Thursday, June 30, 2005

Hyman and Head Start

A program that creates healthier, happier kids who are better prepared for school and which returns between five and ten dollars for every one dollar spent on it. Who could be against that?

Mark Hyman.

40 years of experience that shows the long term benefits (cognitive, social, emotional, and physical) for children enrolled in Head Start, Hyman thinks the program is “abysmal” and needs an “overhaul.”

Conservatives like Hyman don’t believe that society should pool its resources to help disadvantaged children. To them, poverty is the just desserts of laziness, and should not be assuaged with public funds.

It would be nice if they actually argued this point in an intellectually honest way, but since they realize that most Americans don’t buy into their bleak vision of what constitutes a just society, they distort the evidence.

This explains Hyman’s loaded language throughout his commentary. Ignoring the well-established benefits which include everything from kids being
better prepared for kindergarten to getting more regular checkups at the dentist, Hyman cites a recently released installment of a study of the benefits of Head Start on reading and math skills and concludes that the program gets a “D minus.”

There are three things to know about this study. First, it’s based on brand new standardized tests that haven’t been used before and which
many scholars find problematic. Second, the test only measures a few specific outcomes of Head Start and isn’t designed to pass judgment on whether Head Start as a whole works or doesn’t work.. For example, the health and social benefits of the program are not focused on. And lastly, despite all this, the study *does* show many areas of improvement among kids who have access to Head Start.

Critics suggest that because Head Start isn’t able to completely eliminate the performance gap between economically disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers when starting school, that the program is a failure. This is an unreasonable expectation to put on any program, one that conservatives would never apply to other governmental functions, such as defense.

With any government program, whether it’s Head Start or the Department of Defense, there are always ways to
make improvements, to make the system more efficient, and changes that should be made to meet new realities. Both Head Start and the Pentagon should be monitored and measured to find ways of improving performance.

But the argument that a program is a failure because it does not currently meet an ideal level of performance is worse than simplistic. Given the agenda of Hyman and others in the far right cohort of conservatism (to do away with Head Start in anything like its current form), it’s a dishonest way of trying to win an argument that they would surely lose based on the facts.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Hyman Barks at the Moon

Apologies for not responding to Hyman’s commentary from Monday (“Portland’s Approved Discrimination”), but when I went to the Newscentral website to read the transcript, it wasn’t available. (My wife long ago banned me from watching “The Point” live, as it comes on right at our bedtime, and tends to make me . . . well . . . a little less than calm and restful. As a result, I rely on the transcripts and streaming video available on the Newscentral site). It seems to have simply been taken down. If anyone out there either saw the original broadcast or has heard why it was removed, drop me a line!

In the meantime, we have a new “Point” to talk about.

Hyman begins
his most recent commentary with the following unintentionally self-referential statement:

"Maybe, just maybe, this is much ado about nothing."

You couldn’t be more right, Mark: your commentary is much ado about nothing.

Hyman, however, is referring to charges that some employees of the USDA have misused their government-supplied credit cards for personal expenses (including tuition for bartending school and the purchase of Ozzy Osbourne tickets).

A few things to keep in mind: first, as Hyman himself notes, these charges are based on a report that came out two years ago. Hyman says his commentary is prompted by “new concerns” raised by the House Republican Steering Committee, but the one page document simply rehashed the previous charges without adding anything new. On top of that, Hyman got the committee wrong; it was the House Republican Study Committee that released the statement on the USDA credit card abuse.

Hyman says this might not be anything to get worked up about since, according to him, USDA employees are ultimately responsible for the expenses they put on their government-issued credit cards.

So let’s review: Hyman spends two minutes of our airtime rehashing charges that are two years old made by a committee so obscure that Hyman can’t be bothered to get the name right, and concludes that there’s nothing to be concerned about after all.

