Wednesday, December 22, 2004

If Leni Riefenstahl Alive, Would She Work for Sinclair?

It's more than a little odd that Mark Hyman would revisit his rant about the New York Times editorial writer Andrew Rosenthal as one of his year's "best." It's little more than a collection of baseless assertions, distortions, and out and out lies based on what is surely a less-than-complete accounting of the conversation Hyman and Rosenthal had. As we pointed out in our initial response to this commentary, this commentary is a classic case of scapegoating--projecting one's own shortcomings and flaws on someone else.

The only thing we'll add to this is that Hyman also offers us a series of obvious propaganda techniques. His use of them is so hamfisted and blatant that they seem more contrived than even the examples we've seen in middle school language arts textbooks that warn kids about "glittering generalities" and the like. We've reproduced the commentary below, with accompanying labels for the specific propaganda techniques used. Enjoy.

We all know [Bandwagon] that some of the nation's major newspapers are out of touch with ordinary Americans. [Everyday Folks] None more so than the Gray Lady. [Pinpointing the Enemy]

"Will America's Veterans Please Shut Up?" That's the sentiments expressed by the New York Times. [Assertion]

In a conversation I had with editorial writer Andrew Rosenthal during the recent brouhaha over John Kerry's snub of American POWs, Rosenthal offered a perspective of how the paper views America's servicemen and women. [Testimonial]

"I'm sick of hearing about Vietnam," he offered. Rosenthal made it clear that the New York Times didn't deem it newsworthy that 13 American POWs [Testimonial] - including two Medal of Honor winners [Transfer] - who collectively suffered nearly 84 years of horrific abuse and unspeakable torture ended 31 years of self-imposed silence in order to set the record straight. [Card Stacking] These American icons [Glittering Generality] rebutted [Assertion] Kerry's claims that his 1971 Senate testimony accusing American servicemen of "war crimes" committed on "a day-to-day basis" harmed no one. [Card Stacking] Not true, they say, as Kerry's testimony was used by their Communist captors. [Testimonial] Rosenthal dismissed their torture as no big deal. [Name Calling] He also admitted that the Times had not covered the POWs nor would it - underscoring that the paper's editorial policy drives the paper's news reporting. [Simplification and Assertion]

Now the New York Times can show all the disdain it wants toward our military veterans. That's the paper's right. They can hate whomever they want. [Name Calling]

But we find it odd, considering the business it claims to be in. Using the First Amendment to report news may only entail a daily subway commute for Rosenthal and his liberal friends, [Name Calling] but it didn't come without the terrible sacrifice of millions of servicemen and women [Transfer] - sacrifice that Rosenthal arrogantly dismissed [Name Calling] when he stated, "The New York Times has done more to support the First Amendment than any other group." I think the two million American war dead and wounded in the 20th century alone tell a different story. [Card Stacking, Simplification, and Transfer.]

But then again, Rosenthal and his elitist friends [Name Calling] don't care about American troops as he made so abundantly clear. [Assertion] "I'm sick of what the right-wing fanatics are doing to this war. It's the same thing they did to Vietnam," Rosenthal told me. His chief complaint? That this nation's sons and daughters who put on the military uniform would dare to hold accountable people like John Kerry who testified before Congress that their fathers who served before them were war criminals. [Simplification, Card Stacking, Assertion, and . . . well . . .Lying.]

I support Rosenthal's and the New York Times' First Amendment rights to write what they want - no matter how ugly the sentiment. [Glittering Generalities] It just saddens me that when he and his arrogant friends [Name Calling] ride home tonight in the comfort of a New York City subway car [Plain Folks] that they cannot at least give a little thanks to the brave servicemen and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. [Transfer] But then that's not the way of the New York Times. [Assertion and Pinpointing the Enemy]

And that's The Counterpoint [Assertion!]

Monday, December 20, 2004


Hyman dusts off mantra of tax cuts as the definition of good government in this rehashed "Point." He suggests, among other things, that Kennedy, Reagan, and George W. Bush showed that tax cuts lead to economic growth.

Here’s the problem. Kennedy’s tax cuts were demand-based, not supply-based. He recognized that the economy isn’t driven by investment, it’s driven by consumption. You don’t need to be an economics wiz to get this. If the average working or middle class family has extra money, they are likely to spend it on goods and services, thus creating demand. If there’s a demand, investors don’t need a tax break as incentive to invest; the profit motive kicks in, and Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” takes over. On the other hand, if working and middle class people are squeezed, they won’t spend money. In this case, no matter how low you drop capital gains tax rates, investors won’t invest because people aren’t buying goods and services. Even a 0% capital gains or dividend tax rate means nothing if there aren’t any profits to begin with.

Republicans have been eager to link their regressive taxation policies with JFK, but the comparison
just doesn't hold water.

Hyman also says that Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts led to a boom in the economy. Really? Actually, Reagan
enacted large tax hikes almost immediately after his tax cuts, but we still suffered a recession and a ballooning deficit thanks to the silliness of “supply-side” economics. Conservatives still like to tout such tax breaks (although they tend to forego using the phrases “supply-side” or “trickle-down” these days) not because they actually believe these policies help the majority of Americans, but because they help those Americans conservatives believe have demonstrated their character and worthiness by becoming rich in the first place. Tax cuts are rewards for a job well-done, not part of a coherent economic policy to help the country as a whole.

