Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Point: Contrary to Public Interest

Last year, Sinclair refused to honor servicemen and women who died in Iraq.

In “Sinclair-gate,” the executives at Sinclair refused to allow their ABC affiliates to run “The Fallen,” a special episode of Nightline that showed photos of each American soldier who had died in Iraq. Sinclair executive Barry Faber said at the time that, “We find it to be contrary to public interest.”

Right. Mark Hyman was a bit more honest about the reasons for not airing the tribute. He claimed that the broadcast was designed to embarrass President Bush because it occurred within a couple of days of Bush’s premature “mission accomplished” speech. Hyman insisted that the timing of the broadcast showed that Ted Koppel and ABC were biased against the president.

But Hyman’s protestations revealed far more about him and his fellow Sinclair executives. Whatever ABC’s motivations were (or weren’t), Sinclair had the choice between honoring fallen American soldiers and protecting the president from embarrassment. They chose the latter.

This says it all about Sinclair’s attitudes toward the troops. As we’ve pointed out many times before, Hyman and those at Sinclair pose as champions of American servicemen and women, but they only follow through to the extent this posturing is consistent with supporting George Bush (to whom so many Sinclair executives have given so much money). But it’s become more and more difficult to reconcile support of the troops with support of the administration that sent them into harm’s way under false pretenses, in too few a number, with too little protection, and with no planning for getting out. When these conflicts arise, Mark Hyman and Sinclair consistently choose the administration over the men and women on the ground.

The response to Sinclair-gate was overwhelming. In huge numbers, people across America voiced outrage that Sinclair would choose partisan politics over honoring the fallen. Even
Republican Senator John McCain offered scorching criticism of Sinclair’s decisions.

This year, Sinclair has been shamed into decency and is running
this year’s installment of the Nightline tribute. In a disingenuous statement, Sinclair claims that their decision is based on the fact that the tribute is being run on Memorial Day weekend rather than during the “sweeps” rating period.

But Hyman has already let all of us see the man behind the curtain when it comes to Sinclair decision-making. This Memorial Day, Hyman offered
an empty tribute to those who are fighting in the “Global War on Terror.” But when given a clear cut choice between supporting Bush or supporting the troops, Sinclair executives put their mouth where their money is.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Every Vote Counts, so Let's Count Every Vote

Over the weekend, Mark Hyman devoted a commentary to the topic of voter disenfranchisement. The Counterpoint says, “Bravo!”

The only problem is that Hyman is selective in his concern about voter disenfranchisement. Focusing strictly on individuals in the armed services, Hyman states that “We need to do a better job in guaranteeing voting rights to our servicemen and women.”

Absolutely. But what about everyone else? Hyman’s implication is that it’s especially important to count the votes of those in the military—more so than it is to count the votes of others.

This violates a basic tenet of democracy: everyone’s vote carries equal weight and importance. Suggesting that it’s more important to count the votes of those in one line of work rather than another would be like saying that each American gets one vote for every dollar they earn in income. If anyone proposed such an election reform, they’d be justly tarred and feathered. But suggesting that votes should be based on income is no more anti-democratic than saying that we must work especially hard to ensure the voting rights of some rather than others.

It’s critically important that those in the military have their votes counted, and that particular attention be paid to the problems of collecting votes from those overseas.

But it’s equally important that those across the country have their votes counted as well, and that particular attention be paid to the problems of collecting votes in areas facing special obstacles to hopeful voters (such as antiquated voting machines, having to wait in line for hours, and voting rolls illegally purged of minority voters).

The outcome of the 2000 election hinged on issues of enfranchisement (
and lack thereof). In 2004, while the outcome was likely not decided by disenfranchisement, there were plenty of cases of voters facing obstacles to making their voice heard.

Hyman, while adding his voice to those who call for greater efforts to ensure enfranchisement of servicemen and women, has openly mocked those who have suggested that disenfranchisement has occurred elsewhere. This includes those who voiced concern over the fact that the head of the company that manufactured many of the voting machines in Ohio was
a major Bush supporter who said he was, “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president.” We can’t help but wonder what Hyman would say if it was discovered that the firm responsible for collecting the votes of those in the military turned out to be a subsidiary of the Heinz company.

Yes, it’s crucial to count the vote of the soldier in Afghanistan, but it’s equally important to count the vote of the police officer in Cleveland, the teacher in Los Angeles, and the retired grandmother in Miami. In a democracy, no one’s vote is more important than anyone else’s.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

One News Story that Won't Get Covered by "The Point"

Given Mark Hyman’s many commentaries whining about what a drain undocumented immigrants are on the United States (including one “Point” where he specifically equated undocumented immigrants with al Quaeda terrorists), I thought it appropriate to post a link to a story in Wired Magazine (and recently picked up by Nightline) about a group of undocumented immigrants from a high school in Phoenix who won a robot design competition, beating out a team from M.I.T.

Not only did their design win the overall prize, but their write up and explanation of their robot won a separate award for the best technical writing. These are second-language speakers of English, mind you.

Unfortunately, it may be
difficult for any of these kids to go to college because of financial and legal obstacles.

That’s probably fine with Mark, though. After all young people like this don’t have anything to offer society. They’re just here to sponge off the rest of us, right Mark?

Thanks to Wired Magazine and Nightline for reminding us of the kind of immigrant spirit on which our country was built—something we’re sorely in need of remembering in the recent spate of barely-camouflaged race-baiting rhetoric about immigration that we’ve heard from kooky-cons like Mr. Hyman.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Mark Hyman: Champion of Journalistic Excellence

In his latest “Point,” Hyman joins in lock step with those who hate the New York Times with predictable rhetoric about its supposed left-wing slanting (Hyman and his kooky-con companions seem to have no problem with the ideology of the Wall Street Journal, or the conservative slants of the majority of major newspapers in the country, for that matter).

