In the late 1940s, conservative radio commentator Fulton Lewis Jr. was embroiled in controversy after publicly criticizing consumer cooperatives for taking advantage of a federal tax loophole. Coinciding with the Federal Communications Commission’s reconsideration of its Mayflower doctrine—a ban on broadcast editorials—the dispute served as fodder for New Deal–era progressive media reformers. This article unpacks Lewis’s mostly forgotten role as an unwitting catalyst of progressive media regulations through reconsidering the FCC’s 1948 Mayflower hearings, which resulted in the fairness doctrine (1949–87). This doctrine mandated that broadcasters present controversial issues of public concern in an ideologically balanced manner. Lewis’s news-breaking thus became framed as a problem in need of federal regulatory solution by reformers who sought to sublimate radio into an idealized liberal public sphere. These reforms, however, framed political disagreement as an epistemological crisis and, in doing so, unintentionally bolstered a conservative critical disposition toward the mainstream press, exemplified in the “liberal media” trope.

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