I wonder about the following topics:
Why doesn’t he tell us what he really thinks? In a recent commentary, Mark Hyman criticizes the REAL ID Act that would create a de facto national identification card. Hyman claims this would put an undue burden on U.S. servicemen and women. But that’s not why he’s against it. There are many good reasons to be skeptical of the act, which would put additional burdens on states to take on tasks of national security. However, Hyman (along with most far-right extremists who oppose this Republican-endorsed bill) is that they believe it doesn’t go far enough in restricting immigration. Remember, this is the guy who actually claimed undocumented immigrants were the equivalent of al-Qaeda terrorists.
Why doesn’t he tell us what he really thinks (Part II: The Revenge of the Hyman)? In another recent commentary, Hyman plays the part of a First Amendment crusader, crying foul at a number of attempts in Congress to restrict what can be broadcast on television and when (everything from commercials for junk food to erectile dysfunction ads). What Hyman really wants, however, is for there to be little to no oversight of television broadcasting by the government, period. These individual complaints are simply miniscule and intentionally distracting skirmishes in the larger Sinclair offensive: to render the FCC and all federal regulations of broadcasters impotent. Flaccid broadcast regulations arouse wannabe media empires.
Why does Hyman support the federal government telling people what they can and can’t say? Despite his claims only a day before that he’s a die hard free-speecher, Hyman argues that a decision striking down the Solomon Act should be overturned. The Solomon Act was meant to require law schools to assist military recruiters looking to hire law students for the JAG corps. The problem is, the military discriminates against gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Nearly all law schools subscribe to a non-discrimination policy as part of their mission statement. Whatever your position on the “gays in the military” issue is, you can’t get around the fact that the military’s policy is at odds with the basic philosophy of the nation’s law schools, which prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. Requiring law schools to actively assist recruiters from an organization that overtly goes against their basic principles is a textbook case of intrusive big government. Aren’t conservatives supposed to be against that?
Does he really think he can get away with dishonesty? In his Solomon Act rant, Hyman twists the truth into an ill-tasting pretzel. First, he says that President Clinton signed the Act into law. Technically, that’s true, but only because it was tacked onto an omnibus spending bill. The Act itself was the product of conservative Republican legislators. Second, he suggests that “liberal professors” were trying to keep the military off their campus because they “hate” the military. Actually, the Act was the result of a very specific situation. Recruiters wanted access to law schools to recruit students for service as military lawyers. As noted above, the problem with this is that law schools subscribe to a non-discrimination policy that the military (rightly or wrongly) doesn’t. Hence, law school professors and administrators felt they couldn’t in good conscience help an organization that didn’t adhere to their beliefs in nondiscrimination recruit their students on campus. Hyman also suggests that the Solomon Act merely gives military recruiters access to college campuses. In fact, it mandates that law school faculty and administrators give assistance to military recruiters, despite the fact that the military doesn’t abide by the same ethical code of non-discrimination as law schools do. Hyman’s worst distortion, however, is his suggestion that the Solomon Act merely prevents schools from receiving Department of Defense funding if they don’t assist military recruiters. That’s false. Originally, the Solomon Act simply said that law schools wouldn’t get DoD funds if they didn’t roll out the red carpet for recruiters. When it became obvious that most law schools don’t get lots of financial support from the Pentagon (duh!), a new version of the Act was passed that barred schools in violation from receiving any federal funds. Moreover, the Bush administration has creatively reinterpreted the Act to mean that not only are law schools barred from receiving federal funds, but so are the institutions to which they belong. That is, if the University of Iowa’s school of law doesn’t help the military recruit its law students, Iowa’s medical college, college of liberal arts, college of public health, etc. can all be deprived of federal funds.
Why does Hyman hate teachers? In his commentary on the Solomon Act, Hyman says that college teachers who oppose the act are lacking in “honor and integrity.” He concludes by saying that those who oppose the Solomon act are “activist judges” and “greedy, liberal college professors and administrators who hate our troops.” That’s right: because law professors don’t want to be forced into violating their professional and academic policy, they (along with everyone else in academics, apparently) “hate our troops.”
Moreover, Hyman claims that teachers haven’t given us the right to free expression, veterans have. How many inconsistencies and falsehoods can we unpack from that little gem? First, the idea that because veterans have helped provide free speech, one shouldn't practice free speech when it comes to matters touching on the military is absurd to the point of lunacy. Second, as much as we owe a debt to those who served their country by putting their life on the line (such as, say, Senator John Kerry), the right to free expression was provided by the founding fathers, some of whom were veterans (e.g., Washington, Hamilton), some of whom weren’t (e.g. Jefferson, Franklin). Third, as much as we often talk about soldiers fighting for “our freedoms,” the one thing that’s become obvious over the course of two and a quarter centuries of American democracy is that the most direct threat to our rights (particularly that of free expression) comes from within, not from without. The greatest attacks on (and defenses of) free speech have been battles involving lawyers and politicians, not soldiers and tanks. In these battles, those who have fought to preserve our right of free expression have included Americans from all walks of life, both veterans and non-veterans. The list includes civil rights protestors, suffragettes, judges, lawyers, legislators, journalists, teachers (yes, even college professors), and other everyday Americans. In fact, the right to free expression is a right that we give ourselves by exercising it on a daily basis. It’s one of those “use it or lose it” sorts of things. Everyone who has the courage to speak his or her mind, as well as the courage to allow others to do so, fights and defends the right to free expression. No one group has the sole responsibility of providing and defending free speech to us; it’s a duty we all share together.