In this case he cites hostility toward outgoing “Public Editor” Daniel Okrent as evidence of the paper’s bias and lack of commitment to quality journalism.

[Before moving on, let’s formally acknowledge the idiocy of Sinclair Broadcasting, and Hyman in particular, pontificating about journalistic ethics. This is a point that is so obvious I don’t want to belabor it here (see any and all entries in this blog for specifics, if you need them), but I did want to note it for the record.]

There are understandable reasons why Okrent’s tenure at the Times was controversial. He had no experience with newspaper journalism when he took the job, and he’s had a tendency to criticize columnists on the left more than those on the right. In particular, his Parthian shot final column was
disingenuous and unfair in a number of ways.

It’s beyond the scope of this particular entry to get into the nitty gritty of internal politics at the Times. What I want to point out, however, is that whatever you might say about Okrent, he was prescient about how
his words would be used by the far right. He acknowledged that anything he said in the course of his duties as the Public Editor that could be construed as critical of the Times would be seized on by right wing haters of the Times and twisted for their own political use. Hyman lives up to Okrent’s low expectations of the radical right in his commentary.

Of course, Hyman praises Okrent as someone who would stand up for quality journalism at the paper. He specifically avoids
two of Okrent’s most damning criticisms of the newspaper: its failure to adequately cover the story of civilian deaths in Iraq and its woeful coverage of the existence of WMDs in the lead up to war.

Hyman is right: the New York Times does serve as a bellwether for many journalists. And the newspaper’s willingness to buy the Bush administration’s assertions about Iraq and WMDs played a big part in the wholesale acceptance of the neocon case for preemptive invasion of Iraq by the corporate media as a whole. This slanted and biased reporting arguably helped set the stage for needless death and destruction.

Of course, Hyman doesn’t even hint at this. For him, the Jayson Blair issue is the epitome of the consequences of sloppy journalism.

If only that were the case.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Accountability for All

A hallmark of contemporary conservative rhetoric, and that of Mark Hyman in particular, is a lack of ethical consistency. Values, standards, and ethics are routinely invoked as universal and unchanging when doing so advances a particular cause, but they are just as quickly ignored when their application might cause short term political embarrassment. Conservatives, who routinely chastise anyone outside their own camp as wishy-washy proponents of “moral relativism,” are the foremost practitioners of situational ethics.

Hyman’s latest commentary is a particularly good example of this phenomenon as it applies to the concept of “accountability.” Hyman cites a recent damning report about the wastefulness and possible corruption involved at the Transportation Safety Agency. Noting the many examples of questionable expenditures and undocumented contracting and spending, Hyman is incredulous that the report looking into these practices doesn’t specifically call for anyone to be held accountable.

The TSA is a favorite target for conservatives because its creation after September 11 signaled the federalization of security duties at airports, many of which were previously held by private businesses. Despite the fact that it makes a great deal of sense to have a single consistent standard for security across the nation’s airports, the idea of taking private sector jobs and making them public sector is so philosophically nauseating to conservatives that whatever good practical sense it makes is ignored.

Having said that, there’s little doubt that in the rushed creation of the TSA bad decisions have been made, and it’s good that such matters are being looked into. And yes, any intentional wrongdoing or mismanagement that has put Americans at needless risk should be identified and punished.

But why should accountability only be limited to TSA officials? As long as we’re in agreement that it’s important to take people to task for mismanagement, let’s really do it properly. A number of examples whose impact dwarfs the TSA’s squandering of money on fake plants immediately spring to mind, all of which cry out for “accountability.”

How about holding architects of the war in Iraq accountable
for their misrepresentation of the facts? Paul Wolfowitz suggested that the war would pay for itself and that we’d be greeted as liberators. These were major talking points in the drive to war. How about holding him accountable?

What about Donald Rumsfeld? The Secretary of Defense insisted on sending barely half of the combat troops experts said would be necessary to win in Iraq and secure the nation. U.S. soldiers continue to pay the price for this “misunderestimation.”

What about the administration itself for the lapses of intelligence before September 11th? When confronted by the revelations that they ignored the possible threat of terrorism before 9/11, instead of taking responsibility, the administration and its defenders have attacked those (such as Richard Clarke) who have pointed out this mistake and attempted to
cover up any investigation into intelligence failures..

A month before the 9/11 attacks
, the president was told that Osama bin Laden was planning to attack the U.S., yet nothing was done. The president and his cabinet claim this was an “historical memo.” None have said that they made a mistake in ignoring this warning.

What about the torture at Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay?
Amnesty International now says that human rights have declined markedly in the world in the last four years, largely as the result of American actions. Yet, the administration consistently puts the blame (when it bothers to acknowledge these claims at all) on “rogue” soldiers rather than looking into and reforming the policies that led to these abuses.

What about the
utter embarrassment that is the “reconstruction” of Iraq? As long as Iraqis live in squalor, democracy is an impossibility (one consistent socio/political truth is that people will accept living under tyrants and despots as long as they think these are the only sorts of people who can provide them with daily necessities like water, electricity, and employment). Billions of dollars are unaccounted for. Seventy criminal investigations have been launched into corruption in the rebuilding process. Yet, members of the administration have not been held accountable for creating the conditions under which such corruption was allowed to flourish. In fact, we now know from the Downing Street Memo that the administration spent almost no time considering the aftermath of the war in Iraq before launching the invasion. Does this lack of planning, with its deadly results for troops on the ground, not call for accountability?

Civilian members of the Coalition Provisional Authority were
largely young, inexperienced staffers with little or not credentials other than being loyal Republicans. They were picked over plenty of more qualified candidates with experience in rebuilding war-ravaged countries because they had the proper political pedigree. Has anyone been held accountable for these twisted hiring policies?