It’s hard to know what’s going on here. Is Hyman simply reaching for any topic to talk about in order to avoid talking about the failures in Iraq? Is it because he’s attempting to show that it’s not only the Department of Defense that abuses credit cards? A previous study showed that members of the Army, Navy, and Air Force used their government-issued credit cards for unofficial business, including at strip clubs, whore houses, and at NSYNC concerts (and Hyman says Ozzy Osbourne is in bad musical taste!). Or maybe he’s just lazy and latched on to the first piece in the conservative Washington Times that caught his eye.

Whatever the excuse, it’s not good enough. This is a perfect example of what local television loses by having someone like Hyman hijack our airwaves—two minutes of a 22-minute local news broadcast flushed down the toilet.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

No Point Left Un-Countered

If legislation was passed requiring television commentators to report if their editorials were “persistently insipid,” would Mark Hyman pass that judgment on himself?

Okay, that’s probably not a fair comparison, but it’s one that can’t help but come to mind when hearing
Hyman’s latest commentary on violence in schools. Using information gleaned from an article appearing in the libertarian Reason Magazine, Hyman criticizes schools for not fully reporting violence in their hallways (as mandated by the “No Child Left Behind” [sic] legislation). Only 26 of more than 91,000 public schools reported themselves as being “persistently dangerous.”

As Hyman himself points out, schools falling into this category that do not make improvements will lose federal funds. So surprise, surprise: hardly any schools self-report themselves as “persistently dangerous.”

In addition to the silliness of having schools report on themselves, there’s the additional problem of meaningless language (I know—it’s shocking that empty words would appear in anything coming from the Bush administration, isn’t it?). “Persistently dangerous”? It’s hard to get too upset with schools for not labeling themselves with a term that is entirely subjective. Would this term apply to a school like Columbine, which might have only had one “violent incident” during a school year, but which ended up with several students and teachers dead? Or would it apply to a school that had shoving matches and fistfights on a near daily basis in the hallways, but that never had to send a student to the hospital (or the morgue)? Would it apply to both? Neither?

Who knows? Probably not the school administrators themselves, and certainly not Hyman. Yet Hyman places the blame for the underreporting on the schools, not the ill-conceived and poorly worded legislation.

In fact, Hyman touts “No Child Left Behind” as an example of admirable lawmaking:

The No Child Left Behind Act has its critics, but this much is
certain. It strives to provide more information to parents, community leaders
and school officials in order to make better informed decisions on school
performance. Covering up violent incidents will not only hamper student
performance - it will also allow our children to face persistent danger.

It’s the last sentence that’s most troublesome. Why will not reporting violence at school “hamper student performance” and place children in “persistent danger”? That might sound like a reasonable assertion at first glance, but remember that schools are punished if they are consistently labeled “persistently violent” by losing federal funds.

One might expect that schools that are failing in this way would get extra help to solve the problem—from additional funding for security to money to help make the schools themselves more pleasant places to be (the “broken window” thesis of criminality being that small changes in the quality of one’s surroundings can have a big impact on the likelihood of criminal/violent behavior). But the legislation punishes schools for admitting problems rather than providing help. Is it any wonder schools don’t pipe up when asked if they consider themselves “persistently violent”?

Not only does such silence from school administrators seem understandable in terms of self-interest, but it may in fact be the ethical thing to do. If you are an administrator of a school faced with violence (and keep in mind that your school is probably not well off to begin with if this is the case), is it better to dutifully report this to the government and have your funds slashed even more, or is it in the best interest of your students to hang on to dear life to every dollar you have in order to do what you can for them?

I’m not suggesting that the answer to this question is obvious. I simply point out that it’s a legitimate question to ask. Implying that school administrators are dishonest for not reporting violence when doing so materially endangers their ability to provide for their students is more than a little unfair. In point of fact, it is the use of fiscal punishment of schools that are already at risk that will “hamper student performance” and place students in “persistent danger” by taking away what little means these schools have to provide for the education and security of their students.