Most laughably, Hyman says that Bush II’s tax cuts have led to similar economic gains. This fails the giggle test. In the space of two years, the Bush administration turned a 125 billion dollar surplus and turned it into a 375 billion dollar deficit. The percentage of debt compared to GDP has risen, and the economy has suffered as a result. And the results aren’t just in the spreadsheets at the Congressional Budget Office—they’re seen in the lack of jobs for working and middle class Americans. Not since Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression has a president presided over a net loss of jobs. Some “economic boom.”

As we know, the largest continuous peacetime economic expansion occurred under Clinton. This was also accomplished while lowering unemployment and erasing an astronomical budget deficit. Progressive taxation, not regressive taxation, leads to a healthy democracy, as history has shown. And as far as financially “responsible” legislators are concerned, you don’t need to look any farther than the makeup of the current administration, House leadership, and Senate leaders to see who’s responsible for the growing debt and cavernous budget deficits we now have.

Is that the sound of chickens coming back to the roost I hear?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Flunks His Finals

Okay, pop quiz: which notable American made the following remark at a 2004 commencement address?

“[History is] not just those pessimistic voices that have recently entered our studies, voices which seem to suggest that our history is merely a catalogue of white crime.”

A. Ken Burns
B. George Will
C. William Bennett
D. William F. Buckley, Jr.

Try this one:

“In the name of the truth, we have created an infinite number of different truths, all pulling in different directions, all oblivious to the old or even a new conception of the whole.”

A. Ken Burns
B. George Will
C. William Bennett
D. William F. Buckley, Jr.

Choices B, C, and D all sound promising. These sentiments certainly seem in keeping with a generally conservative worldview. It might surprise you that these comments both came from Ken Burns’s speech at Yale, the same speech
Mark Hyman excoriates as wacky neo-Marxist prattle.

At least, you’d be surprised if you only knew of Burns’s speech from what Hyman says about it. If you actually read it (which you can
here), you’d see that it is in many ways a traditional commencement address, asking seniors to apply the lessons of the past to the present and future (which has never struck us as a particularly pinko notion).

In a colossally misguided and flat-out erroneous reading of the speech, Hyman says that Burns equates the current war in Iraq with the Civil War. He doesn’t. He suggests we are living in a time of deep national divide, a divide of ideas and values, that in some ways mirrors the circumstances that created the Civil War.

Does Burns make comments that are generally critical of the administration’s policies in Iraq? Yes. But they make up a small section of the speech and never mention Bush by name. He talks consistently in the first-person plural: decisions and actions that we, as Americans, have made.

Hyman also charges Burns with having communist overtones in his speech, hypocritically chastising people for making money while he profits from his own work. Would you be shocked to hear that Burns’s remarks bear no resemblance to this characterization? Burns laments what he sees as a growing arrogance and lack of self-reflection in America, which lead us to feel that we’re right and everyone else is wrong. He then goes on to say:

Nothing could be more dangerous than this arrogant belief, brought on and amplified as it is by a complete lack of historical awareness among us, and further reinforced by a modern media, cloaked in democratic slogans, but dedicated to the most stultifying kind of consumer existence, convincing us to worship gods of commerce and money and selfish advancement above all else.

Okay, Mark: we know this is a long and structurally complex sentence, but try to read it slowly and parse it out. Is he saying people are bad if they make money? No. Is he saying our capitalist economy is inherently evil? No. The subject in the last portion of the sentence is “a modern media.” That’s you, Mark! Isn’t reading fun when you can make a personal connection with it? Now, what is he saying about the media? He’s saying that the media, while pretending to serve our national interests, thrives by trying to get us to think that money and economic advancement are good in and of themselves, and to put them ahead of helping our fellow citizens. Burns is suggesting that while making money is a good and necessary thing, it’s probably not a good idea to make it something we see as having moral value by itself.

That probably cuts a bit too close to the bone for Hyman. After all, Burns’s general description fits Sinclair perfectly: a media outlet that panders to patriotism while using a business model based on minimizing expenses and maximizing profits in the short term at the expense of quality.

Moreover, what Burns says is directly at odds with conservative dogma, which states that making money is a good in itself and that becoming rich is proof of sound personal character and high morals. Despite any number of examples to the contrary (Gilded Age robber barons, Enron, etc.) and notable historical figures who have pointed out the error of this belief (this one carpenter guy from a small town in the Mideast … I think he’s got a birthday coming up), this equation of money with goodness lies (pun intended) at the heart of far-right ideology.

And that’s why Burns inspires such wailing and gnashing of teeth from Hyman—not because he’s saying anything radical or even because he’s making some general, unspecific criticisms of the Bush administration. It’s because in appealing to traditional American values and calling on our collectively shared history, he questions central tenets of conservatism: that our President/Father is unquestionably right (as long as he’s a Republican) and that money equals goodness.

Ken Burns was invited to speak at Yale because his daughter was a member of the graduating class of 2004. He made a speech that abided by the time-honored structure of the commencement address, but also offered thought provoking ideas that challenged his audience to examine their beliefs, assess their most deeply held values, and use this knowledge to guide their lives in the future.

Yeah, you’re right, Mark: those Yalies really got cheated.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Bah, Hyman!

In his last "Point" commentary before launching into his year-end “best of” series, Mark Hyman takes a moment to thank all of those with whom he’s worked over the last year.