Halliburton, the conglomerate recently headed by Vice President Dick Cheney has made monstrous profits from its participation in Iraq and has been charged with exploiting its position to boost profits. Yet no one in the administration has been held accountable for the preferential treatment Halliburton has received as they’ve profited at the expense of the troops in the field.

Of the billions earmarked by Congress for rebuilding Iraq, only a small percentage has actually been spent. Where’s the accountability?

The government’s
farming out of intelligence gathering duties to incompetent private companies contributed to the horrors at Abu Ghraib.

A recent
Voice of America news report said that $96 million for Iraq reconstruction has vanished with no documentation.

Again, where’s the accountability?

What about
Bush’s opposition to the formation of the Homeland Security Department in the first place, opposition which stalled its creation, resulting in the sort of rush that allowed exactly the sorts of situations found at TSA to occur? Shouldn’t the president be held accountable for his part in this?

What about the fact that the Bush administration has left nuclear, chemical, and other industrial sites
vulnerable to terrorism because of philosophical opposition to any regulation on businesses, even if it's for the public good?

Most importantly, we now know that
President Bush misled the country and the world about the supposed threat of Iraq. He and Colin Powell made false, unsubstantiated claims about the existence of WMDs in Iraq to the U.N. in order to win support for a war the administration already decided it wanted to fight. Investigations into this have been made, but political allies of the president have made sure he has not been held accountable for the unnecessary deaths and injuries to thousands of American soldiers, to say nothing of the untold suffering of Iraqis.

Americans have been made less safe by a number of decisions by government officials, a tiny handful of which were made at TSA. But if accountability is going to be anything more than an empty phrase, we need to be willing to apply it in a consistent and principled way.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Hoisted By His Own Petard

I can’t help but wonder why Mark Hyman and Sinclair Broadcasting are targeting Linda Foley, the president of The Newspaper Guild who recently made comments some have mischaracterized as accusing U.S. troops of murder. Hyman would have you believe that it’s simply because he’s sticking up for the honor of American troops that he feels have been slandered by Foley. But that’s nonsense. As we’ve seen any number of times, Hyman and Sinclair will happily let the troops hang out to dry if supporting them gets in the way of supporting their right wing political allies in the administration and elsewhere.

So why was Hyman paying such close attention to the various statements of Ms. Foley that he would be immediately aware of an unscripted (and off-topic) comment she made at a conference?

What’s Really Behind Hyman’s Attack on Foley?

It might be because
Foley has been a longtime critic of media consolidation, the dynamic that is the lifeblood of Sinclair Broadcasting. Sinclair owns more duopolies than any other television conglomerate, something that would have been impossible back in the good ol’ days when there were restrictions meant to keep any one person or company from owning multiple chunks of a given media market. As an outspoken critic of consolidation and its effects on the quality of journalism, Foley ranks high on the Sinclair Broadcasting corporate enemies list.

It might also be that as the head of a journalism union,
Foley and the Newspaper Guild are advocates for better working conditions for men and women in the news business. That by itself is enough to rankle Sinclair, a company infamous for its draconian labor practices. As the recent story in Rolling Stone reported, Sinclair bullies its employees to an egregious extent. I’ve personally received a number of accounts from former employees of Sinclair-run stations that have detailed the abusive nature of Sinclair/employee relations. And of course, the most famous example is that of Jon Lieberman, who was summarily fired for having the temerity to suggest that the airing of a propaganda piece as news would taint whatever journalistic credibility Sinclair might have.

Foley, then, was certainly perceived as an enemy long before her comments about the safety of journalists in Iraq. Sinclair, along with its fellow inhabitants of the conservative echo chamber (such as Fox News and Newsmax.com) have created a perfect [expletive deleted] storm, the goal of which is to drive Foley from the public sphere, not because of anything she said at a conference, but for her much more public words and actions on behalf of independent, quality journalism (something that is antithetical to Sinclair’s modus operandi).

Coverage of the Foley Affair

Of course, Hyman uses the occasion not just to attack Foley, but to go after the supposedly “liberal media” that has supposedly ignored the story, suggesting that this is why broadcast news and newspapers have smaller audiences (Hyman doesn’t offer an explanation for the
similar decline in local news). Well, the story was covered by the prestigious journal Editor and Publisher, but perhaps the tone was a bit too objective and balanced for Hyman’s taste. Hyman got himself booked on The O’Reilly Factor, but I’m sure O’Reilly is seen as the exception that proves the rule of slanted journalism. But what about “Democracy Now,” one of the very few media outlets that could reasonably be characterized as liberal (standing out, as it does, among a handful of conservative corporate conglomerations that own 90% of the existing media outlets)?

As it turns out,
“Democracy Now” not only covered the story, but included a panel of journalists who spoke intelligently and rationally about the issue. Their opinion? Journalists do face a highly dangerous atmosphere in Iraq that keeps them from doing their job, and too many have been injured and killed in “friendly fire” episodes, but the use of the word “targeting” is unfair and wrong in that it suggests that the soldiers on the ground are intentionally shooting journalists because they’re journalists. These implications, whether intentional or not on Foley’s part, are false.

In other words, the “Democracy Now” segment actually dealt with the allegations in a responsible way that explained both why Foley might make such comments as well as why they way she expressed her views did not accurately represent the real problems journalists face in Iraq.

If Hyman’s characterization of the media were anything close to accurate, you’d certainly expect an avowedly progressive media source like “Democracy Now” to either ignore the issue or to rally around Foley without reservation. That’s not what happened.