“No Child Left Behind” might have decent motivations behind it, but it fosters a climate of fear and competition among schools, and feeds into the idea that we should be concerned about the schools our own children attend, but not those attended by the kids of our fellow Americans. It’s vitally important for the wellbeing of the entire nation that the public school system, from the Bronx in New York to Beverly Hills 90210, is healthy and providing a genuine education with adequate facilities and teachers to America’s children. Allowing schools already in danger to fall into the abyss is a guarantee of a future society that is, no matter where you live, “persistently dangerous.”

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Worm Has Turned

Mark Hyman takes it upon himself to clear up the “urban legend” that members of Congress don’t pay into Social Security, a myth that Hyman says he receives email about “nearly every day.”

The fact that Hyman receives regular emails about this topic is telling. The charge that Congressional representatives don’t pay into the Social Security system is part of the larger conservative mythology about the “big bad government.” It’s not surprising that Hyman’s conservative fan base would believe and perpetuate this fiction.

This becomes even clearer when you look into the history of this particular far right myth. has already done a far more complete analysis of this urban legend than Hyman offers us. Among other things, the Snopes examination shows how closely linked the myth of Congressional non-payment of Social Security taxes is to garden variety liberal bashing (Clinton bashing in particular). Unthinking hatred of Democrats and the tale about Social Security-dodging congressmen both fit into the larger conservative mythology, a mythology fixed around the metaphysical belief that government (and those who participate in it) are inherently bad.

So if the belief that Congress doesn’t pay into Social Security isn’t supported by the facts, why does Hyman bother to debunk this myth? As we know all too well, Hyman rarely lets the facts get in the way of bashing those he considers enemies.

I think the answer lies in political pragmatism. Already, political players are looking ahead to the midterm elections of 2006. The number of Republicans in Congress distancing themselves from Bush’s failed Iraq policies offers just one example of the maneuvering underway by those running for reelection to maintain their seats.

Given that Republicans control both houses of Congress, negative public opinion about elected officials (something conservatives are usually all too happy to whip up) could spell trouble. Already, public approval ratings of Congress are
at or near the lowest they’ve been in many years. If they’re still that low in 18 months, incumbents could be in trouble. Since the majority of incumbents are members of the GOP, collective cynicism about those serving in government has, ironically, become a source of vulnerability.

What’s a right wing ideologue to do? In Hyman’s case, the choice is to try to slow the bleeding a bit by showing how, in at least one way, Congress might not be quite as bad as many think (never mind that Hyman himself often takes the lead in bashing en masse those who serve in government).

Like the conservatives who are
currently savaging the most recent Hillary-trashing tome on the market because they don’t want to allow Clinton to play the sympathy angle in 2008 (and/or because they have written or will write their own anti-Hillary polemic), Hyman lets real politik trump right-wing instinct. Should the approval numbers of Congress take an upswing between now and November 2006, however, look for a return to the reflexive bashing of those in government that typify so much of right wing rhetoric.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Available Means of Persuasion

Aristotle defined the art of rhetoric as recognizing in a given situation “the available means of persuasion.” Which of the various means orators choose to move an audience says a lot about their skill as a public speaker.

It also says a lot about who they are politically. Take
Mark Hyman’s recent commentary about wasteful Pentagon spending. Citing a GAO report that showed the Department of Defense threw away, gave away, or wasted approximately $3.5 billion in unused equipment, Hyman calls on Donald Rumsfeld to “adopt effective property management controls” (a great example of corporate-speak blather).

So Hyman has a good (albeit hardly controversial) point: Pentagon waste is bad.

What’s interesting is Hyman’s careful avoidance of the most obvious means of persuasion. Most people, if making a case that wasted Defense Department spending is harmful during a time of war, would say something about the ongoing war in Iraq. After all, wouldn’t this drive home the point on a visceral level? Here’s the Pentagon wasting $3.5 billion while U.S. troops are fighting and dying in Iraq, often without proper equipment. Could there be a more forceful way of illustrating the cost of such waste and the necessity for ending it?

