Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Hyman On the Road to Damascus

Apparently Mark Hyman has had a conversion experience. He’s suddenly in the corner of professors who make controversial statements.

In his latest editorial, Hyman summarizes an opinion piece penned by Bruce Fleming, a professor at the Naval Academy, critical of the institution’s policies of having recruiting slots reserved for athletes, those already serving in the Navy or Marine Corps, and “favored racial groups.” This coddling has led, according to Fleming, to some Navy admirals claiming that some Academy graduates "cannot think cogently in words." (Parenthetically, let us remind ourselves that Mr. Hyman himself is a product of the Naval Academy. I leave it to readers to draw what conclusions they will).

It’s clear from Hyman’s editorial that it’s the race thing that most irks him. He pointedly refers to a specific case referred to by Fleming of a candidate who identified himself as Hispanic and received preferential treatment, but who didn’t appear to be Hispanic (whatever that means).

Oddly enough, the service academies probably have greater reason than any other institutions of higher learning to aggressively recruit members of ethnic minorities. Given the demographics of the enlisted personnel in the armed forces, it seems reasonable that the armed services would put a premium on creating an officer corps that mirrored the make-up of the enlisted personnel. The idea of a lily-white officer corps barking out orders to forces disproportionately constituted of African Americans and Hispanics carries the uncomfortable associations of Southern plantations and migrant farm labor. More than simply being politically incorrect, this certainly couldn’t help attain that elusive and valued characteristic, “unit cohesion.”

But the larger issue isn’t so much Hyman’s particular views on this issue; it’s that this commentary exists at all. Naval Academy politics is something Hyman has a personal interest in, given his associations with the institution. That’s fine. But why must viewers in 62 stations across the country have a solid two minutes of a 22-24 minute local newscast eaten up by Hyman riding his hobby-horse? These are 120 seconds of precious airtime that could and should be available for local journalists and/or members of the public to air opinions on issues of local concern (or to cover additional local news stories).

The problem with “The Point” goes beyond simply its predictably extreme right-wing slant or Hyman’s dubious logic and misrepresentations. The problem is that Hyman, as a Sinclair employee, has the power to force his agenda and opinions on viewers, no matter how irrelevant they may be to them. At a time when so little television time is devoted to local issues, we don’t have the luxury of allowing a corporate suit to go nattering away for two full minutes about an intra-campus dustup at his alma mater.

This particular commentary is far from the most objectionable Hyman has delivered in terms of its specific content, but it emphasizes more clearly than most the underlying objection so many of us have with Sinclair and “The Point”: these are our airwaves, our public resource, and we want them back.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

ps. As an interesting aside, I doubt Hyman would find Professor Fleming his kind of guy despite his approving summary. Dr. Fleming received an award from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for an article he wrote for The Chronicle of Higher Education in which he suggested that the U.S. Naval Academy fostered an atmosphere that was at once homophobic and homoerotic.


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