Ignoring the Downing Street Memo

You’d also expect that if Hyman’s assertion that the media has a liberal bias and reports stories that support this view of the world, there would have been a feeding frenzy on another story that came out this month: the Downing Street Memo. This memo, among other things, shows that the Bush administration “fixed” the evidence around Iraq to justify a preemptive invasion. You certainly don’t have to be a flaming liberal to understand the importance of such a story, one that suggests that the deaths of soldiers, journalists, and civilians in Iraq were all the result of systematic misrepresentation on the part of the Bush administration. Obviously the famously left wing media would pounce on this, right?

Not so much, as it turns out. In fact, much of the little coverage the story has received has been (paradoxically enough) about
the lack of journalistic attention to the story. Instead, we got daily updates on runaway brides and Michael Jackson from our supposedly left-wing media. If there was a media conspiracy to push a liberal political agenda, it’s so laughably inept that it might as well not exist.

Let’s Play By the Same Rules

But let’s return to Hyman’s apparent position on the remarks of Ms. Foley: if someone associated with a journalistic organization makes unwarranted and unsubstantiated claims that an American serviceman targeted and killed a noncombatant in a war zone, that person should be fired by their parent organization.

Fair enough, Mark. Let’s go with that. What about the time
you accused a serviceman of killing an unarmed, wounded teenager who was running away from a firefight? No, not in Iraq; in Vietnam. The soldier in question was a guy by the name of John Kerry. Too bad you had no evidence to back up your reckless claim. In fact, the military itself says that Kerry shot a full grown man who was about to fire a grenade at Kerry’s boat. So do all the sources checked by the nonpartisan urban legend debunking site, Snopes.com. So do the sources checked by the nonpartisan Factcheck.org. And so does the one other man alive who witnessed the actions firsthand that day.

Need any help cleaning out your desk, Mark?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Survey Says: "The Point" Makes You Dumber

A few days ago, I noted that Mark Hyman’s survey question about the use of unmanned surveillance drones to spy on selected groups of Americans was worded in highly slanted way. Rather than a question on the appropriateness of such tactics, Hyman framed the issue as a referendum on the ACLU as an organization (a group Hyman has long disparaged, including in the same edition of “The Point” in which he posed this poll question).

Surprise, surprise:
Hyman unveiled the results of the poll and what do you know? When presented with this stacked version of the question, seventy percent of respondents voted in favor of spying on their fellow Americans.

But what’s even more interesting are the quotations Hyman selected from the responses. One favorite of mine came from “George” from Portland, whom Hyman quoted as saying, "The heck with the ACLU[.] Their subversive activities need to be watched." I think sending George from Portland a copy of 1984 would be a doubleplusgood idea.

Even better was “L.D.” from Millersville, Maryland, who, according to Hyman, said, "The ACLU want to dictate what I can do in private. Now they…protect those who…intrude on the life of the general public."

Just let the ignorance of that comment wash over you for a bit.

Keep in mind that this is a comment Hyman cites as one in favor of the use of surveillance drones. Where do you even begin unpacking this one? Perhaps you might start by pointing out that the ACLU as an organization is focused on protecting the rights of people to do what they want in private, not dictating what should be done (it’s the other side that wants to tell you want you can and can’t do). Alternatively, you could note that those who “intrude on the life of the general public” are the people piloting the drone—the very people the ACLU is fighting against.
Poor L.D. is a very confused individual. Perhaps the proximity of Millersville to Sinclair Broadcasting headquarters in Baltimore is having some sort of negative intellectual/environmental effect on his synapses. (I’m beginning to suspect that emissions of unfiltered ignorance such as those coming from Sinclair are contributing to “global dumbing.”)

But let’s not blame the victim. The more interesting issue is why Hyman selected this quotation. First, is this really as good an argument as Hyman could find in all of the 70% respondents who supported the use of surveillance? Or does Hyman actually think this quotation makes sense? Did he alter the quotation to make it say what he wanted it too (those ellipses are Hyman’s, not mine)? Or was this quotation even less coherent before Hyman cleaned it up? Or Did Hyman simply choose this quotation because, as moronic as it is, it attacks the ACLU (albeit in an utterly hapless way), and Hyman’s whole point in this exercise was to attack this organization, with the issue of surveillance simply being an opportunity to do so?

My suspicion is that it’s the latter, although my head hurts too much at this point to think much more about it. I’m open to any interpretations others of you in the blogosphere might have.

Two broader points I’d like to make briefly in closing. First, a number of the more coherent responses Hyman quotes suggest that unmanned drones are just like cameras at banks and airports. Not true. The unmanned drones are not location specific; they are group specific. They are deployed against certain groups of people that the government believes need to be spied on. In the example Hyman cites, the authorities decided that a group of 8,000 motorcycle enthusiasts were automatically suspect simply by nature of who they were. It’s this preemptive supposition of guilt that pushes the use of unmanned spy planes into the realm of a violation of Constitutional rights. Cameras placed at banks and airports are there not because they assume that people using these facilities are criminals; they are there because it is assumed that people with criminal intent would be likely to seek out such locations for unlawful activities. The unmanned spy planes target people because of who they are. That makes a world of difference.

The fact that the example involved the use of a spy drone by Maryland state authorities is also telling. As with the recent commentary about the Maryland government and Walmart a few days ago, this edition of “The Point” betrays its geographical bias. Hyman again uses his access to national airwaves (his “sully pulpit”) to yammer about issues that are essentially his own local concerns. True, both the Walmart and spy plane issues have far-reaching consequences, but it would be so much better if local news stations could have local commentators discussing these issues from a local level. For example, in the Sinclair market in which I live, there’s currently a debate in our community about the possibility of a new Walmart being built. It would be a much more productive use of our airwaves to have a local voice (or two) offer opinions on the relative merits of Walmart from the perspective of our own community rather than allowing a pontificating blowhard half a continent away to use airtime on our station to offer cover to a political ally of his corporation.