I doubt it. But Hyman doesn’t breathe a word about Iraq. There are two possible explanations for this. One is that it didn’t occur to Hyman to use the needs of U.S. troops in Iraq as an illustration of the costs of “ineffective property management.” Given how anxious Hyman is to link many of his commentaries to “the troops” (in particular, accusing those who disagree with the Bush administration of “hating the troops), I doubt Hyman didn’t recognize this available means of persuasion.

The other explanation (and the one that I find much more likely) is that Hyman didn’t mention the war because to do so would imply that something might have been less than perfect about the planning and execution of the invasion. To mention the needs of our soldiers in the field, even in the cause of making the case for better Defense Department spending, is a nonstarter. Why? Because it could make the Bush administration look bad.

If you needed any more proof that Hyman’s allegiance to the Bush administration trumps his avowed support of the troops, there you have it.

Just for the record, I thought I’d help us put the $3.5 billion into context by running some numbers. Here’s what the money the Pentagon wasted would buy:

17,500 fully armored Humvees.

40,000 transport trucks (which are often abandoned in Iraq if they get a flat tire).

2.3 million suits of combat-ready desert camouflaged suits of
body armor.

230,000 state of the art prosthetic limbs.

$2,250 in monthly combat pay for all 130,000 service members in Iraq for a full year. (Current monthly combat pay is around $250 a month.)

Yearly salaries for 92,000 Army staff sergeants.
And, although this is a little bit of an apples/oranges comparison, $3.5 billion would buy more than 20,000 full page ads in the Wall Street Journal at $170,000 a pop. Recently, a number of prominent Republican supporters and donors spent their own money to take out such
a full page ad in the WSJ that said they felt “betrayed” by Bush and call the war an enterprise that is “bound to fail” and “may well be a catastrophe.”

Of course, I’m sure they’re just saying this because, despite the fact that they are Republicans who supported Bush, they hate America and the troops, right Mark?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Close Encounters With Mark Hyman

Conservatives claim the marketplace does a better job than the government when it comes to shaping society.

Most of the time.

An exception is immigration, where at least some conservatives think the answer is big government and (presumably) more taxes.

Mark Hyman doesn’t say he wants big government and higher taxes in
his recent editorial about undocumented immigrants, but he might as well have. The “serious overhaul” of the immigration system, complete with a “lightning fast deportation process” would necessitate spending billions upon billions of dollars that have to come from somewhere.

But maybe that’s a price we should pay for security. At least, that’s what Hyman suggests at the beginning of his editorial. He frames his commentary by pointing out that 70,000 undocumented immigrants have to the U.S. from countries other than Mexico. He adds cryptically that “It is unclear if aliens from states known to sponsor terrorism” are among them.”

But remember that this is the same Mark Hyman who equated undocumented workers with al-Qaeda terrorists, so you know that as much as he tries to suggest that the pressing issue is security, race will play a role in his comments.

And so it does. Although Hyman’s comments early in the piece are about non-Mexican immigrants, the video that accompanies his remarks is entirely of Hispanic individuals.

Then, toward the end of his comments, Hyman lays his cards on the table and says that the threat to America posed by undocumented immigrants isn’t simply from “possible terrorist activity,” but “includes criminal activity and the economic pressures caused by illegal aliens using taxpayer-funded services.”

To this, add the words Hyman uses. In the 250 words that make up his editorial, Hyman uses the possessive pronoun “our” five times (as in "our borders" and "our nation"), often stressing it in his delivery. The word “aliens” is used eight times (always preceded by the word “illegal”). He refers to our “porous” borders as a problem that “plagues” the United States. The word “plague,” which suggests an invasion of the body by a malignant organism, along with “porous,” creates a metaphor of unwanted bodily penetration by an unknown “Other.” Couple this metaphor with the droning use of “alien,” and you get an interesting rhetorical tableau (insert your own UFO/anal probe joke here).

