Scope and Content Note


The Fairness Doctrine, enforced by the Federal Communications Council, was rooted in the media world of 1949.  Lawmakers became concerned that the monopoly audience control of the three main networks, NBC, ABC and CBS, could misuse their broadcast licenses to set a biased public agenda.


The Fairness Doctrine mandated broadcast networks devote time to contrasting views on issues of public importance. Congress backed the policy in 1954 and by the 1970s the FCC called the doctrine the “single most important requirement of operation in the public interest – the sine qua non for grant of a renewal of license.


The Supreme Court upheld the doctrine. In 1969’s Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, journalist Fred Cook sued a Pennsylvania Christian Crusade radio program after a radio host attacked him on air. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court upheld Cook's right to an on-air response under the Fairness Doctrine, arguing that nothing in the First Amendment gives a broadcast license holder the exclusive right to the airwaves they operate on.


The doctrine stayed in effect, and was enforced until the Reagan Administration. In 1985, under FCC Chairman Mark S. Fowler, a communications attorney who had served on Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign staff in 1976 and 1980, the FCC released a report stating that the doctrine hurt the public interest and violated free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Fowler began rolling the application of the doctrine back during Reagan's second term — despite complaints from some in the Administration that it was all that kept broadcast journalists from thoroughly lambasting Reagan's policies on air. In 1987, the FCC panel, under new chairman Dennis Patrick, repealed the Fairness Doctrine altogether with a 4-0 vote


The FCC vote was opposed by members of Congress who said the FCC had tried to "flout the will of Congress" and the decision was "wrongheaded, misguided and illogical.".The decision drew political fire and tangling, where cooperation with Congress was at issue. In June 1987, Congress attempted to preempt the FCC decision and codify the Fairness Doctrine, (Fairness in Broadcasting Act of 1987 S. 742)/


The bill passed but the legislation was vetoed by President Ronald Reagan.  Congress was unable to muster enough votes to overturn the President’s veto.


This topic guide contains material on the doctrine itself, the vote on the Fairness in Broadcasting Act of 1987, the President’s subsequent veto and the aftermath of this vote.




BE003-04      case files 202860, 490374


FG006-01      case files 049984, 088624, 516092, 527477


FG010-03      case files 317308, 474465, 474466


FI004            case files 527410, 545912, 549208


HU010 case files 468316, 486661


LE                case file 494224


LE002           case files 519825, 520853


PR007-02      case file 475250


PR013           case files 224113, 608042


PR014-08      case file 505038


PR016           case files 493916, 494257, 496840


PR016-01      case files 045485, 055908, 503502


SP287-20       entire category


PU               case file 398374


UT001           case files 367381, 524547


UT001-01      casefiles 475192, 487909, 493899, 494224, 495557, 498700, 499114, 499115,

 499272, 499597, 499598, 502980, 504439, 504938, 505278, 505535, 505705,

505710, 516681, 517464, 518278, 537222, 537281, 537312, 537340, 537379,

539196, 546514, 546625, 546625, 546514, 548179




Baker, Howard: Files

          Box 2

          Fairness Doctrine


Ball, William : Files

          OA 15332

          Fairness Doctrine I

          Fairness Doctrine II


Bledsoe, Ralph C.: Files: Domestic Policy Council

Box 36

340 – Fairness Doctrine (1)(2)


Board, Elizabeth: Files

          Box 10

          Fairness Doctrine


Bockorny, David: Files

          OA 17458

          Fairness Doctrine


          OA 17459

          Fairness Doctrine (1)(2)


Cooksey, Sherrie M.: Files: Office of the Counsel to the President

          OA 11724

          SMC/Fairness Doctrine (1)-(3)


Cribb, T. Kenneth: Files – Office of the Counselor to the President

          OA 11849A

          Fairness Doctrine in Broadcasting Support Letters, April 1982

          Fairness Doctrine in Broadcasting Support Letters May 1982 (1)(2)

          Fairness Doctrine in Broadcasting Support Letters June 1982 (1)(2)

          Fairness Doctrine in Broadcasting Support Letters July 1982


Cribb, T. Kenneth: Files: Office of Domestic Affairs

          Box 10

Veto Recommendation for the Fairness in Broadcasting Act, 06/17/1987


Box 11

          DPC (Domestic Policy Council) Meeting, 04/15/1987 re: Fairness Doctrine


Executive Clerk, White House Office of the: Bill Reports

Box 80

06/22/1987 S. 742 [Fairness in Broadcasting Act of 1987] - Veto (1)-(3)


Gergen, David: Files

          OA 9022

          Fairness Doctrine


Goldfield, H. P.: Files

          OA 9708

          HPG Fairness Doctrine (1)-(5)


Harlow, Bryce Larry: Files

          OA 17036

          Fairness Doctrine/S.742


Keisler, Peter D.: Files

          Box 15

          Fairness Doctrine (1)-(3)


Kruger, Robert M.: Files

          OA 18392

          RMK/Fairness Doctrine


Media Relations, Office of: Records

          Box 62

          Fairness Doctrine Veto 06/20/1987


Policy Development, Office of: Records

          OA 6190

          Fairness Doctrine


Public Affairs, White House Office of: Records

          OA 18016

          Fairness Doctrine


          OA 19208

          Fairness Doctrine 06/23/1987


Risque, Nancy J.: Files: Office of the Cabinet Secretary

          OA 18381

          Fairness Doctrine


Raul, Alan: Files

          OA 19144

          Fairness Doctrine


Sprinkel, Beryl: Files

          OA 17747

          04/15/1987 (1:30pm) Domestic Policy Council Meeting re: Fairness Doctrine


Sweet, Robert: Files

          OA 16626

          Fairness Doctrine: Republican Policy Committee Legislative Notice


Last Updated: 11/17/2015                                                                                   Most Recent Opening: 8/15/2013


Case#                      Researcher                            Topic                                       Pages      Restricted              

F05-115                   Sarah Posner                          Fairness Doctrine                  643          0             

F10-018                   Brian Thrift                             Fairness Doctrine                  483          0