We’re just wondering, Mark: does that include Jon Lieberman? The former first-string political reporter for Sinclair was axed personally by Hyman after he had the temerity to point out that airing a one-sided documentary that engaged in character assassination on John Kerry didn’t qualify as “news.” As Lieberman himself has noted, this is simply one example of the right-wing, fear-based managerial style of those in the Sinclair boardroom.

There are plenty of other examples. We’ve been fortunate enough to hear from a number of ex-Sinclair employees who’ve had their own horror stories to tell. One local newsman had broadcasted with the same CBS affiliate for nearly a quarter century, until Sinclair bought up the station. He described the Sinclair-ites as being “like the Mafia.” They decided he was expendable, so they did away with his job, not even allowing him to bid farewell to the viewers he had served for so long.

Another ex-Sinclair employee didn’t even wait to get shown the door. Without having a new job to go to, he quit his position as a behind-the-scenes newsman because he was appalled at Sinclair’s complete lack of concern over journalistic quality. They slashed the existing news staff, replacing them with young, green employees who they could hire for cheap. Sure, the quality of the news suffered, but who cared? It’s not like the airwaves are a public trust or anything, right?

Despite Hyman’s warm and fuzzy words, he’s the embodiment of Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s clear from Sinclair’s public actions and what we’ve heard privately from those who have or continue to work at Siclair-owned stations that this is a company that’s run with only the interests of those at the top of the company in mind. The viewing public can go to hell, and anyone below corporate vice-president is completely expendable—which they’ll soon find out if they breathe a word of dissent.

Perhaps the ghost of Edward R. Murrow will visit Mark Hyman in his sleep on Christmas Eve and teach him valuable lessons in journalistic integrity. Mark will bound out of bed Christmas morn, hustle down to Sinclair corporate headquarters, and announce that from now on, Sinclair will be in the business of reporting the facts, exposing abuses of the public trust, and aim at becoming so honest that they’ll make Walter Cronkite look like Geraldo Rivera. Anyone in the company who has an idea will be encouraged to share it, for the betterment of the whole Sinclair family. And raises for everyone!

But let’s face it: that probably won’t happen. For now, let’s just hope Santa brings Hyman and the other bigwigs at Sinclair what they so richly deserve, and what they’ve been giving their own employees and viewers for some time now: a big hunk of coal in their stocking.

And that’s the Holiday Counterpoint.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Lip Service for the Folks in the Service

Mark Hyman has a good idea. No, that’s not a typo--he really does. In his latest commentary, he points viewers to the website, a site that helps folks here at home send letters and care packages to men and women in the field in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a good idea, and one that anybody, regardless of their position on the preemptive invasion of Iraq or the manner in which the war is being carried out, can get behind.

But it makes us wonder: why is it that Hyman and his friends at Sinclair only speak on behalf of the troops when it serves their political purposes? Why do they attempt to bask in the reflected glory of the men and women on the ground, yet refused to honor those who had paid the ultimate price by barring their stations from carrying an edition of Nightline that simply and movingly honored those who have given the last full measure on behalf of their country? Moreover, why does Hyman insist on labeling anyone who doesn’t voice full-throated support for the war in Iraq a “friend of the terrorists” or someone who “hates our troops” (as he’s said of Ted Koppel on numerous occasions simply because the respected newsman thought it was about time those who’ve been killed in Iraq received the honor and recognition they deserve)? And why is it traitorous to point out ways in which Washington policy makers have let down our troops?

This seems a particularly odd position for an arch conservative like Hyman to take. After all, one of the cornerstones of conservatism is a healthy skepticism of the federal government. Conservatives warn us all the time that decision makers in Washington are out of touch with the lives of those whom their decisions affect. But for some reason, when it comes to the most important and awesome decision the government can make, sending our young men and women into harm’s way, we’re just supposed to go along with whatever those in power say and give them unquestioned support (or at least keep our mouths shut). This doesn’t make sense.

This is particularly true given the current war in Iraq. There’s evidence aplenty that the bigwigs at the Pentagon and White House have little understanding of the situation on the ground and are putting their own political needs ahead of those of the troops. Rumsfeld’s cluelessness concerning the lack of armor for Humvees is only one example. We now know that despite being told it would take at least 250,000 soldiers to effectively secure Iraq, only half that were sent by Rumsfeld and Co., assuring the insurgency that’s now killing our troops on a daily basis. Children of Republican insiders get jobs “rebuilding” Iraq despite having no experience, assuring the lack of progress in putting Iraq back together (and again assuring that there will be plenty of disgruntled Iraqis to swell the ranks of the insurgents).

Even the website Hyman directs viewers to reveals problems. Not only are soldiers requesting home cooked goodies, music cds, and books (the stuff you’d expect soldiers to ask for). They’re also asking for things like soap, towels, flashlights, t-shirts, and other items that they should be supplied with. Most ominiously, an LA-based police gear surplus supplier is one of the sponsoring links of, and touts their supply of items like body armor and pepper spray as things that can be sent to troops in the field.

This was a war that was planned for months and months in advance. The number of troops involved is miniscule compared to World War II, Korea, or Vietnam. We live in the richest nation in the history of the world. Yet our men and women are still reduced to begging folks back home to supply them with basic necessities. And people like Hyman have the gall to suggest anyone who criticizes the war effort “hates our troops”? Shame, Mark, shame.

