Friday, August 13, 2004

Hyman Tries to "Seem" Like a Journalist

It almost seems not worth the effort to respond to the latest "The Point", another exercise in emptiness. Going back to his “coverage” of the Democratic convention in Boston, Mark Hyman produces yet another content-free piece, focusing on his characterization of the convention as a celebrity-filled bore-fest in which vendors gouged patrons for $5 bottles of water. Even if the bizarro-convention that Hyman conjures were actually accurate, it’s not clear what any of it would have to do with the ideas presented at the convention or the presidential campaign itself. It’s simply the ad hominem attack favored by Hyman as a substitute for reasoned analysis and critique writ large (ad conventioniem?).

Two points are worth noting, however. First is simply the continuing tactic Hyman uses of creating a hazy and shifting definition of his own role as host of “The Point.” When challenged for being wildly one-sided, he answers that he is simply a commentator offering an opinion. On the other hand, Hyman attempts to build his ethos by taking on the trappings of being an actual journalist, including using such techniques as going “on scene” to “cover a story” and referring to himself as a “reporter” or “journalist.” Both of these examples show up in this piece, particularly in the moment when Hyman says that some journalists got “caught up in the emotion” while “others did not,” an observation accompanied by video of a roomful of folks who were presumably journalists laughing and conversing, with one lone figure highlighted amongst them: a dour looking Hyman. The message we’re apparently supposed to get from this is Hyman’s lack of a sense of humor proves his hard-nosed commitment to reporting the facts and nothing but the facts. As always, Hyman attempts to blur the roles of commentator and reporter to suit his purposes.

A narrower but more malignant concern that comes up again in this “Point” occurs when Hyman says “if you ever wondered why Peter Jennings appears to favor terrorists over America then maybe this will give you a clue,” at which point we see a door with an ABC logo on it, below which is typed “Al Jazeera.”

Al Jazeera came to Boston to cover the convention, and needed some technical support in getting its broadcast up, which ABC provided. That, apparently, makes Jennings a terrorist sympathizer. Or at least it explains why Jennings “seems” to be one. So much hangs on that one word: “seems.” It’s the difference between a merely disgusting personal attack and something that might constitute legal slander—a rhetorical fig leaf with which Hyman covers his argumentative shortcomings.

I have to admit that at first I thought of doing an extended riff on this use of “seems” as a way of tweaking Hyman, showing how it could turn a school-yard level taunt into something that has the surface appearance of an objective observation (e.g., asking in which part of his anatomy it “seems” like Hyman has his head, etc.). But the more I thought about it, the more ugly, malicious, and disturbing Hyman’s slur tactics seem to be, and I find it hard to trivialize their despicability by joking around about them.

As a postscript, however, I’d simply point out that the Peter Jennings that Hyman slanders is the same Peter Jennings who flew to George W. Bush’s defense during the Democratic primaries when, when posing a question to Wesley Clark, he suggested allegations that Bush had been a “deserter” during his National Guard service were scurrilous. He could have been reading from RNC talking points.

Moreover, Hyman’s continual harping on the supposedly liberal slant of mainstream media simply goes against the facts. Case in point: this study done by the Pew Charitable Trust’s Project for Excellence in Journalism on the 2000 presidential race, which in fact shows clear and statistically significant slanting of the media coverage in favor of Bush during the run-up to Election Day. Given how few votes might have swayed the election either way, it seems more than likely that the tendency to treat Bush with kid gloves ended up putting him in the White House. Maybe instead of slandering Peter Jennings, Hyman should send him a thank-you card.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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