If we don’t insist on local content from our local stations using our local airwaves, we’re in danger of having this Chernobyl of ignorance in Baltimore mutate us all into “L.D. from Millersville.”

The horror . . . the horror.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Monday, May 23, 2005


A couple of weeks ago, Mark Hyman claimed that Abu Ghraib represented what is “right and true in America” because the abuse by a “small” group of “rogue” soldiers was being investigated by the military before the press publicized the story. According to Hyman, the authorities “sprang into action to get the facts and then held accountable those who were guilty.”

More recently, Hyman talked about the retracted Newsweek story about desecration of the Koran at
Guantanamo bay as an example of “words that cause grave harm.” Then, over the weekend, Hyman pitched wristbands made by the Veterans of Foreign Wars that are supposed to benefit the troops.

The connection among these three stories is the continued posing by Hyman, his fellow right-wing members of the punditocracy, and the Bush administration itself. Time and again, these people pay lip service to supporting the troops, while doing nothing of the sort. In fact, they use and abuse the troops for political purposes.

The Reality of Abuse and Its Consequences

It’s bad enough that their attempts to minimize the reality of abuses committed by
U.S. forces are dishonest. Despite Hyman’s statements, reports about prisoner abuse in Iraq had been around for a long time before the military began looking into them, and when they did, the investigations were superficial. This appraisal comes from none other than Amnesty International, the leading name in the monitoring of human rights. The fact that the mainstream media did not pick up on these allegations sooner shows that 1) the mainstream press is pretty lame, and 2) the mainstream press is anything but the collective left wing conspiracy it is caricatured as being. It says nothing about the supposedly energetic introspection of the military brass.

Additionally, the recent Newsweek retraction has, much like the Rather/memo affair of last autumn, conveniently offered a distraction from the rock solid validity of the underlying story. Just as there is no serious doubt that Bush shirked his duties in the National Guard, despite whatever flaws in sourcing might have taken place in the specific piece at issue, there is no doubt that humiliating and degrading Islam have been part and parcel of U.S. interrogation practices, and that these policies were put in place by those at the very top.

Add to this the ongoing revelations by groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch about torture and killings in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and greater
Iraq, and you have all the evidence one needs of a systematic pattern of subverting the Geneva Convention and basic decency, not by a handful of “rogue” soldiers, but by those in command.

Such actions are more than a mere national embarrassment. They undermine what little credibility we might have as a nation and they put Americans in increased danger by living up to the worst stereotypes of American aggression and callousness held by those abroad. Did Saddam do worse things? Sure. But the day we take solace in the fact that we aren’t quite as bad as the Husseins of the world is the day we cede any claims we’ve ever made to being a nation based on transcendent ideals of humanity and decency. To refuse to hold
America to higher standards of morality (and to deride those who suggest we should) is to dishonor and disgrace the nation and those who serve it.

Use and Abuse of the Troops for Political Profit

And that’s what makes Hyman’s commentary on the subject (to say nothing of the words coming from the administration itself) so galling. Those who are most anxious to claim they support the troops (and to chastise those who hold different political views as hating them) eagerly offer them up as scapegoats for the actions of those responsible for the situation on the ground. Because Hyman’s loyalty is ultimately to the neocon administration he champions rather than the troops themselves, he doesn’t hesitate for a moment to blame the troops on the ground for the sins of Bush, Rumsfeld, et al. Sure, Hyman will hawk some cheap wristbands. After all, that makes him look good. But when it comes to choosing between the troops and the White House, Hyman’s choice is clear.

In doing this, Hyman is simply mirroring the actions of those in whose lap he sits. While often paying lip service to the idea of personal responsibility and moral absolutism, the Bush administration steadfastly refuses to take any responsibility for much of anything. You might remember, for example, that when high explosives at Al Qa’qaa went missing, the administration magnanimously blamed the soldiers on the ground for the loss rather than the higher ups who bungled the planning of the occupation. The administration claims it has looked into abuse at Abu Ghraib and other places, but the only individuals held responsible thus far are extremely low level soldiers (often reservists and/or kids) rather than those who put untrained troops into the delicate position of interrogating prisoners and who put in place the very policies that led to these horrendous acts.

And of course, rather than ever admitting a mistake in intelligence or planning, the Bush administration has continually reinvented rationales for the war to distance itself from any culpability. What mistakes were made were made by others (remember the infamous inability of the president to admit to a single mistake during his first term?). The Bush administration treats the buck like a hot potato. Accountability and responsibility are truly empty phrases for them. With all the faux concern among conservatives over moral values and the importance of instilling a sense of right and wrong in our children, I can’t help wonder what they think it tells young people to not only see the “good guys” participating in heinous acts of barbarism, but to see the Commander in Chief and his apologists routinely minimize such acts and avoid assuming any responsibility for them while letting others take the blame.

Hyman likes to call people who voice disappointment that the U.S. would be responsible for the kinds of human rights abuses it claims to be “liberating” people from the “blame America crowd.” But that’s not it at all. We want to blame those individuals responsible. Yes, that should include the individuals who actually performed the disgraceful acts in question, but it also must include those whose decisions are responsible for the larger pattern of abuse. Rather than leaving the soldiers on the ground holding the bag for their superiors, why don’t we take concepts such as responsibility, moral values, and the chain of command seriously for a change?

And at the same time, let us expose those political profiteers who claim to love the troops, then turn on them and use them as scapegoats for failed and misguided policies. Let’s call them what they are: hypocrites.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

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:
Opensecrets.org). 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.