So send soldiers a letter, card, or even some body armor. Whether you think the war is a good idea or not, the soldiers deserve support, the kind of support their own Secretary of Defense and President aren’t giving them. But also keep criticizing those who are making the decisions that put our soldiers on the ground but don’t give them what they need to win. Point out those who use “supporting the troops” as political cover for themselves, but don’t follow through when it counts. And stay educated on what’s really going on. Soldiers for the is a site sponsored in part by David Hackworth, America’s most decorated living veteran, and Operation Truth was started by a vet of the current Iraq war. They offer a true soldier’s eye view of what’s going on and the many ways the administration and Pentagon are falling short in their duties to our men and women in uniform. But of course, I’m sure Hyman would say that soldiers on the ground who voice complaints about what’s going on, just like everyone who voices the least bit of dissent, are just doing so because they “hate our troops.”

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Reds, Blues, and Greens

That Mark Hyman would equate members of extremist environmental and animal rights groups with the likes of Osama bin Laden isn’t surprising, but it’s a dangerous and counterproductive comparison that obscures the real issue.

Despite the illegal and violent actions of the Environmental Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), suggesting that these groups represent a threat just as grave as global Islamist terrorism is factually and ethically wrong. As wrongheaded, criminal, and counterproductive as their actions are, ELF and ALF members have confined their destruction to property. No one has been killed or injured by their actions. To equate the destruction of property, no matter how despicable it may be, with those who take joy in killing their fellow human beings diminishes the heinousness of the bin Ladens and al-Zarqawis of the world.

It shouldn’t surprise us, however, that Hyman would make a distorted comparison such as this to score points against environmental groups. While he focuses on the destructive and illegal actions of radical splinter groups, it’s not simply the tactics of ELF and ALF he and his fellow conservatives find criminal. It’s the very proposition that anything should stand in the way of individuals or companies using natural resources for their own benefit. The idea that nature has any inherent worth beyond the physical resources it provides to fuel private enterprise is anathema to them.

But such a view is out of step with long-held American values, as well as our own best interest. The environment does provide us with innumerable resources, but these resources must be renewable for the sake of future generations. Moreover, the benefits we derive from nature go far beyond dollars and cents. How else does one explain that hundreds of acres of grass and trees occupy what would otherwise be some of most expensive and profitable commercial property in the world? By Hyman’s calculus, this doesn’t make sense. But just let him suggest to New Yorkers that they clear cut Central Park, and he’ll get an earful about the importance of nature to the well-being of people.

Since at least the days of Teddy Roosevelt, Americans have made conscious attempts to preserve our natural resources, both tangible and intangible, for future generations. We’ve come to realize that the environment is where we live, where our children live, and where our children’s children will live in the future. At least most of us have. For some, like Hyman, nature is there to be used up in the name of progress, and so they attempt to discredit the underlying values of environmentalism by attacking disreputable groups associated with the fringes of the environmental movement.

But they fail to realize that if presented with the choice, most Americans will choose the beauty of nature, both now and for generations to come, over the short term corporate profits of those who would use up our resources today and let us worry about it tomorrow. To slightly amend a statement from an earlier Counterpoint, we’re a Blue country, but we’re a Green one as well.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Counterpoint Extra: Game on, folks. Game on.

Yesterday, a group of political organizations and media groups (including Media Matters for America, Alternet,, among many others) announced the start of an organized, national campaign agains't Sinclair Broadcasting, focusing in particular on "The Point." As we hoped, the "Stolen Honor" chickens are coming home to roost. Thankfully, the outrage over this particular decision has shown a light on Sinclair's business and journalistic practices, and it doesn't seem to have dissipated in the aftermath of the election.

Of course, nothing will happen if we don't stay involved. Go to the Sinclair Action website for more information on the campaign, the participating groups, and how you can help. We'll put a permanent link on our blogroll shortly. Until then, here's the link:

Let's go get 'em!

The Counterpoint

Slouching Toward Irrelevancy II

Is “The Point” no longer relevant? Under the leadership of Mark Hyman, the one-minute commentary has been turned into a radical right-wing rant that’s far out of the mainstream. Only time will tell if Sinclair can turn “The Point” into a voice that people will respond to.

As you can see from this example, musing about the relevance of a person or group and suggesting how it might save itself from irrelevancy is a passive-aggressive way of claiming that this person or group’s ideas don’t matter and are unworthy of consideration.

Hyman has taken this approach twice in recent days, first in a commentary about the Democratic Party, and most recently in
an assault on the NAACP . Framing his comments as speculation about the future leadership of the oldest civil rights group in the United States, Hyman’s thinly-veiled assertion is that the concerns to which members of the NAACP have devoted themselves are passé. Lacking the gumption to argue this point in a head-on manner, he takes the rhetorically circuitous route that allows him to attack from the discursive shadows.

Hyman’s attack is timed to coincide with President Bush’s
refusal to reappoint Mary Frances Barry to the United States Commission on Civil Rights . Barry, a 25-year veteran of the commission, has a history of asking tough questions and not being satisfied with past progress in civil rights. As a gadfly on the issue of equal rights for all Americans, she has no place in a Bush administration, and has been replaced by a man who calls Affirmative Action “a big lie.” Now that’s a black person even a Dubya could love!

