’t part of Hannity’s axis of evil Democrats… not yet, anyway.

Furthermore, in their lopsided picture, Hannity & Colmes didn't play the part of the clip in which Obey suggested the amendment was a red herring, a non-issue and that it was being debated, such as it was--no Democrats stood to oppose it--to provide sound bites for conservative talkers and "yap yap TV," who had ginned up the issue. In a Shakespearian mood, Obey said the amendment was "much ado about nothing" and "sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Perhaps it was too much to hope that Colmes would have spoken out against the business interests of his employer(s). But this was at least the fourth Hannity & Colmes discussion about the CAP/Free Press report. Is it too much to ask that the “fair and balanced” network find someone to advocate on behalf of the report’s conclusions and recommendations?

Colmes made a point of defending the Center for American Progress by saying that the report has been distorted and does not advocate for the Fairness Doctrine, but that was as far as he went. The rest of his energy went into demonstrating how much he’s against the Fairness Doctrine. He presented no concerns about either the quantity or quality of conservative talk radio programming. He said to Pence, “Congressman, you were in our business at one point. Anybody who's been in our business – and I haven't talked to anybody on either side of the spectrum who is on our side of the microphone that would support a Fairness Doctrine coming back. And you've got some rank and file Democrats with you, don't you?”

Predictably, Pence didn’t care that the CAP/Free Press report (which he kept calling “the Podesta report” despite the fact that Podesta is not one of its authors) actually advocated against reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. In his zeal to tarnish any Democrat concerned about the state of talk radio, Pence claimed “That (report) set the stage for a number of extremely prominent, powerful people to step forward and begin to make the intellectual case to return the Fairness Doctrine should, quite frankly, a Democrat take control of the White House.”

In concert with Pence’s concerns, a chyron repeatedly appeared reading, “Democrats eager to regulate talk radio.”

Pence added, "(The report) did advocate a whole new range of regulations which would have the effect of, I believe, squelching what has become this dynamic, free-wheeling, talk radio market."

In fact, that "dynamic" market is overwhelmingly one-sided (conservative) and not representative of American opinion. That’s the real message of the CAP/Free Press report but that larger point got overlooked.

Hannity began his portion of the interview by declaring, with his trademark grandiosity, that there’s "a direct assault on the First Amendment in this country and an effort to silence the American people, especially in the lead up towards elections here." He claimed that "Podesta" is "almost even worse because they want to intimidate station owners and use the government through regulation, that if you don't put these shows on the air, that they're gonna monitor or limit the number of stations that they can have in markets. That is almost as bad if not worse, isn't it?"

Hannity grossly distorted the report’s recommendations which are: 1) restore local and national caps on the ownership of commercial radio stations; 2) ensure greater local accountability over radio licensing; and 3) require commercial owners who fail to abide by enforceable public interest obligations to pay a fee to support public broadcasting (pp 9-11). I found no requirement to air liberal programming. Co-author John Halpin stated, “If we break up concentrated ownership, and encourage greater local accountability over radio licensing, and still end up with lots of conservative talk, then so be it. We don’t think this will happen but at least the playing field would have been made more level.”

During previous discussions, Hannity alleged that Podesta, Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff, had conspired with Hillary Clinton on the report. Hannity somehow forgot to reiterate that charge last night but, conveniently, while he spoke, the FOX News producers ran footage of Podesta on a podium with Bill and Hillary Clinton on one side and Al Gore on the other.

Hannity added, “I think this is sinister because I think this is a concerted effort, you know through McCain-Feingold, the Fairness Doctrine, the intimidation of broadcast station groups and owners to silence people and more specifically politicians in the lead up to the elections.”

Pence said disingenuously, “We want the American people to have the broadest array of voices and ideas and they'll make their choices about where they get their information.” He said he’s going to fight for his “broadcast freedom bill” in order to “deny the FCC, permanently, the right to change the rules and we’re going to fight to do that.”