Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s new running mate, has a special connection with Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, thanks to their shared background in the radio industry.
Pence and Walden once led a fight to pass legislation that aimed at ensuring the Fairness Doctrine would not be revived. That 1949 law — which might sound quaint in today’s fractured and no-holds-barred media landscape — required broadcasters to air opposing points of view.
After an adverse court decision, the doctrine was deep-sixed in 1987 just as conservative talk radio — and Rush Limbaugh, in particular — was becoming popular. While the Federal Communications Commission didn’t apply the Fairness Doctrine to talk-show hosts, its repeal spurred a rapid increase in programming that took a strong political point of view.
Democrats, smarting from Limbaugh’s success in aiding the Republican takeover of the House in 1994, introduced legislation to restore the Fairness Doctrine. That led to loud protests from the ascendant radio talkers and pledges by Republican congressional leaders to fight any return of the fairness rule.
Pence and Walden were a natural duo to lead the House fight against the Fairness Doctrine. Pence hosted a talk show in Indianapolis in the early 1990s. The folksy — and staunchly conservative — show set him up for a successful congressional candidacy in 2000, after two earlier failed runs for the House.
Walden has a deep broadcaster’s voice honed from working in his family’s small-town radio business centered in the Columbia Gorge. He and his wife sold the business in 2007.
When Barack Obama became president in 2009, Democrats held the Senate and House. Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-S.F., was among those talking about restoring some form of the Fairness Doctrine.
In the House, Walden and Pence teamed up to introduce a bill to permanently banish the Fairness Doctrine.
“Congressman Pence and I are continuing our longstanding fight against the government takeover of free speech on the airwaves,” Walden said in a 2009 press release. “The Walden-Pence Broadcaster Freedom Amendment would defend both the front and back door assaults on the First Amendment rights of broadcasters.”
Their bill never got out of the House. But it wasn’t clear how much of a real threat there was to restore the doctrine. The media landscape had changed dramatically, thanks in part to the growth of the internet. And Obama had told Broadcasting & Cable magazine during his campaign that he didn’t want to restore the doctrine.
Obama’s Harvard Law School classmate, Julius Genachowski, who became FCC chairman, also made it clear he had no interest in it. And in 2011, the FCC voted to remove all of the Fairness Doctrine regulations it had stopped enforcing years before.