What unites Hyman and Bush is more than just the fact that their actions come at almost exactly the same time. They spring from the same underlying right-wing ideology: groups of people don’t have rights, only individuals do. “Civil rights” is a nonsensical term to them, since it is based on the idea that it makes sense to think about the rights of collective groups of people.

But it does. When discrimination is based not on someone’s individual identity, but on their membership of a certain group (ethnic minorities, one gender or the other, religious denomination), then we must talk about remedies in the same way. Part of the collective American dream is that we will live in a society where we are judged on our individual merits. In such a world, groups like the NAACP might well be irrelevant. But that world is not our world, at least not yet.

Until it is, there’s an important role to play for organizations that make the case for equal treatment for collections of individuals who are routinely discriminated against because of what they are rather than who they are. Such groups will change policies and attitudes over time as battles are won and lost, but to label them “irrelevant” is tantamount to saying the idea of equality is irrelevant to the dream of American democracy.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Photo Finish

Well, we could have predicted this (and in fact, we did). Mark Hyman revealed the top vote getters in his “Whopper of the Year” poll, and the top liars were (drum roll please): George W. Bush and Mark Hyman. We still think Condi Rice should at least get an honorable mention. How about it, Mark?

Hyman lamely tries to take a stab at Dan Rather, saying that he was “the clear winner” in the oddly worded category of “a single identifiable lie and the person who said it” for the story on George W. Bush’s dereliction of duty as a sometime member of the Champaign unit of the Texas Air National Guard. Apparently the questions about the pedigree of the documents used in this particular story qualify as a “lie” in Hyman’s world (and that of a number of “Point” viewers).

Just one thing, though, Mark: the memos didn’t say anything not already established by any number of additional sources. If you have any knowledge of proof that the information in the memos is false, we’d love to hear it. So far, no one, including the president himself, has been able to come up with a single verifiable recollection about his supposed duty in Alabama or Massachusetts.

And condolences on being beat out by the president as the biggest liar of the year. You’ll always be number one with us!

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Time for Sinclair to Reap the Whirlwind

[Counterpoint note: The following is a line-by-line parody/response to the the latest (and particularly hapless) commentary by Mark Hyman.]

Sinclair’s airing of an anti-Kerry propaganda piece days before the election may be the beginning of the end.

Mark Hyman claims the firing of Jon Lieberman from Sinclair Broadcasting last month after he criticized Sinclair’s action was simply a matter of dismissing a “disgruntled employee.” But we all know better.

A number of media conglomerates may be safe for the time being, thanks to a nonexistent FCC, but the same can’t be said for Sinclair Broadcasting. Since their refusal to honor fallen soldiers by preempting an episode of “Nightline” last spring, Sinclair’s stock has been in a free fall. Although it stayed in business, the outrage over the airing of a discredited propaganda piece as “news” has indicated the end is near. Sinclair has been notified that the licenses of several of their stations are being challenged.

These developments underscore the unprecedented grassroots outcry over media consolidation. Michael Powell and the FCC received over a million complaints protesting the plan to allow greater corporate profiteering from the publicly-owned airwaves. Sinclair and companies like them spend more time finding out how many people they can fire from local stations and how to inject right-wing bias into their broadcasts than they do thinking about covering news stories completely and accurately. An examination of Sinclair’s business practices shows an increasing homogenization of their news broadcasts at the expense of journalistic integrity.

Moreover, relying on a single “Newscentral” team to deliver the “local” news to 62 stations around the nation is not a good strategy. Sinclair’s newscasts are failing in their efforts to distinguish broadcasts in one market from another, and their commentaries are failing to distinguish themselves from the worst sorts of right-wing talk radio blather and Internet chat room inanity. The skewed news coverage and bias injected into the evening newscasts is not lost on most viewers. This is one of the reasons why viewers are abandoning the newscasts.

Sinclair will have to look at a different model if they want to stop the slide in ratings, stock price, and advertisers. The days of the Smith family and Mark Hyman hiding their agenda to cheat viewers are over.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Slouches Toward Irrelevance

Do you remember the battle between VHS and Betamax for dominance of the video recorder market? Betamax seemed to have the advantage. It was more established. The tapes themselves were smaller and more convenient than their bulky VHS counterparts. Betamax also provided better sound and video quality. But VHS won out and Betamax became the answer to a trivia question. Why?

It wasn’t because of the quality of the product. Beta had all the advantages. But VHS marketed more aggressively and more successfully. By suggesting they were the de facto format for video recorders, they made the claim a reality by continually repeating it in a catchy way.

That’s what Mark Hyman hopes to do in
his latest editorial. Supposedly offering sage advice for Democrats on who to pick for their party chair, Hyman actually is attempting to do what VHS did: convince his audience that his product (radical social conservatism) is the political coin of the realm. By asserting the supposed mainstream-ness of his views, he hopes to make this bald faced lie part of conventional wisdom.

But as we pointed out in a post last month, we live in a blue country. If you examine the extensive polling data on every major issue, from Iraq to income taxes, Americans are far more in line with the Democratic Party than they are with Republicans. In fact, a hypothetical candidate whose positions were determined solely by existing polling data on every issue would be significantly to the left of John Kerry.

As Thomas Frank points out in
"What's the Matter with Kansas?", as well as George Lakoff in "Moral Politics" and "Don't Think of an Elephant," elections, particularly at the national level, are not decided by voters sitting down and ticking off a list of issues and counting how many of their specific positions are shared by a candidate. The entire art (if we can use that word in this context) of the campaign ad is predicated on such decisions not being simple matters of logic. People vote on feel, on perception, on which of the competing narratives being offered seems better to them.

