Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Hyman's Jennings Fixation

The passing of Peter Jennings over the weekend brought back to mind some of Mark Hyman’s most objectionable traits, particularly his willingness to slander decent people if it serves his political aims.

I needed reminding of this given that there were three editions of “The Point” in a row that weren’t horrifyingly objectionable.
In his commentary on business relationships with China, Hyman takes to task a federal commission on China trade, suggesting that they put too much stress on greasing the wheels of commerce at the expense of national security. Some of us might like to hear something about human rights issues brought up in this context, but we’ll take what we can get.

In his
discussion of news coverage about missing kids, Hyman nearly sounds like a progressive, pointing out that the individuals who receive the attention tend to be white, attractive, and female. Had Natalee Holloway not been a cute blonde, would Fox and MSNBC have covered the search for her so breathlessly? Obviously not. Hyman accurately notes that thousands upon thousands of kids go missing every year, yet the media picks and chooses which of these counts as a national story, and does so often on the basis of the most superficial (and irrelevant) details. One might point out that this is a case of Hyman having a keen grasp of the obvious, but this is still more than we often see from Mark, so let’s give him his props.

Hyman suggests that the time and energy that goes into various charity “-thons” (e.g., walkathons, dance-a-thons, etc.) could be better channeled into more directly useful efforts to support causes. Again, there’s plenty to take exception to here. First of all, the commentary is exceedingly self-serving—Hyman’s goes on at length about how much he’s contributed to various causes. It also sets up a false opposition: one need not choose between participating in a walkathon to support breast cancer research and volunteering at a hospice. And the “-thons” that Hyman belittles are often good ways to get people who haven’t considered volunteering interested and involved. Yet, the basic point—that one shouldn’t overlook the most direct way of offering help to a favorite cause—is fair enough.

As I struggled to assimilate this unprecedented streak of near-coherence from Mr. Hyman, however, news came of Jennings’ passing.

For reasons that have never been clear to me, Peter Jennings has been a favorite whipping boy for Hyman. When ranting about the supposed leftist media, Hyman often invoked Jennings’ name as an example that supported his point. Most infamously, Hyman insinuated that
Jennings “seemed to support the terrorists” over Americans in a commentary during the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

Perhaps Hyman’s particular antipathy for Jennings was fueled by his anti-intellectualism. After all, Jennings’ on-air persona was distinctly more cerebral than that of either Brokaw or (God knows) Rather.

But the truth of the matter is that Jennings was the least educated of the big three, having not even completed high school. Learning his craft from on-the-job experience, Jennings was anything but a member of the “intellectual elite” that Hyman scoffs at.

Could it have been that Hyman took a particular dislike to Jennings because the ABC anchor hailed from north of the border? Doubtful. Hating Jennings for being Canadian would be dumb enough on its own, but it would be particularly dopey given the fact that
Jennings became a U.S. citizen late in life, motivated to do so while researching a book on the American political culture. When asked what he particularly loved about America, Jennings said that it was the only nation in history founded on an idea.

I don’t know why Hyman had it in for Peter Jennings. But think for a moment about the fact that Jennings made a decision to become an American, not because there was any advantage to be gained, but simply because he wanted to. Think about the reason Jennings gave for admiring America—the fact that ours is the only nation founded upon an intellectual idea about equality and freedom, as opposed to geographic, ethnic, or historical divisions.

Now, put that next to Hyman’s pompous pontificating and jingoistic babble. Which man do you think more eloquently defines what America means?

I won’t hold my breath for Hyman to offer a kind word about Jennings in the wake of his death, let alone an apology for his attempts at character assassination. All the event likely means for Hyman is that he’ll need to find a new punching bag. But that’s fine. In the end, Jennings’ career stands on its own merits, and no words from the likes of Hyman can add or detract from that.

And perhaps this brings us to the reason Hyman so detested Jennings; Jennings might not have been another Murrow or Cronkite, but he was a real newsman who had something Hyman can only wish he had: class.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index:

“China Commission”: 0.68
“Missing Kids”: 1.16
“Fundraisers”: 0.96


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