Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Last Refuge of a Scoundrel

It says something about the poverty of both Mark Hyman’s opinions and his ability to argue in support of them that he routinely bypasses answering his opponents and chooses to simply make stuff up about them.

A recent case is his mischaracterization of the anti-war protests that took place around the globe last weekend to mark the second anniversary of the Bush administration’s. invasion of Iraq. Instead of making an argument that such military action was necessary for the well-being of the U.S. Hyman simply slanders those who took part in the events, saying that they (big surprise) “hate America.”

On one hand, you have to sympathize with Hyman a bit. There is no coherent argument to be made that invading Iraq made the U.S. safer. Moreover, the turnout around the world of those protesting Bush administration policy must be disconcerting to those who actually support it. After all, the protests come at a time when several members of the so-called “coalition of the willing” are announcing plans to reduce or eliminate their presence on the ground in Iraq.

But that’s still no excuse for all-out distortion. In his commentary, Hyman attempts to link the protests that took place in dozens of communities around the U.S. to one organization, International ANSWER, (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) and then says (without a shred of evidence) that this group is simply a front for the Marxist World Workers Party, a group that “has long advocated the overthrow of America.” Hyman wonders why the group only protests American foreign policy, and why it chose to hold protests in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where the 82nd Airborne is based.

We’re then told that if we peruse a list of groups that make up the ANSWER coalition, we’ll see that it’s a “who’s who of society’s misfits and groups aligned against America.” You’d think that with a line like that, Hyman might provide a list, either in his commentary itself or in the video that accompanies his speech, of this rag-tag group. But none is forthcoming

Finally, Hyman lists a number of international military actions he claims ANSWER has opposed, going all the way back to U.S. involvement in the Korean War more than 50 years ago.

Where to start . . .well, let’s begin by dealing with ANSWER itself. It was founded shortly after the attacks of September 11th, 2001, long after the Korean War and U.S. intervention in Somalia occurred (two events Hyman claims ANSWER opposed). How this group opposed these actions when it didn’t exist is anyone’s guess. International ANSWER was formed specifically to protest Bush administration foreign policy—hence the focus on American actions.

I suspect that what Hyman is doing is conflating the views of any number of the many groups that make up the ANSWER coalition and falsely attributing them to the umbrella organization. Obviously, that’s logically unfair, but if everyone involved in ANSWER are “misfits” and those aligned against America, maybe they have it coming, right?

But what Hyman doesn’t mention is that the individual who founded ANSWER is Ramsey Clark, former United States Attorney General for President Lyndon Johnson. Not exactly the bong-wielding, dreadlock wearing, malcontent Hyman’s language is intended to evoke in the viewer’s mind. Some of the groups involved in the organization include Pastors for Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the Partnership for Civil Justice, and the Middle East Children’s Alliance. Are these folks progressive in their politics? Sure. But even Hyman doesn’t actually believe they all get together and sing the “Internationale” before sitting down and leafing through dog-eared copies of “The Communist Manifesto.” The Red-baiting rhetoric is simply name calling of the worst sort. At least Joseph McCarthy was crazy enough to actually believe the U.S. was lousy with communists. Hyman simply dusts off Tailgunner Joe’s rhetoric to use as hamfisted scare tactics.

But the larger point goes beyond Hyman’s mischaracterization of ANSWER. It’s his mischaracterization of the anti-war protests as a whole. ANSWER certainly played a part in organizing some of the protests, but they were hardly the only organization involved. In fact, what stands out about the protests of a few days ago is the diversity of those participating.

For example, let’s look at the protest in Fayetteville that Hyman implies was staged by a bunch of pinko peaceniks who hate the military and are targeting the troops because they loathe those in the service. Here are some of the groups who took the lead in organizing the Fayetteville demonstration: Iraq Veterans Against the War, Gold Star Families for Peace (an organization of those who have lost loved ones in the Iraq war), and Military Families Speak Out. Do these groups, made up of servicemen and women, along with their families, hate the troops and want to undermine America?

In fact, the demonstration in Fayetteville was aimed at making two points. First, that even among those connected to the military, there is strong opposition to the war. And second, that the demonstrations against the war are not only not demonstrations against the troops, but are motivated in large part because those involved in them want to bring the troops home.

Acknowledging this reality sinks Hyman’s argument, however. He’s spent a good chunk of his time on the air suggesting that anyone who disagrees with him about Bush administration policy in Iraq (or about much of anything else) is anti-American. Because the facts don’t support this cartoonish position, however, Hyman has to ignore them.

Oh, and one more thing: according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, 51 percent of Americans say the war in Iraq was “a mistake.” Majorities also say the war was not worth fighting, that they disapprove of the way Bush has handled the war in Iraq, that the administration has no plan for getting out of Iraq, that U.S. has losses have been unacceptably high, that the U.S. is bogged down in Iraq, and that the U.S. is not in a stronger position in the world because of the war (in fact, far more people believe the U.S. is actually weaker because of the war than believe it is stronger). According to Hyman’s logic, that must mean that a majority of Americans hate the troops and are against America.

To wax Hymanesque for a moment, I believe in Mr. Hyman’s right to exercise his First Amendment right to speak his mind—absolutely (Hyman loves to pose as being fair-minded by saying he thinks others should be allowed to speak—how big of him!). But what Hyman is doing is the exact opposite of the stated claim that “The Point” is meant to encourage public debate and critical thinking. By misrepresenting his opponents and willfully ignoring facts that run counter to his caricature of them rather than actually offering a reasoned argument, Hyman cheapens public discourse, insults his viewers (no matter what their political leanings), and makes the argument more eloquently than I ever could that “The Point” has no business being forced on viewers over the public airwaves.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


At 8:02 PM, Anonymous maha said...

Um (and please note I am a flaming liberal), actually, ANSWER really is a front for the Workers World Party. These people are Marxists who support the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Be warned.

If you don't believe me, believe David Corn at The Nation, Todd Gitlin in Mother Jones, or Michelle Goldberg in Salon.

At 3:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maha is right. Iraq Veterans Against the War and Military Families Speak Out are also front groups for the WWP. These front groups threaten to undermine the credibility and effectiveness of reasonable progressives. Defending or associating with them is unwise. Forewarned is forearmed.


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