Hyman suggests Democrats need to have a centrist heading up the party, not someone like Howard Dean. He’s wrong. Democrats already have the issues on their side—they don’t need to move anywhere (at least not to the right). The difficulty is that for too long, Democrats have relied on the simple fact that their political positions are more in line with those of the voters. That, one might figure, should be enough.

But positions don’t matter if they aren’t communicated effectively. What made (and continues to make) Bill Clinton so popular is not centrist politics, but his ability to frame his positions in the context of a compelling narrative—in short, to tell a good story.

At the moment, Republicans have the better storytellers on the national level. That’s the result of having positions that are demonstrably less popular with (and less advantageous for) the electorate. They need to craft artful narratives in order to have a chance, and, necessity being the mother of invention, they’ve become masters at it.

But if there’s one thing that this election proved to Democrats, it’s that they can’t rely on simply being right. They need to express this rightness in a compelling way. Howard Dean is someone who’s shown an ability to do this. There are others, and there will be more. And when enough Democrats have honed their narrative craft, all else being equal, the better and more popular ideas will win. And that’s good news for Democrats.

And that’s also The Counterpoint.

PS. Hyman casually says that every candidate Bill Clinton endorsed or campaigned for in 2004 lost. Well, we typed “Bill Clinton,” “endorsement,” and “2004” into Google, and the first thing we found was that Clinton had endorsed Tom Lantos for Congress in the California 12th, both in the primary and in the general election. Lantos crushed his challenger for the Democratic nomination (who had desperately attempted to get Clinton’s endorsement), and then beat his Republican challenger 68% to 21% in the general election. If “Fact Checker for ‘The Point’” wasn’t an oxymoron, I ‘d suggest you get a new one, Mark.

Counterpoint Extra: Unknown Unknowns

Since Mr. Hyman has failed to say anything about the main story of the past week, Donald Rumsfeld's bizarre and irresponsible answer to a soldier's query about lack of vehicle armor, we thought we'd fill in the gap. Fortunately, Secretary Rumsfeld was kind enough to sit down with The Counterpoint for a brief chat.

The Counterpoint: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Mr. Secretary. First, concerning these remarks you made about vehicle armor . . .

Donald Rumsfeld: Did I embarrass myself and the administration? Possibly. Am I disgracefully out of touch with the situation on the ground in Iraq? You bet. But does that mean we're going to do anything about it? Of course not.

TC: I guess what bothers people is that your response seems a bit callous and disingenuous, as if you . . .

Rumsfeld: Look, will our guys continue to get killed because the lack sufficient armor? Probably. Was this a problem that was foreseeable long before the invasion and can't be explained away by saying "we go to war with the army we have?" Certainly. Do you have me confused with somebody who gives a rat's ass about any of this? Apparently so.

TC: Uh, okay. Our bad. The corporate media has been in the administration's corner on this war since the beginning. One of your strongest supporters is Sinclair's Mark Hyman. What do you think . . .

Rumsfeld: Do I watch "The Point?" Sometimes. Do I expect Mark Hyman to mention my little faux pas in Kuwait? No. Is that because Hyman's a predictable cheerleader for anything the Bush administration does? Absolutely. Would Hyman be apoplectic if a Democratic Secretary of Defense had said the same thing? Sure. Does this make him a hypocrite? Well, yeah.

TC: But both you and Hyman tend to equate supporting the administration's policies with supporting our troops, and Hyman in particular tends to slander those he dislikes by saying that if they don't toe the Bush line, they "hate the troops." Isn't that rhetorical tactic more than a little . . .

Rumsfeld: Unfair? Sure. Do Hyman and I actually care a lick about the troops in the field? Of course not. Do we both couch our political opinions in terms of supporting the troops while denigrating those who disagree with us as being against our men and women in the field? Of course. But will either one of us do the first thing to honor those who have given their lives? Absolutely not. Is this contemptible behavior? You betcha.

TC: Well, I have to admit that's refreshingly honest. But what if, hypothetically, supporters of the war such as Mark Hyman had the decency to point out administration errors in an effort to help the troops on the ground in Iraq? Would a critique from the political Right perhaps help change things for the better?

Rumsfeld: That's an unknown unknown. You see, there are known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. Will Hyman speak out on behalf of the troops by criticizing the Pentagon and administration for not sending troops into harm's way without the proper equipment? That's a known known. Of course he won't. What might he say if he did? Now, that's a known unknown, because we know we can't know that because he'll never say it. See? And what effect might it have if he did speak out? That's an unknown unknown. We can't even know whether or not we know that because it's a question that already stems from a known unknown. That makes it an unknown unknown. Is that clear? Of course not.

TC: Ummm . . . okay. So in closing . . .

Rumsfeld: Is that The Counterpoint? You bet.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Hate Matters

Matthew Shepherd’s very existence was an affront to people like Mark Hyman and those who share his political and social outlook. As a gay man, Shepherd was by definition “wrong” and “deviant.” His simple presence challenged the narrowly defined ideas of what constitutes acceptable social hierarchy in the eyes of reactionary social conservatives.