Close, But No Cigar

To quote This is Spinal Tap, it’s such a fine line between stupid and clever. For example, take Mark Hyman’s recent commentary lambasting journalists for voicing concerns that the military has not been callous regarding the safety of journalists in Iraq.

As it stands, it’s pretty dumb. It takes quotations out of context and ignores the fact that many journalists have died covering the Iraq war and full investigations have yet to be done into the bombing of an Al-Jazeera studio and the “friendly fire” deaths of two journalists during the fighting in Baghdad.

However, change just a few words, and Hyman’s commentary actually becomes sensible. Swap a couple of names and switch the specific quotations, and you’ve got yourself a commentary to be proud of. With that in mind, I offer you a Counterpoint in Hyman’s own words, with a few slight editorial changes. [Note to readers: I am specifically citing the following words as coming substantially from Mark Hyman. I don’t want to use his words without giving him credit, since I know what a tireless crusader Mark is on issues of plagiarism.]

The Bush administration’s unsubstantiated story three years ago that Iraq had nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons led to deadly results. Tens of thousands have been killed and injured in military action in Iraq. U.S. prestige suffered a tremendous blow in the Muslim world. Intelligence officials have since said that we had it “almost all wrong.”

President Bush said, “"The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons,” and “"Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof - the smoking gun - that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” No proof. Nothing to back up his claim. He just said it.

Then came Dick Cheney, Vice President of the United States, who made similar remarks to the American people:

"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.”

These completely irresponsible remarks speak for themselves. Since Bush and Cheney have not supported their allegations, they should immediately resign as president and vice president.
Unfortunately, the damage has already been done. Their remarks have led to continued bloodshed, including against Americans.

The question is whether Congress, the media, and the American people will hold the Bush administration accountable or will they give them a free pass in endangering American lives with inflammatory remarks without any proof?

And that’s The Counterpoint (with substantial assistance from the Hymanator himself!).

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Twisted Knickers

Can’t we all just get along, at least on one issue?

One area where progressives, liberals, conservatives, libertarians, etc. can often find common ground is privacy rights. Since the founding of the Republic, Americans of all political stripes have had a healthy skepticism of allowing the government unfettered access to our lives.

Yet in
a recent editorial, Mark Hyman implies that such fears are trivial. In a discussion about the use of an unmanned drone by Maryland law enforcement to spy on a gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts, Hyman begins by noting that there are fewer and fewer places in society where we aren’t under they watchful eye of the authorities. This would seem to suggest Hyman is about to launch into an attack on the erosion of civil rights and the growth of big government’s ability to monitor us wherever we are.

But apparently Hyman’s antipathy for the ACLU (and those whom it defends) got in the way of any deeper musings on the subject, because as soon as he describes the use of the “CyberBUG” unmanned drone by law enforcement, he says that its use has the ACLU’s “knickers . . . all tied up in a knot.”

Finishing the commentary with a call for viewer responses on the issue, Hyman frames the question in the following way:

Is the use of UAVs to monitor situations an intrusion on civil rights as argued
by the ACLU? Or is the device a practical, low-cost method to ensuring public

You don’t need a degree in linguistics to see how loaded this question is. One point of view is one that is “argued by the ACLU” (the same group Hyman trivialized earlier in the editorial), while the other is merely asserted by Hyman himself, using warm fuzzy language (“practical, low-cost method to ensuring [sic] public safety”).

It will be interesting to see the results of this little experiment in push-polling. Traditionally, conservatives have as many issues with “Big Brother” issues as liberals/progressives (although such concerns often manifest themselves a bit differently).

The larger issue, however, is Hyman’s propagandizing about the ACLU. Hyman often makes claims about the ACLU that are simply false, such as asserting that:
“Not unlike the Communist Chinese, the ACLU abhors individualreligious freedom and it supports only those civil liberties that fit its narrow political agenda.”
As we pointed out, the ACLU has gone to the mat for the unfettered practice of religious freedom for any number of groups and individuals. We also noted that two individuals Hyman described in one of his commentaries as victims of political correctness run amok on college campuses are in fact being defended by the ACLU. And if there’s one case that everyone knows about concerning the ACLU’s stance on individual rights, it’s the organization’s stand in favor of allowing neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois. Is Hyman suggesting that national socialism is part of the ACLU’s “narrow political agenda”?

So either Hyman is unaware of these cases, or he’s being disingenuous. While it’s difficult to overestimate Hyman’s ignorance on any issue, the latter explanation is the more plausible in this case.

If simply taken at face value, there’s much any conservative with an average amount of libertarianism thrown into the mix would have in common with the ACLU’s basic stance on individual liberties and rights. The issue, however, is that for the Radical Right, the ACLU has long served as a stand-in for those it defends, most of whom are people whose views don’t reflect the views of the powers-that-be (hence the need for their rights to be vigorously defended).

To see how this works, one need only think back to the 1988 presidential election when Republicans conflated those who burn the flag with the ACLU, and the ACLU in turn with Michael Dukakis. By connecting the views of the individuals or groups the ACLU defends (at least when they are views objectionable to the majority of Americans) to the group itself, and then the group to any Democrat they target (or to progressivism in general), the Radical Right has a convenient way to engage in demagoguery.

But there’s a darker corollary to this. Attacking the ACLU becomes a way of carrying out stealth warfare on those the ACLU represents, particularly people who are socially, politically, and/or economically vulnerable to begin with. It might be unseemly to attack those who practice a religion other than Christianity directly, but by attacking a group that is known for standing up for minority religious rights, the end is the same. It might be distasteful to some to engage in racist rhetoric about immigrants (although many on the Right, including Hyman, seem to have no problems doing so), but if you attack the ACLU, a group known for fighting for the rights of immigrants, the end is the same. It might be politically unadvisable to directly attack American workers, but by going after an organization that makes a point of defending worker’s rights, the end is the same. Ultimately, it’s not the ACLU itself whom the Radical Right hates; it’s those the group represents.