Hyman’s personal hang-ups/fantasies aside, the picture he paints of undocumented immigrants as threatening contaminants who will drain our precious economic fluids is simply wrong. In fact, virtually all male undocumented immigrants are part of the U.S. workforce (96%). Many undocumented workers are contributing to Social Security, even though they aren’t eligible to receive it. Without undocumented immigrant labor, the economies of several states (California in particular) would come to a screeching halt.

This doesn’t mean nothing should be done. But it does mean that any approach to undocumented immigrants that simply takes the position of “let’s lock ‘em up and/or ship them back home” is shortsighted (to say nothing of immoral).

Currently, there is bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy that has the backing of both business and immigration groups that would allow immigrants to stay in the country, work jobs, and take steps to becoming full-fledged American citizens if they so desire. This approach, which encourages immigrants to get “on the books” helps everyone involved. Alternative legislation (of the sort favored by folks like Hyman) that would focus primarily on arresting and incarcerating those entering the country illegally would cost a huge amount of money, and even then they would not likely be successful. The free market being what it is, workers will go where there is work and income to be had, and employers will hire those who are willing to work for the lowest amount.

Far right conservatives like Hyman often mock progressives for suggesting that government has a duty to step in and attempt to make right aspects of the free market system they feel are morally undesirable. But that’s exactly what nativists like Hyman are doing. What’s worse than the hypocrisy of this stance, however, is the fact that their idea of moralizing the free market is in fact anything but moral: it punishes (largely on the basis of race) those who are the most recent incarnation of the determined immigrants that nearly all of us claim in our collective ancestry.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

How to Get in the Game

Hyman recently devoted a “Point” to reading viewer responses to the burning question of whether executed criminals should be able to donate their organs.

This is an utter waste of airtime. Instead of responding directly to it, I want to pass on some tips on what you can do to get your airwaves back so that you don’t have to have two minutes of a local public resource flushed down the toilet like this. A number of readers have asked me about what they might do to get involved in the fight against Sinclair specifically and media consolidation more generally. Despite the existence of this blog, I’m a relative newbie to media activism, so put all of this in the “for what it’s worth file.” Having said that, here are some thoughts about what anyone can do to get involved:

Tell your neighbors. Writing a letter to the editor or a guest op-ed piece for your local paper is the best first step in fighting back. Don’t assume that even politically active people in your community know about who and what Sinclair is. Chances are, they don’t. Sinclair’s whole operation is based on blurring the lines between the local and the corporate, and they do it well. Heck, it took me a long time of seeing the same news anchors were doing the news on two different local stations and catching the end of “The Point” before Letterman came on before it finally got through my head to look into what was up. People in your community might be familiar with “The Point” and hate it, but they probably don’t know why it’s on their television, and that’s the big picture issue.

I strongly recommend writing to your papers—it’s the way to inform people and make connections with allies. Use some of the Sinclair links on this site to get info. You can also see a copy of
the original op-ed piece that I wrote for my local paper on the website Iowans for Better Local Television if you’d like to see an example. I wrote it simply to vent my frustration, but a year later, I’m writing a blog, taking part in a local media activism group, been interviewed on national radio, and have even managed to piss off Hyman himself! Just sharing your views with others can lead to big things.

Contact advertisers. It’s true that the Bush administration’s FCC is not concerned about what you think, but the
local businesses that advertise on your Sinclair stations care very much about what you think. Identify those local businesses that advertise on your Sinclair station (particularly during the news) and write them a polite letter letting them know that Sinclair Broadcasting Incorporated is not a local company and that it’s business model involves the destruction of “localness” in news. You don’t need to be political. Just let them know that because you care about your community, you want to patronize businesses that support local media and ask these businesses to consider shifting their advertising to local television, radio, and newspapers.