This is important to keep in mind when reading
a commentary such as that Hyman recently gave on the issue of hate crimes. Piling on with other far-right radicals, Hyman suggests that a recent interview of Shepherd’s killers (in which they claim they beat him to death in a botched robbery rather than because he was gay) shows the silliness of hate crimes legislation. Wrapping himself in the trappings of a champion of egalitarianism, Hyman suggests that it is the killing of Shepherd itself that’s the crime—the motivation is immaterial. After all, he reasons, poor Matthew Shepherd is still just as dead, no matter what feelings spurred the killers to do their deed.

First, let’s dispose of the premise on which Hyman’s commentary is based. You don’t need to be Quincy or a habitual viewer of “CSI” to know that driving someone out to the middle of nowhere, tying him to a fence, and systematically torturing and beating him to death is not something that happens during a “botched robbery.” This was a crime of passion, of hatred. But Hyman accepts the murderers at their word, implying that they would have no motivation to lie. Gosh, Mark, we don’t know . . . maybe if you’re a young guy locked up for life with large angry men who engage in homosexual sex, it might be wise to downplay the “I hate fags” stuff.

More importantly, why would they wait until now to tell the truth about their motivation rather than at the trial? The only rationale would be that they and their lawyers believed going with a gay bashing defense would be more likely to win sympathy from a jury, a position that is just as much an indictment of rampant homophobia as the killing itself.

But the larger issue is the social relevance of the motivation behind the crimes. We’re agnostic on the proposition that punishing hate crimes with more severe punishments is both helpful in decreasing discrimination and constitutional. Traditionally, the law punishes acts rather than motive (hence the usually lighter sentences for attempted murder than for murder, even though the intent in both crimes is the same), and there’s a danger that such legislation could open the door to laws that punish thought. On the other hand, the various types of charges that can be brought against someone for taking the life of another (three different degrees of murder, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, etc.) are based largely on issues of state of mind. And even Hyman wouldn’t argue that the Holocaust and the wholesale killing of Japanese and German civilians by Allied fire bombing during the Second World War are morally equivalent acts because they both resulted in the deaths of countless innocents. We put the Holocaust in a category of its own because it was a systematic attempt to annihilate people simply for being who they were rather than as an admittedly horrific part of an effort to win a war.

But acknowledging motivation of the Shepherd murder, even if one doesn’t use this as a factor in determining punishment, is crucial. “Hate crimes,” is a relatively new phrase, but it’s not a new concept. Indeed, a great number of murders of African Americans (and others) during the 1960s could only be punished by acknowledging that these murders were a violation of the civil rights of the victims (the murder charges often didn’t stick because of jury nullification on the part of all-white juries). Violence based on identity reveals larger social problems that must be addressed. Acknowledging and condemning hatred based on identity is crucial in creating a healthy democracy (again, look to the Civil Rights era for an example of this), even if we don’t say that a murder based on hatred should be punished more severely than a murder based on greed. To deny the motivation behind the crime is tacitly affirm that the motivation should be a source of social concern.

Hyman could, of course, have acknowledged the ugliness of homophobia, but argued that this type of hatred needs to be addressed independently of determining sentences for individual crimes. But Hyman’s entire commentary implies that hatred of homosexuals is a nonissue altogether. Why? Because it’s much more comfortable to ascribe these crimes to motivations that don’t hit so close to home. Hyman’s a rich man. He doesn’t need to mug a 100-pound college student for drug money. He can comfortably place Shepherd’s killers and their motivation outside his personal experience. Their act is actually more dispicable when it becomes a crime of property, given the tendency of conservatives to equate money with goodness.

Recognizing the particular ugliness of killing someone simply for who they are would cut too close to the bone for Hyman. It’s a motivation that suggests an uncomfortable kinship between himself and those who tortured Shepherd to death. Beneath the façade of egalitarianism, Hyman’s commentary mocks the whole idea that hatred of homosexuals is a social problem, or even a bad thing. It reveals that the difference between Hyman and someone like Fred Phelps, the man who demonstrated at Shepherd’s funeral and preaches that gay men and women are destined for Hell, is a matter of degree, not of type.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Counterpoint Extra: Media Matters Spanks "The Point"

We’re not alone! The good folks at Media Matters for America recently published a laundry list of Mark Hyman’s distortions and rampant bias during the month of November. The piece is also filled with excellent links to facts that contradict Hyman on multiple fronts. If you haven’t checked out Media Matters, yet, take a look at this article and then just enjoy browsing. It’s an indispensible resource in the battle against coporate media bias.

Here’s the link to the Hyman piece:

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Truth Is Out There . . . But It Ain't on "The Point"

In his commentary "Conspiracy Theories," Mark Hyman mocks concern over voting irregularities and chalks up this as sour grapes from the (you guessed it) “Angry Left.”

We at The Counterpoint know a little bit more about conspiracy theories than does Mr. Hyman. One of the things we know is that “conspiracy theory” is a weak epithet thrown at an argument one isn’t willing or able to argue against logically.

Sure, Hyman quotes a Miami Herald story that claims a limited recount confirms Kerry votes may have been undercounted, but not nearly enough to affect the outcome. But as a number of number of independent media outlets have noted, the numbers actually show a potentially huge undercount of Kerry’s votes in Florida.