As long as the ACLU defends such groups (and as long as the surveillance drones are flying over gatherings of groups seen as “out of the mainstream”), Hyman and his ilk will show little care for civil rights.

But one wonders what might happen if the authorities started installing surveillance devices to monitor the gatherings of corporate executives. After all, who is ultimately more dangerous: a guy on a Harley or Ken Lay? What if CyberBUGs and other technology were suddenly turned loose on a certain media conglomeration’s headquarters outside Baltimore, Maryland? I wonder whose knickers would be tied in a knot then . . .

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Friday, May 13, 2005


Thanks to all for hanging in there while I've been on the road off and on for the last month. I'm happy to report that after one last brief roadtrip this weekend, things will be back to there usual schedule, along with some updates to the site.

I'm even happier to report that this last trip will be to St. Louis for the National Conference for Media Reform (where, among other things, I'll have a chance to worship at the feet of Al Franken). Supposedly, much of what goes on at the conference will be made available online. Check out the
conference website for details.

Thanks again,


Thursday, May 12, 2005

Short Takes

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
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.
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.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Making Mincemeat of Hyman

In a continuation of
his latest jeremiad against radical leftwing professors of poetry, Hyman compares a handful of recent incidents in which conservative commentators have gotten pies in the face with political violence.

Would that all “violence” took such a benign form.

Let’s table for the moment the whole issue of whether pie-throwing = violence. We can even grant for the sake of argument that it is. I don’t have any particular sympathy with those so are so inarticulate that hurling pastry is the only way they can express themselves. Campuses should be places in which ideas of all stripes are heard and debated (which is not to say that all ideas are to be taken seriously—but let’s allow the idiotic to hoist themselves with their own petards).

While equating publicly embarrassing a speaker by dousing them with food with political violence is more than a tad hyperbolic, the true disingenuousness is in laying the blame for these incidents at the feet of “liberal academia.”

For example, let’s take the case of
William Kristol receiving a pie in the face at Earlham College. Once it happened, according to accounts, the majority of the audience booed and jeered the pie-thrower, obviously showing contempt for his actions. Does liberal academia get credit for the students who showed vocal disapproval as well as the blame for the one person who committed the act? I don’t happen to think academia should get credit or blame for either, but it’s patently absurd to hold that the academic establishment is responsible for the act of one student but not the reactions of the others.

Then there’s the idiocy of Hyman’s assertion that assaulting speakers is something that happens only to conservatives. On the contrary, to pick one notable recent incident, New York Times columnist and author
Chris Hedges was booed and heckled by students when giving a graduation speech at Rockford College in 2003. The reason? Hedges dared to suggest that maybe the war in Iraq had a downside. Booing and heckling are one thing, but Hedges had to cut his speech short and be escorted off stage by security because several students tried to climb on stage as he spoke. Hedges himself described the situation in an interview:

“Well yeah. I think what was so disturbing was that the crowd wasn't just angry,
but there was that undercurrent or possibility of violence. The fact that people
actually stormed up past those to get onto the podium and there was a feeling
that it was better to have me removed from the ceremony before the conclusion,
before the awarding of the diplomas. So the campus security sort of hustled me
out as they were handing out the diplomas.”

Of course, Hyman, as a stalwart defender of nonviolence and the right of free speech on campus condemned this silencing through intimidation, right?

Not quite. Hyman, along with a number of other prominent conservative pundits, attacked Hedges as “unpatriotic” for voicing his opinion. (For details on Hyman’s attack on Hedges, see the January 12, 2005 edition of The Counterpoint.)

More recently, of course, there was the incident in which Jane Fonda had tobacco juice spit in her face at a book signing. Hyman has thus far remained mute on the topic.

But several orders of magnitude higher on scale of frightening threats to public figures is the recent spate of
conservative comments making veiled and not-so-veiled threats at judges. Because certain judges have made decisions that displeased the radical right, several prominent Republicans have suggested that recent violence in courtrooms is the result of a runaway judiciary. While dimwitted undergrads are smearing Cool Whip on the faces of those they don’t like, elected politicians are intimidating members of another branch of government with the possibility of physical violence. Hyman’s decision about which of these represents the greater threat to the body politic says more about Hyman and those of his political stripe than all the posts I’ve written for this blog combined.

Hyman’s commentary actually is an extension of a similar commentary given a couple of weeks ago in which he discussed the
“Polly Awards,” given by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute to colleges the deem to be inappropriately politically correct. Approvingly summarizing their awards, Hyman claims the ISI is “nonpartisan.” By now, Hyman’s use of this word immediately sends me to Google to look up the funding of the group in question. Guess what? They’re an arch-conservative group.

The interesting thing about this earlier commentary, however, is that it further illustrates Hyman’s hypocrisy on the issue of academic freedom. According to Hyman (and ISI), Carnegie-Mellon University is to be condemned for inviting a controversial New Black Panther Party member Malik Zulu Shabazz to speak, but Occidental College is also condemned for cracking down on a college D.J. who made sexually offensive remarks on the air. It’s difficult to passionately defend the right of free speech on campus in some cases and then turn around and condemn it in others with not even the least sense of self-consciousness, but that’s our Mark.

(Parenthetically, this same commentary also reveals another area where Hyman is simply wrong. He often accuses the ACLU of only defending the rights of liberals—a silly comment to anyone with any recognition of the ACLU’s history. Dr. Hans Hoppe, a professor at UNLV, and Jason Antebi, a student at Occidental College, both conservative victims of political correctness run amok according to the Polly Awards and Mark Hyman, are being supported by the ACLU.).