Organize. See if there are media reform groups in your community that already exist. You can check out websites like
StartChange and FreePress for background information on how to find groups that would be interested in the Sinclair issue. If you can’t find one, start one! All you need is a handful of people. That’s how the group I’m involved with got started. IBLTV was just a spinoff of a group of us who were ticked off about the “Stolen Honor” thing last October and decided to keep the ball rolling after the election. We’re still in our organizational infancy, but we’ve got a website, we’re informing people locally about the issue, and we’re able to pool our resources to do research, write letters, and come up with ideas. There are already a handful of groups around the country focusing on Sinclair, and thousands of individuals who would love to join a group if they knew of one in their community.

Speak up. Get the ear of people with influence. Again, just writing to the FCC is probably not going to do a whole lot of good, given the attitudes of the majority of people on it (there are some allies on the FCC, but not enough to win the day at this point). That’s okay. Most political change comes from the grassroots anyway. Write to your congressional representatives to let them know that they need to take a position on issues such as media ownership. Ask them to support a reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine (guaranteeing equal time for competing points of view on broadcast television). Keep an eye out on pending legislation in congress having to do with media (particularly media ownership) and write to your representatives about these specific bills. FreePress has
a helpful page to keep up to date on current media-related legislation.

Check out IBLTV’s website. As I say, we’re still a fairly new group, but our members that have taken the initiative in creating our website have put together a nice collection of information and links. Having a site helps make connections with other in your community and gets you noticed. Some of our members even took part in a local talk show on our public radio station. Whether you’re looking for specific ideas about how to organize a local group dealing with media issues, or you just want to be reminded that you’re not alone in your disgust with the appropriation of local airwaves by a media behemoth, a perusal of the IBLTV site will help.

Of course, there’s much, much more to be said about what we can do to take back our airwaves. I’m a relative newcomer to the issue myself. These are just a few “top of the head” notions that I wanted to share with people looking for someplace to start. Take a look at some of the media activism links in the sidebar and do some exploring. You’ll find that there are lots of people out there with similar concerns.

The thing we have on our side is that no one actually likes what Sinclair’s doing except Sinclair themselves. Sure, there might be some rightwingers who love Mark Hyman, but no one actually wants to have their local airwaves taken over by huge company and get little if any truly local news. All we need to do is give people the facts. Everything else follows from that.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Back to School for Hyman

Mark Hyman continues his jihad against institutions of higher learning in New York City as he shifts his focus from the Bronx Community College to Brooklyn College. (Hyman calls it “Brooklyn Community College,” but it in fact is not a community college—just one of many facts Hyman gets wrong or ignores in this commentary).

Actually, his focus is on one class in one department: a course in the School of Education. But that doesn’t stop him from making sweeping generalizations about the department the course is part of, the college, or even the national organization that accredits the college’s School of Education.

The problems with Hyman’s commentary stem from the fact that he apparently only uses a single source for his commentary. (Admittedly, that’s one more than he often uses, but it would be nice to see someone working for one of the largest and most diversified media corporations in America dig up a confirming source for his allegations.

Hyman’s commentary is a Reader’s Digest version of a story printed last month in the
New York Sun, a paper known for its conservative slant. (This by itself doesn’t invalidate the story, but it should be a cue to look into the facts before passing judgment.) The paper ran a feature story on a young professor at Brooklyn College (unlike Hyman, the Sun at least gets the name of the school right) who had come under fire for saying that standard English was the “language of oppressors” and preaching the virtues of Ebonics. According to Hyman, students complained about this radical agenda and “claimed they were retaliated against by the administration.”

Moreover, Hyman suggests that the problem goes far beyond Brooklyn College. The college’s “radical” approach to teaching is a response to a mandate from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. According to Hyman, the NCATE is foisting a narrow-minded, politically correct agenda on institutions and students, and if students complain, they are unfairly punished for speaking up by the powers that be.

Powerful stuff. Too bad it’s a complete mischaracterization of reality.

First, a brief look at Hyman’s source material, the piece in the New York Sun, reveals that the disgruntled students (all two of them) were punished not because they voiced opposition to their professor’s views, but because they committed plagiarism on an assignment. (Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Hyman, the erstwhile champion in the war for academic integrity, is now reduced to defending plagiarists!)

