Thursday, March 14, 2019

Who says life has to be fair? The rise and fall of broadcasting’s Fairness Doctrine

Presented to the Club on Monday evening, January 14, 2019, by Brad Spear

The headline in the Saturday, December 22 Washington Post article said it all, “‘This Is Tyranny of Talk Radio Hosts, Right? ‘: Limbaugh and Coulter Blamed for Trump’s Shutdown of Portions of the Federal Government.” Here we are 23 days later, and the “partial shutdown” of the federal government continues.

Two days before, conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh and conservative podcaster Ann Coulter separately ridiculed the President over a compromise that had been reached with Senate Democrats to avoid a government shutdown by partially funding the construction of a wall at the Mexico-US border. Upon hearing the ridicule, Mr. Trump suddenly reversed his position, thereby closing the federal government on Friday, December 21. According to the Post article, CNN commentator Jeffrey Toobin was quoted as saying, the reason for the President’s reversal of position was because Limbaugh and Coulter “had questioned his manhood.”

Have these two pillars of right-wing talk radio always had such sway over the nation’s affairs? The answer is “no;” at least not until the repeal in 1987 of a longtime tenant of American broadcasting: the Federal Communications Commission’s “Fairness Doctrine.”

Monday, March 11, 2019

The most hated man in America

Presented to the Club on Monday evening, March 4, 2019 by Martin C. Langeveld

During much of the time between the two World Wars, if you had asked an average person on the street, or the average journalistic pundit, who they considered to be the most hated person in America, ranking high among the possible answers would have been the name of Grover Cleveland Bergdoll. But why?

Grover Cleveland Bergdoll, the playboy scion of a Philadelphia family of beer brewers with German roots, was born in 1893. After the Wright brothers set up their first school for airplane pilots, at Huffman Prairie near their home base of Dayton, Ohio, Grover enrolled in April, 1912 and became one of the first 119 people who learned to fly there. Once proficient, he purchased from the Wrights a 40-horsepower Model B flyer, for the sum of $5,625 (nearly $150,000 in 2019 dollars). (The young man, just 18 years old and a student at the University of Pennsylvania, had been receiving a $5,000 allowance annually since he was 15.) The Model B was the first Wright plane to have wheels, enabling it to take off on its own rather than with the catapult system used until then.

Within a few months, Grover was entertaining large crowds in Philadelphia by making exhibition flights. At the time, flying was quite a hazardous pursuit. In 1910, the Wright Brothers had assembled a team of nine expert exhibition pilots to demonstrate their planes around the country — by the end of 1912, six of the nine had been killed in airplane crashes. But Grover was not only fearless but highly proficient. While still working to qualify for a pilot’s license in the spring of 1912, he was offering rides to friends, buzzing crowds, reaching altitudes of 2,000 feet, and staying aloft as long as 34 minutes. That summer, with a passenger on board, he flew from the suburban air field to Philadelphia’s downtown City Hall, circled the statue of William Penn atop its dome three times, and flew low over a westbound train for 22 blocks before revving his engine and passing it. In August, he flew from Philadelphia to Atlantic City, reaching altitudes over 7,000 feet, the first flight between the two cities. After more flights, in September, just five months after his first lessons, Grover passed the necessary trials and was awarded a pilot’s license. He was the 169th person in the U. S. ever to receive one.