There is a problem with college campuses becoming places where people feel their right not to be offended or challenged takes precedence over the right of others to speak their mind and hear controversial ideas expressed. But the problem is one that involves all parts of the political spectrum.
As a brief catalog of the controversies surrounding campus speakers (compiled by College Freedom) shows, you can get in trouble for voicing any divergent position. Speakers have been disinvited to speak because they were seen as being too pro-Palestinain, others for being too pro-Israel. Some are censored because they are seen as too anti-labor, others for being too-pro environment.

Blandness and conformity at colleges and universities is a problem—one much more widespread than Hyman lets on. It would be much easier to take Hyman seriously if he managed to show the least bit of consistency in his feigned horror at the silencing of free speech on college campuses. But he doesn’t. That’s because he doesn’t truly care about the issue on its own merits. It’s simply a convenient rhetorical bludgeon with which to hammer his perceived enemies. Unfortunately for him, his clumsiness with this weapon simply reveals the impotence of his own intellect.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Mark Hyman, Ph.D. (Pathetically Hypocritical Dullard)

Apparently, conservatives can’t pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

At least, that seems to be
Mark Hyman’s position when it comes to conservatives in academia.

Quoting a study done by researchers funded largely through conservative groups, Hyman claims that liberal ideology is running amok on our college campuses. Not only are the overwhelming number of faculty in the humanities and social sciences liberal, he charges, but conservatives, Christians, and (get this) women are actively discriminated against by colleges and universities when it comes to hiring faculty.

The study on which these accusations are based is bad enough. As Media
Matters for America has documented, even a cursory glance at the study reveals its methodology is deeply flawed. Moreover, the study itself says that it doesn’t prove anything about the reasons for the disparities that Hyman claims it does. The authors only state that the results are “consistent with the thesis” that conservatives are being discriminated against because of their beliefs. Of course, the results are also consistent with the thesis that the Earth is flat. (After all, they don’t contradict that thesis, do they?) That doesn’t make it true.

It’s fascinating that Hyman and others of his ilk are so preoccupied with the notion that A) there’s a liberal conspiracy afoot to keep conservatives out of the academy, and B) action should be taken to correct this injustice. These are the same people who scoff at affirmative action and mock groups like the NAACP. Apparently, 450 years of slavery, Jim Crow, and racism is spilt milk, but the fact that few people teaching Jane Austen to undergrads voted for Bush is a threat to the republic.

Conveniently, Hyman sidesteps the fact that the liberal hegemony over academia only goes so far as the humanities and social sciences. One rarely hears any wailing about the political bias in the hard sciences, let alone the business schools of the nation (who, by the way, almost always have greater clout on university campuses than do the English, history, anthropology, etc. departments). When taken as a whole, the world of academia is not as heavily slanted as Hyman makes it out to be.

Hyman ignores the more obvious explanation for the political imbalance in certain specific sectors of the academy: self selection. As someone who got out of graduate school not that long ago, I can tell you with a great deal of authority that the ranks of grad students in the humanities are not filled (even halfway) with die-hard Republicans who then get rebuffed when hitting the job market. Studies of the humanities and social sciences have tended to be leftward leaning areas of endeavor for a long, long time.

Should we act to change that? Perhaps. But only if we apply this same logic to other areas as well. The Pentagon is presumably filled with a disproportionate number of conservative males. Shouldn’t the military be hiring more pacifist and Quaker women to fill its ranks? Shouldn’t we push business schools to hire more socialist and communist faculty, in the interest of presenting a balanced picture?

In short, if the problem with the supposed dominance of liberals in some areas of the academy is that it presents a less-than-ideal cross section of ideology, then this is a problem far more acute in other areas of society, and with much more far-reaching consequences. The relatively narrow political/social/economic orthodoxy that dominates the corporate world (and the media in particular) has a far more powerful reach when it comes to creating an enforced conformity on American culture than does the allegedly rabidly liberal academy.

Assuming we don’t want to have some sort of ideological affirmative action put in place for all aspects of society, why do conservatives cry conspiracy only in relation to their supposed under-representation in certain departments on college campuses? While far-right voices decry the idea of taking steps to diversify college campuses (and anywhere else) when it comes to issues of race, they apparently think we collectively have a social obligation to artificially insert conservatives into the academy, despite the fact that very few right-wingers seem terribly interested in getting into the field.

If the free marketplace is the best distributor of talent (regardless of how the scales may be stacked against certain groups), why are we suddenly supposed to make an exception when it comes to English professors? Ironically, it’s Hyman and his fellows in the conservative cohort that have become the very thing they accuse liberals of being: crybaby whiners.

I’d love it if the humanities and social sciences as practiced on today’s campuses were so powerful and influential that worries like Hyman’s were valid. There are plenty of good reasons to criticize current practices in academics, and the tendency of those in the humanities and the social sciences to marginalize themselves from the pubic forum is only one of them. Would that we had even a fraction of the power Hyman claims we do.

But the fact is that even Hyman doesn’t really believe his own hype. The systematic attack on academics is simply the latest attempt of conservatives to take over an area of society that they feel doesn’t properly pay them obeisance. Understandably, the offensive against academia comes long after the more relevant one that targeted the media. Having succeeded in cowing an already corporate and timorous media, the mopping up can commence. Hence, the attention of the radical right turns to the college campus.

As unfathomably dopey and self-contradictory as Hyman’s blathering on the subject is, it does suggest that perhaps those of us in the academy should perhaps aim to have the sort of influential voice in the national dialog that those on the radical right attribute to us. The problem with academia isn’t that our voice is too powerful; it’s that, regardless of the political makeup of those who make education their profession, it’s not powerful enough.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Cost of the War in Iraq
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