Second, it appears from what others have said who have looked into the matter that the stuff about English being the language of the oppressors and Ebonics being great
came from readings that were part of the course materials, not necessarily beliefs that the course instructor said students should or must believe.

Still, presenting these poor young students with such radical ideas isn’t fair, right? I mean, they just wanted to get a teaching degree…they had no way of knowing they might be presented with material dealing with politically charged issues like racism in the course of their studies at Brooklyn College, right?

Well, actually they did. That brings us to the whole NCATE issue. The
NCATE asks schools of education that wish to be accredited to formulate a sort of mission statement that publicly affirms how they as an institution approach the art of teaching—the philosophy they want to impart on students receiving degrees from their institution.

In the case of Brooklyn College, their statement reads in part as follows:

“We educate teacher candidates and other school personnel about issues of social injustice such as institutionalized racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism.”

Given this public statement of purpose, students choosing to attend Brooklyn College should be surprised (and have cause to complain) if they did *not* get a fair amount of politically aware material in their coursework. The disgruntled students did (or should have) been aware of this when choosing their program, and it seems more than a little unfair to criticize the school for providing exactly what its public mission statement promises.

But, Hymanites will say, that’s just the problem! The NCATE, being a group of pointy-headed academics, is obviously a radical group that will not accredit schools unless they come up with a similarly politically correct guiding philosophy.

Again, a little research can go a long way. A brief trip over to the NCATE website gives you a chance to look over some sample statements from other accredited institutions. One thing you’ll find is that the type of political language in Brooklyn College’s statement is fairly rare—it’s in no way mandated by the NCATE, and only a relatively small percentage of schools of education use anything like this sort of language.

To take just one obvious example, on the
NCATE website, you can find examples of “conceptual frameworks” from institutions such as Our Lady of Holy Cross College, whose education program is accredited by the NCATE. While Brooklyn College states that its program will focus on relating teaching to certain political issues (racism, sexism, etc.), OLHCC’s language is markedly different:

OLHCC’s philosophy is rooted in the fundamental belief that education flourishes
in a community motivated by a Catholic/Christian vision, Gospel values, and a
commitment to the education of the total person.

And later . . .

The Teacher-Education Programs at OLHCC enable the students to develop
intellectually and spiritually by providing, within a Christian Framework, the
opportunity to acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to become
a competent teacher in a multicultural society.

Not exactly “politically correct” (at least not in the way folks like Hyman tend to use the term).

So, to put this in perspective: for students to complain about being exposed to political ideas at Brooklyn College’s teacher education program is a bit like someone going to OLHCC and whining that they’re being indoctrinated into a religious belief system because (*gasp!*) the teachers there openly talk about their belief in God and their Christian values and (*double-gasp!*) dare suggest to their students that such principles play a role in developing a philosophy of how to approach the job of teaching.

I presume that should such a student manage to get his or her complaint printed in a major newspaper, Hyman would mock said student for being a silly pudding who is obviously thickheaded and/or unreasonable to expect a college to abandon its publicly stated principles because a student or two disagrees with some of the ideas. And Hyman would be right to do so.

But when the stated philosophy is one that Hyman disagrees with (let’s table for the moment why being against racism, sexism, and classism is considered radical or politically correct), it’s somehow the fault of the teacher for bringing this philosophy into the classroom, the college for publicly holding such a philosophy, or the accrediting institution for sanctioning this philosophy (despite the fact that it also sanctions a widely diverse group of alternative philosophies as well)—not the fault of the couple of students (intellectually dishonest ones, at that) who freely chose to attend this particular institution and pursue this particular program.

And all this from an adherent of conservatism—a philosophy based on the idea that any regulations or protections for consumers are anathema, that the free market will sort everything out, and that lawyers who fight for the rights of consumers in cases of corporate fraud or medical malpractice are profiteering ambulance chasers who are single-handedly driving entrepreneurs out of business and driving up insurance premiums.

