Sunday, October 17, 2004

Deconstructing Hyman

Who knew Mark Hyman was such a fan of poststructuralism? We’ve given Mr. Hyman a hard time in this space as someone with limited argumentative abilities and a rather ham-fisted rhetorical style. Yet he suddenly turns in a deliciously subversive and subtly playful text that intellectually and linguistically turns in on itself, revealing the indeterminacy of language and the infinite play of meaning. We can only surmise that this is Hyman’s elegy to the father of deconstruction, Jacques Derrida, who passed away earlier this week.

At least, we assume this is what Hyman had in mind, because it’s the only way what he’s come up with makes any sense (ironically enough). It’s just too bad so few people will pick up on the cleverness.

The genius begins with the conceit Hyman bases the entire piece on: in the immediate aftermath of Sinclair Broadcasting announcing it will force all of its stations to run an anti-Kerry propaganda film, Hyman uses Sinclair airwaves to lament that “bias in the media has reared its ugly head again” and bemoan the dearth of “balance and fairness” in journalism. What a witty use of irony to undermine our assumption of a textual “ground” on which to base an interpretation!

Some might point out that the “bias” identified by the vast majority of news consumers is not political but the bias of self-interest and sensationalism, and therefore conclude Hyman is manufacturing a false issue. But that’s just Mark’s point! What issue isn’t inherently “false” at some level, and why should we necessarily privilege the “true” over the “false” anyway?

Hyman goes on to suggest that the problem isn’t too many liberals or conservatives (again, that would be to fall prey to binary thinking), but rather the lack of “ethics.”

Of course, the sensitive and astute reader will see that this is merely Hyman’s way of showing the entirely subjective notion of any “ethical” standard at all. Speaking as the mouthpiece for a company devoted to forcing propaganda on its audience and labeling it a “news” story, and as someone who accuses those who disagree with his political views of being morally derelict, Hyman certainly doesn’t advocate for any abstract sense of journalistic ethics. His argument is ironic, pointing out the entirely subjective and ephemeral status of any “standards,” which, after all, are merely discursive constructs with no grounding in what stick-in-the-mud Enlightenment-philes refer to as “reality.”

Then, in a brilliant move revealing the impossibility of separating the agent and the act (or the subject and the discourse that it produces and which in turn produces it), Hyman slips from saying that the majority of those who work in newsrooms self-identify themselves as liberals to claiming that journalists admit that their reporting is clearly slanted toward liberal positions. Of course, no journalists have said this. But what Hyman is suggesting is that what we are and what we do are all the same. Our identity is itself a political act, and our political acts are our identity. It would be just as impossible for a journalist to describe herself as politically liberal in her private views and be objective in her professional capacity as a reporter as it would for Mark Hyman to acknowledge that he occupies the public social position of a white male, yet does not hold racist and a misogynist views privately. Of course he does!

Again, some unenlightened folks might suggest that personal feelings and professional motives are quite different things, particularly when it comes to the press. But our outer social roles and inner convictions cannot be neatly separated, and always inform one another in ways that defy our control. So many people miss this elusive point, but not Mark.

Hyman then beautifully undercuts any pretense to his own authorial authority by praising the rise of “new media” as a watchdog on the “old media” outlets that once were the primary sources of news. On the surface Hyman celebrates diversity in the media, but he counts on his audience’s understanding of the underlying context of his comments: Sinclair Broadcasting has led the fight for relaxing media ownership rules by allowing large companies to buy up multiple television stations in the same market. Sinclair themselves now own more than one station in a number of cities, often staffing the newsrooms with identical reporters, or simply using their Baltimore-based news team to simulate local news in the same way on the same stations. (After all, what do we really mean by “local,” anyway? Is this not yet another textual construct?) Some might call this rank hypocrisy, but only those who lack the intellectual rigor to see how Hyman complicates our very idea of concepts such as “diversity,” “consistency,” and “coherence.”

Lastly, Hyman’s tour-de-force takes aim at the basis of its own creation, foregrounding the indeterminate nature of the very means by which we produce discourse or “meaning.” He suggests perhaps financial pressures will bring news organizations back to a more centrist political position. Yet, even this straight-forward assertion slips through our desperate desire to have it “make sense,” given that Sinclair Broadcasting itself has seen its stock value fall by half in just the last calendar year and currently trades at near its all-time low price. Its stock has been downgraded by any number of trading companies, and it carries a debt ratio that dwarfs that of almost any other similar company.

Some might say that the fact that most news organizations are owned by a small handful of conglomerates adverse to taking risks, and who are institutionally conservative in their outlook, suggests the idiocy of believing the media is intentionally slanting its coverage far to the left of mainstream America. Some might also point out that Sinclair’s financial shakiness suggests it is they, not those Hyman criticizes, that are out of the mainstream. But again, that’s just the point! Hyman’s very assertion calls into question its own authority, and we find ourselves chasing our tail, only to see that our friend Mark has had the last laugh by making us think that he ever meant to be coherent rather than demonstrating the always-already deferred nature of a constructed “meaning.”

So, at the end of the day, the deconstructive joke’s on us . . . It is a joke, right Mark?

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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