The Tentacles of a Mighty Octopus
Republican Congressman Louis McFadden and Jehovah’s Witness leader Joseph Rutherford promoted a 1934 legislative proposal to open American broadcasting indiscriminately to all who could pay, thus effectively making it a public utility. Debate on the proposed bill illuminates some of the tensions in the construction of network broadcasting’s liberal public sphere—not only the intolerance of intolerance at its heart but also the tension between the open pluralism of modern liberalism and the strident defense of truth by fundamentalist religious and populist political crusaders who sought to broadcast their views. Conservative populists astutely identified the intrinsically liberal framework of corporate network broadcasting, specifically its need to present an appearance of fostering diversity under a regime of tolerance.
KEYWORDS: Radio, public sphere, populism, tolerance, pluralism, Jehovah’s witnesses