Thursday, March 10, 2005

Context Matters

Someone yelling “fire!” means one thing when it’s coming from the person in the office next to yours and there’s a faint whiff of smoke in the air. It means something quite different if you’re standing in front of a row of ten guys with rifles pointed at you (although in both cases, the news isn’t good).

Context matters. As this silly example demonstrates, even the simplest of exclamations has drastically different meanings depending on who’s saying it, to whom they're saying it, and why.

At least that’s the way it works in the real world. In Hyman-World, however, context is simply the crap you have to scrape off your boot before you kick someone in the crotch.

An example is
the most recent episode of “The Point” in which Hyman (doing his part in the right wing preemptive nuking of Howard Dean) attempts to portray Dean as a bigot, and to chastise the media for not saying so.

Hyman quotes Dean’s remark during the campaign about wanting to be the candidate of guys “
with Confederate flags in their pickups” and his more recent comment that Republicans couldn’t fill a conference room with African American supporters unless they brought in the hotel staff. Then, Hyman makes the following bizarre statement:

“Do you notice just a hint of Dean's core beliefs seeping out? Southerners are Confederate flag-waving good ol' boy racists. Blacks are only capable of service industry jobs.”

Mark Hyman, who has mocked the NAACP and compared undocumented immigrants to members of al-Qaeda, feigns righteous indignation at these comments, but only after willfully misreading them with malice aforethought.
Is there anything in Dean’s statement that says (or even suggests) guys with Confederate flags in their pickups are by definition racists? It’s Hyman himself who makes this connection.

The second quotation is remade even more imaginatively. Dean was pointing out (and rightly so) that Republicans would have a hard time drawing an African American crowd in a hotel beyond those who would have to be there because of their job. I guess the 150 members of the audience, nearly all of whom were Black, must not be as sensitive about racial slights as Hyman is, since they gave Dean a standing ovation after his speech.

Of course, Hyman knows exactly what he’s doing. He doesn’t care about racially insensitive rhetoric—he just wants to A) smear the new standard bearer of the Democratic Party, and B) continue to characterize the media as “liberal.”

It’s the second goal that causes Hyman to launch into another series of equally dopey statements. Claiming that the media had swarmed all over Trent Lott when he made his comment about how wonderful the nation would be if only Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond had been elected, Hyman wonders aloud why similar outrage wasn’t voiced when Senator Robert Byrd “used the racially charged N-word on national television” and when
Senator Christopher Dodd praised Byrd as a policymaker who would have been a great leader at any time in the nation’s history, including the Civil War.

“There's no mistaking what Dodd implied. Yet the press gave him a pass” Hyman claims.

There no mistaking Dodd’s meaning? Perhaps you should simply state what you claim Dodd is saying, Mark. Are you actually claiming Senator Dodd thinks the nation would be better off had the Confederacy prevailed? If that’s your honest belief, go ahead and say it rather than hiding behind the pseudo-certainty of the phrase “no mistaking.”

Dodd made a comment that was more than a bit dumb, given Byrd’s past association with the Ku Klux Klan in his youth. It’s also a comment that I don’t agree with in the slightest. But attempting to paint Dodd as a racist on the basis of this comment is disingenuous.

Admittedly, Senator Byrd himself is a better target, but again Hyman intentionally misleads viewers. He refers to an interview in which Byrd, commenting on the state of racial relations in the nation, said that there were plenty of “white n------s,” meaning that the ignorance implied by that particular word knew no racial boundaries. In fact, the remark was made in a way that implied that Byrd was referring to none other than President Bill Clinton.

I have no particular affection for Senator Byrd, and it was certainly a stupid comment to make coming from him. Comedian Chris Rock has made the same point using the same language, but again, context matters, and Byrd is not in a position to use such language without impunity. But the entire point of the exchange was that uncouth and ignorant behavior is colorblind.

Let’s compare this to what Senator Lott said. Lott, in prepared remarks, said we’d be better off had Thurmond won the presidency in 1948. The raison d’etre of Thurmond’s campaign was segregation. Hyman terms this an “oblique reference.” Right. What’s oblique is Hyman’s description of Lott’s comments.

And maybe there would have been more attention to Dodd’s comment had it been made in the context of a political career decorated with quotations like the following:

"The spirit of Jefferson Davis lives in the 1984 Republican

"Look at the cost involved in the Martin Luther King holiday and the fact
that we have not done it for a lot of other people that were more deserving. I just think it was basically wrong.

"The people in this room stand for the right principles and the right philosophy. Let's take it in the right direction, and our children will be the
" [Spoken to a meeting of the Council of Conservative
, a group the Anti-Defamation League identifies as having an
ideology of White supremacism and White separatism. Visit their website today, and you’ll see that they believe that all hate crimes are hoaxes.]

"Yes, you could say that I favored segregation then [1962]. I don't now.
The main thing was, I felt the Federal Government had no business sending in troops to tell the state what to do.

Yep, our friend Trent has said all of this and more. Context matters.

And the media frenzy over Lott’s comments? That’s another fiction from Hyman’s fevered imagination.
As the Journalism Review Online noted in a fascinating story, the entire Lott episode was virtually ignored by the mainstream press. It wasn’t until several bloggers commented on it that the story gradually demanded attention. Had it been up to the so-called liberal media, Lott’s remarks would have disappeared into the C-SPAN ether.

With any other commentator out there, I’d say that the level of disingenuousness and malice without any regard to the truth in this commentary was beyond belief.

But in this case, I can’t say that. Context matters.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


At 4:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yo, Ted, can you post an outside email contact for those of us who want to send you comments off-record?

I'd bet you'd get some Sinclair employees writing in that way, if they thought there'd be no retribution from the DeathStar.


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