Where’s the consistency? Hyman rapturously praises congressional action that recently provided more money to disabled veterans and the families of those who die in the service of their country. That’s great. But it would have been nice to have Hyman on board a bit earlier. The Bush administration sent troops into harm’s way without adequate personal or vehicle armor. In late 2003, ArmyTimes.com called the administration’s actions to cut schools at military bases an “act of betrayal.” The Bush DoD has also instituted a “back door draft” that has kept soldiers on duty long after they are owed the opportunity to return to their families through the program of indentured servitude known as the “stop loss” program. The Army Times also ripped Bush for political profiteering off of the military while reducing benefits. Perhaps if Hyman had supported the troops more than he supported the Bush administration, wounded vets and the families of the fallen might not have had to wait so long for a few crumbs to fall from the administration's banquet table.
Exactly what is “the point”? In a commentary on “video news releases” (VNRs), Hyman talks about the various opinions on the use of packaged news stories created by third-party sources. Yet, Hyman himself doesn’t seem to ever make a clear statement about the use of these releases one way or the other. Perhaps he’d like to be more critical of them, but that would mean criticizing the lifeblood of Sinclair Broadcasting. Sinclair’s “Newscentral” model of journalism relies on the use of prepackaged segments being disseminated across the country (including that most infamous of nocturnal emissions, “The Point”). It would be nice if Sinclair itself clearly indicated which stories appearing on its stations were prepackaged VNRs coming from its own corporate headquarters rather than true local news. We won’t hold our breath, though.
Does he own a dictionary? How about an American history textbook? A writer’s guide? In a recent “Point,” Hyman refers to George W. Bush “soundly” defeating John Kerry in last year’s election. Almost all guides for writers point out that adverbs tend to be empty words that add little or no meaning to a sentence. In this case, “soundly” actually takes away meaning by distorting the facts. Apparently, a less than 3% margin of victory counts as a “sound” victory in Hyman world. However, the truth is a bit different. From Wikipedia:
Bush won with the smallest margin of victory for a sitting
president in U.S. history in terms of the percentage of the popular vote. (Bush
received 2.5% more than Kerry; the closest previous margin won by a sitting
President was 3.2% for Woodrow
Wilson in 1916.) In terms of absolute number of popular
votes, his victory margin (approximately 3 million votes) was the smallest of
any sitting President since Harry S.
Truman in 1948. Furthermore, more votes were cast for
candidates other than the winner than in any previous U.S. presidential
Of course, I guess any victory at all counts as “sound” when your previous victory was actually a defeat.
Shouldn’t Hyman turn his gaze inward? In another recent “Point” commentary, Hyman says that journalists are out of touch and rely on stereotypes when talking about rural America (whom he equates with “red state” America, ignoring the fact that the entire upper Midwest—the heart of rural America—is decidedly blue). To support this assertion, Hyman cites the Center for Media and Public Affairs, which he claims is (altogether now) “a nonpartisan research and educational organization.” In fact, the CMPA is (altogether again) a right-wing media watchdog group financed largely by ultra conservative funding. A study by this group says that rural Americans are portrayed negatively in (gasp) six percent of news stories.
Hyman’s interpretation of this is so comically self-indicting that I have to excerpt it verbatim:
“Perhaps the reason why the major media outlets don't understand rural America
is because they are simply out of touch. Newspaper editors and news directors
huddled inside the concrete cocoons of Manhattan and Washington, DC who don't
recognize that life exists for Americans who get their mail via rural free
delivery will only perpetuate ignorance and ill-informed reporting. Using
worn-out stereotypes to portray rural Americans as America's lesser citizens
does a disservice to everyone.”
Yes, unlike those liberal New York journalists in their Manhattan cocoons, Hyman just hates using stereotypes. You won’t catch him doing a disservice to his viewers by making broad generalizations about New Yorkers, journalists, the French, celebrities, immigrants, lawyers, foreigners, teachers, Democrats, the poor, labor unions, civil rights advocates, those living on the East Coast, those living on the West Coast, environmentalists, minorities, etc., etc., etc, . . .
I’m just wondering.
And that’s the catch-up Counterpoint.