Of the IRS abuse cases that have recently come to light, the use of the IRS to enforce the defunct "Fairness Doctrine" on broadcasters is one of the most disturbing.
"I am alarmed by reports that suggest a federal official at the IRS instituting a de facto Fairness Doctrine," National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) President & CEO Dr. Frank Wright said in a press release. Wright was referring to long-time Christian radio host Dr. James Dobson revealing that his organization had to submit sample radio programs to the IRS, and that an IRS agent indicated that his criticism of President Obama would prevent his ministry from getting a certain form of non-profit status.
A press release about the controversy was issued under the headline, "IRS Subjects Dr. James Dobson and Family Talk Action to Viewpoint Discrimination."
In other words, Dobson’s views were singled out by the IRS because they were conservative, Christian, and critical of President Obama.
The NRB notes that the Fairness Doctrine, first introduced in 1949, enabled the FCC to compel broadcasters to air opposing viewpoints on controversial issues deemed to be of public importance. It was eliminated from the Code of Federal Regulations in August 2011, though it hadn’t been enforced since 1987. Wright said the FCC "was right to purge that pernicious policy from the Code of Federal Regulations" but that, in the Dobson case, it appeared to be "alive and well at the IRS."
In a press release under the headline, "Targeted by the IRS," the Dobson organization, Family Talk Action, quoted Dobson as saying, "The American people deserve better treatment from its government than this. Christian ministries and others supporting the family must not be silenced or intimidated by the IRS or other branches of the government."
In a video, Ryan Dobson described how the tax-exempt status was denied for three years because the group was deemed to be right-wing and critical of Obama. He said it was only when Family Talk Action threatened to take the IRS to court that the agency relented.
The Dobson case indicates that rather than seek to resurrect the Fairness Doctrine, as many conservatives had feared, the Obama Administration and its allies used the IRS to enforce a version of the measure through federal scrutiny and intimidation of religious and conservative broadcasters.
Accuracy in Media (AIM) had warned about such an effort in our special report, "Left-Wing Censorship Campaign Targets Conservative Media," but did not anticipate that the campaign would take the form of using the IRS rather than the FCC as a method of federal coercion and control.
AIM released a book, The Death of Talk Radio?, and a TV ad warning that liberal politicians and bureaucrats were preparing to interfere with the First Amendment right of free speech.
We had noted at the time that the "National Conference on Media Reform," underwritten by billionaire George Soros and rich liberal foundations, was providing a platform for liberal politicians who advocated the return of the Fairness Doctrine to target conservative media and talk-radio personalities. "The only question," we said, "is when congressional liberals will get enough nerve to aggressively push this authoritarian attempt to muzzle their political opponents."
Now we find out that the effort which took place circumvented the congressional and legislative process and instead used the powers of the IRS.
The release from Dobson’s organization noted that the IRS reviewing agent, R. Medley, said she didn’t think the application for exemption would be granted because Family Talk Action is "not educational" and doesn’t present all views. She said Family Talk Action sounded like a "partisan right-wing group" because it only presents conservative viewpoints. According to the release, she added that the group was "political" because it "criticized President Obama, who was a candidate."
In addition to the IRS attack on the Dobson show, AIM has also been told about a TV/radio venture, Constitution Media Network (CMN), which test marketed some of the programming and then issued a proposal for funding on December 15, 2009, but was stopped from launching by an audit notice from the IRS on December 31, 2009. The project director, Robert Vernon, said, "I knew then we were targeted. We went through pure hell with the IRS. I have never seen anything like it in my 60 years in this industry." Vernon went through the IRS appeals process and eventually won his case, after more than a year, but CMN didn’t get off the ground as a result of the delays.
Vernon’s media project was explicitly designed to feature conservative commentators whose purpose was to "restore the United States to the Constitutional Republic that it once was," before what was described as the "takeover" of the USA by radical socialists, communists and other "progressives."
Vernon tells AIM that he has a satchel bag and several briefcases filled with the documents of what transpired with the IRS. "I also have legal audio recordings of all my communications/meetings with them," he said.
"The point here is that they stopped the CMN project, put me in the poor house with their actions and claims, and no investor would assist us" because of the IRS audit process. "When I informed interested parties that I was fighting with the IRS over an audit, as you could imagine, no one wanted anything to do with us," he said.
He said he is anxious to tell his story to Congress so that the IRS abuses can be fully explored and addressed.
This column was published at Accuracy in Media.