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This essay argues that activist and preacher Carl McIntire should be understood as an important figure in the history of fundamentalism, radio, and right-wing activism in America. As the only radio broadcaster to lose his license because of the Fairness Doctrine, McIntire was a central player, both literally and symbolically, in the history of governmental regulation of speech. McIntire's story—and the bigger story of the rise and fall of the Fairness Doctrine—deepens our understanding of the legal system's historically shifting definitions of what constitutes censorship, free speech, and the "public interest." McIntire's career also complicates our previous conceptions of the history of fundamentalism and the emergence of the New Christian Right in the 1970s. McIntire is important, then, not only as a figure in the history of media regulation and a symbol of fundamentalism in conflict with liberalism, but also as a symbol of the Old Christian Right in conflict with the New Christian Right.
McIntire lost to both his secular foe, the FCC, and his Christian foes, the neo-evangelicals. Both defeats had interesting long-term implications. McIntire's FCC case was used as evidence by right-wing senators like Strom Thurmond for years as they persistently fought the Fairness Doctrine in Congress. This erstwhile "extremist" position against government regulation would, under President Reagan, become normalized as merely "conservative." Making a similar shift from right-wing "extremism" to mainstream "conservatism," fundamentalists became neo-evangelicals in the post-World War II years, were transformed into the New Christian Right in the 70s, and were given the friendlier "conservative evangelical" label in the 90s, finally achieving a realignment with a more moderate conservative image. Rather than speaking Bible-thumping language in the political arena, today's conservative evangelicals use a secular-sounding rights-based discourse that they have carefully shaped to meet their needs. One might say that the extremist rough edges have been rubbed off of both deregulatory discourse and, more generally, Christian right-wing discourse. And McIntire embodied those edges. McIntire, then, should be of interest to opponents of today's Christian Right, because he embodies the extremist history that right-wing evangelical politicos have, as they've repackaged themselves as "conservative" but not "extremist," attempted to spin out of existence.