But that’s not the issue. The difference between Hyman’s reading of voting irregularities and that of the people he labels rather than contradicts comes down to a matter of basic philosophy. As George Lakoff notes in his books Moral Politics and Don’t Think of an Elephant, liberals and conservatives simply see the world through different frames. Lakoff focuses on the metaphor of the family, suggesting conservatives think in terms of a “Strict Father” mentality, while liberals see the world in terms of the “Nurturing Parent” model of the family.

In the case of the issue of recounts, voter fraud, etc., this difference takes the following form: conservatives see electoral politics in terms of a contest where the only thing that matters is whether you win or lose. But liberals add to this a concern over “how you play the game.” What’s at issue in looking at the many reported problems with voting (particularly electronic voting) goes far beyond the winner and loser of the 2004 presidential race. Even if Bush (or Kerry) had won in a landslide of historic proportions, it would still be essential to investigate any reported voting irregularities—not because these would affect the outcome, but because it’s essential in a healthy democracy that the electoral process be (and be seen as) fair and accurate. The fact that Bush received several thousand more votes in one Ohio precinct than there were voters registered in the precinct wouldn’t by itself affect the outcome of this election. What it does affect, however, is the faith of the voting public on whether their vote counts or not.

For the past several decades, voter turnout has been dropping. The bump in registration and turnout in the most recent election would be cause for celebration if we could count on it being part of a trend. But it was hard to persuade many potential voters that their vote would “count” in the abstract sense of the word back when we were all naïve enough to assume all votes were literally counted. The debacle of 2000 and the disturbing problems of the “reformed” electoral system in 2004 have given citizens good reason to feel their votes might not be counted in even the most literal sense. Add that to the preexisting foundation of skepticism, and we have the conditions for the body politic to grow increasingly decrepit.

This should concern all Americans, perhaps Bush supporters more than any. After all, it was the appearance of a stolen election that hamstrung the Bush presidency until the events of 9/11, and served as a basis for the “Hate Bush” movement that grew with each misguided policy decision. It’s in the best interest of the Bush administration to clear up any possible irregularities in the most recent election.

For conservatives such as Hyman, however, it seems like the idea of fair play is a quaint anachronism in an age of realpolitik (or at least Rovepolitik). But let’s face it: had the CEO of Diebold, the largest manufacturer of electronic voting machines, promised to deliver Ohio for John Kerry rather than George W. Bush, there would likely have been a week’s worth of “Points” devoted to this assault on democracy, and even more had Kerry won Ohio and the election.

Hyman wants to paint his political opponents as sore losers, but it’s his side’s lack of concern about the health of the democratic process that reveals them as the poor sports they are.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

And the winner is . . .

Apologies for the semi-unplanned sabbatical The Counterpoint has taken. It’s a busy time of year, and duties of other sorts called. But we are back now (really this time!) and in fact are planning on more aggressively getting the word out on Sinclair and Mark Hyman through a variety of channels (more on that in future postings).

But let’s get caught up a bit: recently, Mark Hyman served up an invitation we can’t help but be giddy about. In “Whopper of the Year,” Hyman says that he will be taking suggestions about what the biggest lie was in 2004. Always eager to help, he offers some possible candidates. Not surprisingly, they mostly come from democrats. He lamely suggests that perhaps some might suggest the whopper of the year was “something President Bush said to the 9/11 commission.” One problem with that, Mark: The President wouldn’t allow the public know anything about his testimony and refused to have any record made of his comments. Or maybe you just forgot that small detail.

I suggest we help Mark out by submitting some nominees for Whopper of the Year. Here’s our Top 10 list:

10. Dick Cheney:

[From the Vice Presidential Debate]

"You made the comment that the Gulf War coalition in '91 was far stronger than this. No. We had 34 countries then; we've got 30 today. We've got troops beside us."

9. Condoleeza Rice

“In June and July when the threat spikes were so high…we were at battle stations…The fact of the matter is [that] the administration focused on this before 9/11.”

8. Tommy Thompson

"Even if you don't have health insurance you are still taken care of in America. That certainly could be defined as universal coverage."

7. Dick Cheney

"The senator's got his fact wrong. I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11."

6. President Bush

"I haven't had any extensive conversations with [Chalabi]...I don't remember anybody walking into my office saying, Chalabi says this is the way it's going to be in Iraq."

5. Donald Rumsfeld

"You and a few other critics are the only people I've heard use the phrase 'immediate threat.' I didn't...It's become kind of folklore that that's what happened."

[No terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people than the regime of Saddam Hussein and Iraq." -Donald Rumsfeld, 9/19/02]

4. George W. Bush:

"That's exactly where the tax cuts went. Most of the tax cuts went to low- and middle-income Americans."

3. George W. Bush

"Gosh, I just don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. It's kind of one of those exaggerations."

["I don't know where he [Osama Bin Laden] is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him... I truly am not that concerned about him." - President Bush, 3/13/02]

2. Condoleeza Rice:

[On the August 6th memo] “Commissioner, this was not a warning. This was a historic memo—historical memo prepared by the agency because the president was asking questions about what we knew about the inside.”

But in terms of simple bald-faced chutzpah, we have to give the Whopper of the Year award to Monsieur Hyman Himself . . .

1. Mark Hyman

[From a CNN interview]

Bill Hemmer: “Mark, let me try and cut through this a little bit. Is there a bias at Sinclair against John Kerry?”

Mark Hyman: “I certainly hope not.”

And that’s truly The Counterpoint.

Cost of the War in Iraq
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