Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A Matter of Ethos

In a continuation of “Keen Grasp of the Obvious Week” at “The Point,” Mark Hyman recently delivered a commentary, the gist of which was, “there are some sticky issues to be resolved before we get to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

True enough. The obvious response to this is to point out that the Bush administration’s passivity and unwillingness to assert itself as an honest broker for peace has made this all the more difficult. Then there’s the little matter of the unilateral invasion of a Middle Eastern country that has stirred up a bit of consternation in the region.

But other than complaining about losing 120 seconds of my life that I won’t get back after watching this episode of “The Point,” there’s not much more to be said about it, simply because Hyman doesn’t assert much of anything.

The same can’t be said of the more recent commentary on 527 groups and campaign finance reform. Hyman argues that pending legislation limiting the amounts spent by 527 groups in the run-up to an election is censorship.

Let’s be clear: there is certainly an intellectually respectable argument to be made that limiting campaign contributions infringes on free speech. This is particularly true if you buy the premise that cash equals speech (I don’t, but many do).

The problem with the commentary isn’t the basic position advocated (legislation regulating 527s should be voted down), but the problem of Hyman’s ethos in making this argument.

First, as is typical of Hyman’s argumentative style, there is no acknowledgment that the other side’s arguments are based in legitimate values. For Hyman, John McCain (his bogeyman of campaign finance reform) is out to censor groups speaking on behalf of ordinary citizens. There’s no acknowledgment that there are valid concerns about the influence of money on the political system. McCain is crudely charicatured as a Snidely Whiplash, viciously tying Lady Democracy to the tracks as the Censorship Express barrels down on her.

Moreover, it’s difficult to take an employee of Sinclair Broadcasting seriously on the issue of censorship. It’s certainly been a hot topic in recent installments of “The Point,” but as we’ve pointed out a number of times, it seems that Sinclair praises freedom of speech when it suits their purposes, but advocates limitation on speech that it finds objectionable. In both the statements of Mark Hyman and the corporate statements and actions of Sinclair, one is hard pressed to find any coherent rationale when it comes to a stance on censorship.

Most important, however, is the fact that Hyman does not disclose the close association Sinclair Broadcasting had with a certain infamous 527 group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth [sic]. Some time ago, we noted that during the “Stolen Honor” fiasco, Hyman was appearing on television touting the group behind this crockumentary as credible and having nothing to do with the Swifties. But as Media Matters for America quickly pointed out, the group behind “Stolen Honor” had officially merged with the Swifties a month earlier. And it was a propagandistic film hawked by this group that Sinclair claimed was “news.”

There’s a reasonable debate to be had on this issue. Senator McCain warns that allowing 527s to roam the media without limit during a campaign opens up the possibility of a single wealthy individual wielding huge influence over an election. It’s also true that the emergence of 527 groups resulted from loopholes in the original McCain-Feingold law that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Lastly, it’s difficult to come up with an argument that says regulating 527s is censorship but doesn’t challenge all campaign regulations (such as the $2000 limit on individual contributions). If we’re going to regulate campaigns, let’s regulate ‘em. If not, let’s not go through a charade—why not just open the floodgates and say money can be used by whomever for whatever, no strings attached.

Despite the obviously loaded language of that description of the debate, there remain important questions about freedom of expression when it comes to campaign finance reform, and there are valid arguments to be made in favor of keeping regulations to a minimum.

But Mark Hyman is not in a position to make them.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


At 11:01 AM, Anonymous Crimefighter said...

>There’s a reasonable debate to be had on this issue. Senator McCain warns that allowing 527s to roam the media without limit during a campaign opens up the possibility of a single wealthy individual wielding huge influence over an election.

Ummm...isn't GEORGE SOROS doing that NOW??? Who's trying to stop him? No one!

At 1:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The concept that George Soros is funding places like Media Matters and or any other liberal organization trying to rally the people has been thrown around a lot. And each time it is the groups stand up with proof that it is the vast number of individuals coming to together that are funding these groups. So, to throw George Soros into the conversation is misleading at best. Although mainly it's just wrong information.

At 3:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Crimefighter:

You mean, like Richard Mellon Scaife?


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