Friday, May 20, 2005

Something's Rotten in the State of Maryland

On May 19, Mark Hyman editorializes in favor of a massive corporation. That same day, only a few miles away, the governor of Maryland vetoes a piece of legislation. How are these two events connected? Let’s see . . .

In his
latest “Point,” Hyman rushes to the defense of that helpless mom-and-pop business, Walmart. Apparently the threat posed to the global corporate behemoth by grassroots groups and workers’ organizations is so great that Hyman felt he had to step in. Or at least that’s the way it seems on the surface.

Hyman derides efforts by a group of Vermont citizens to
put a cap on the size of Walmart stores. According to Hyman, the city council of Bennington, Vermont, passed an ordinance limiting the size of a proposed new Walmart to a mere 75,000 square feet, only to have the citizens of the town rise up in indignation at having the store limited to 1.5 football fields of retail space. In fact, the push to overturn the city council’s decision was funded by Walmart and outspent the citizen’s group by more than 3-1. The decision was overturned with a winning margin of 400 votes. Only 40% of the town bothered to vote on the issue. For Hyman, this is democracy at its finest.

Hyman also remarked on the
closing of a Walmart in Quebec, Canada. Hyman says Walmart was compelled to close the store because of falling sales and increased union demands. In fact, it appears that Walmart closed the store in retaliation for the decision of the workers to unionize.

On one hand, this simply seems to be a case of Hyman siding with one of the biggest and richest companies in the world against the side of small business and workers. That in and of itself is interesting; conservatives at least pay lip service to the benefits of small businesses and the value of earning a living. But here, Hyman sides with Walmart, a corporation whose business model is grounded in the destruction of local small businesses and on maintaining low wages that keep employees from actually being able to earn a living wage.

Philosophically, there’s an interesting connection to be made between Sinclair Broadcasting and Walmart. Sinclair’s own business model is patterned after Walmart: own as many outlets as possible (preferably more than one in a given market), slash the labor force used at these outlets, and offer low quality product to the public.

But there’s something more specific and dark going on here. In Hyman’s comments, he also makes reference to a bill passed by the Maryland legislature that he claims targeted “only Walmart” (not true, by the way) to force the company to either provide adequate healthcare coverage for their employees or contribute to a government fund that provides healthcare for low-income families. This is the bill that Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich vetoed on the very day Hyman’s commentary aired. A look into the long and tawdry history of Sinclair’s relationship with Ehrlich reveals that this is no coincidence. While only mentioning the legislation in passing, Hyman’s commentary was directly connected to Ehrlich’s actions, and is merely the latest chapter in a long history of quid pro quo politics among Sinclair executives and Ehrlich.

During Ehrlich’s time in Congress, Sinclair executives pumped over $15,000 into his campaign coffers (Source: When Ehrlich decided to run for governor, the money kept rolling in. The Smith family alone contributed more than $10,000 to Ehrlich’s campaign (Source: Maryland State Board of Elections). Even this large chunk of cash, however, doesn’t match the “in-kind” contribution of $13,750 that Sinclair VP Duncan Smith made to Ehrlich when he allowed the gubernatorial aspirant to flit across Maryland at a discount rate in a luxury helicopter owned by Smith. This “Choppergate” contribution apparently violated state campaign finance law because it was not reported in a timely fashion.

Sinclair also arranged a sweetheart deal with Ehrlich to
produce ads featuring the governor to promote Maryland tourism. The deal reportedly was that Sinclair would produce the ads for free, provided the state of Maryland would then buy $60,000 worth of air time on Sinclair stations during which they would run the ads. What made this deal particularly suspect was that the ads featuring Ehrlich seemed to double as ads for the governor, giving him additional public exposure during the political season.

Sinclair’s contributions to Ehrlich have not simply been of the monetary variety. While Ehrlich was running for governor (or flying for governor on Smith’s whirlybird), Sinclair stations were
giving him positive coverage, while attacking Ehrlich’s opponent, Democratic Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

But it gets even worse. While all of this was going on, Ehrlich (still a member of Congress) lobbied the FCC on Sinclair’s behalf in a licensing dispute. The
FCC later rebuked Ehrlich for lobbying on Sinclair’s behalf without disclosing that he had received substantial contributions from them.

Hyman has pitched in himself with editions of “The Point” meant to support Ehrlich. During the 2004 Republican convention, an episode of “The Point” featured Hyman interviewing Ehrlich about the wonders of the big-tent G.O.P. Hyman’s glowing introduction of Ehrlich announced that he was a “moderate Republican” who was “the first Republican in 36 years elected governor in heavily Democratic Maryland.”

Hyman also vigorously defended Ehrlich’s decision to ban newspaper reporters from his press conferences whom he deemed to be covering him negatively. Hyman devoted an entire installment of “The Point” to the matter, claiming that Ehrlich was under no obligation to answer any journalists’ questions.

Need I mention that Hyman, violating basic journalistic ethics, has never mentioned Sinclair’s relationship with Ehrlich in any of his “Point” commentaries mentioning the Maryland governor?

What about Walmart? They, too, have a cozy relationship with Ehrlich.
The company donated $4,000 to Ehrlich on the first day of the current legislative session and hosted a $1,000-a-plate fundraising dinner for him.

Given this, is it any surprise that Ehrlich vetoed a bill that Walmart opposed, despite the fact that it would help Maryland’s working class? Furthermore, is it any surprise that Ehrlich’s longtime friends at Sinclair would come up with an edition of “The Point” that attacked those who oppose Walmart’s business practices on the very day Ehrlich vetoed the bill?

There’s only one word that captures this perfect storm of overlapping agendas and quid pro quo politics: corruption.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


At 8:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Ted, you missed the biggest meatball that came over the plate.

On the newscentral website, Hyman's bio states:

"In 1995, he attended Johns Hopkins University on an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellowship and worked in the U.S. House of Representatives."

Want to take a guess in which Representative's office he worked?



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