Perhaps Hyman needs to reformulate his own “conceptual framework” into something that’s a bit more coherent and consistent.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

An Open Letter to Mark Hyman

Dear Mr. Hyman:

I was pleased to get another mention in your commentary, “The Point.” Including a comment from me in your most recent edition of your “Mailbag” segment was a pleasant surprise. Given that your last mention of me in your commentary ended up causing Sinclair to take the unusual (and perhaps unprecedented) step of deleting the entire text of one of your commentaries from the website, I think it valiant of you to get back on the horse.

I do want to clear up a few issues however. First, you quote me as saying “Is Mark Hyman a man of principle? Hardly. In fact, he’s a liar.” Indeed I said that, but not in a viewer letter. That remark appeared on my blog, The Counterpoint ( While I often have sent in copies of my post to as viewer mail, I haven’t done that much of late, and the post you quote was not sent to you as feedback (at least not by me).

Having said that, I’m fine with you using quotations from my blog. On the contrary, I encourage it! I consider any text there to be in the public domain, and you certainly don’t need my permission to use it. However, in fairness to your viewers, it’s only proper for you to accurately cite your material, and should you choose to use excerpts from my blog, you should cite them as coming from that source and not lump them into your “viewer mail” segment (unless, of course, I’ve sent them in myself, which I will try to remember to do more regularly from now on).

Secondly, you lump my quotation in with a number of general statements giving negative opinions about you and your commentaries. In the case of my comment, however, you take it out of context. The post in which that comment appeared concerned your commentary about PACs and your claim that your stand on them was based on “principle,” not business. I said you lied because in that commentary you A) said your stance on PACs wasn’t based on business while not acknowledging that Sinclair Broadcasting had collaborated with a PAC responsible for distributing “Stolen Honor” when Sinclair broadcasted significant portions of the film under the guise of “news;” B) that at the time of the “Stolen Honor” fiasco you told Deborah Norville during an interview that the group behind “Stolen Honor” was completely separate from the PAC called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth [sic] when in fact the two groups had formally announced their merger a month earlier; and that C) you said in your commentary that PACs are “often the great equalizer” that allows challengers to run successful races against incumbents in Congress, when the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of PAC money goes to incumbents not challengers, therefore making it harder for challengers to win races.

To my knowledge, you have neither refuted nor even challenged these charges, and you certainly didn’t on Saturday night. You would be far more effective in disputing my claim by actually disproving it rather than simply lumping it in with comments you label “angry” (which, by the way, is a common tactic you use—a rather odd one as well, given how often you demonize those you disagree with as being anti-American, “hating the troops,” or supporting terrorists—the whole pot/kettle relationship comes to mind).

Finally, and most importantly: the anger thing. You love to label everyone you think of as an enemy as “angry.” I guess this is because it carries the connotation that they are unthinking and reactionary. But anger is a perfectly logical, ethical, and just reaction to certain situations.

I am not angry in general, but I do get angry about certain things. I’m not angry at you for having conservative ideas. I’m not angry at my local station for spending time on local broadcasts airing opinionated commentary—even highly conservative commentary. I’m not even angry at you for your now semi-infamous defamation of me on your broadcast for no other reason than you disagree with my politics. That’s water under the bridge.

There are things I am angry about, though, Mr. Hyman. I’m angry that KGAN, a local station I grew up watching here in eastern Iowa has gone (under the guidance of Sinclair Broadcasting) from a respected source of news and information to the source of an unwatchable hodgepodge of prepackaged news and one-sided commentary when there are local issues affecting my neighbors and me that aren’t being dealt with.

I’m angry that a number of excellent journalists were summarily fired or driven from their jobs at KGAN because of Sinclair’s single-minded goal of turning a profit rather than doing good journalism.

I’m angry that familiar faces of people who became like (and often actually were) neighbors of mine in eastern Iowa, faces of the people who made up the news team at Channel 2 and to whom I felt a true connection built over years of inviting them into my home via television, have been replaced by a revolving door of bobble-headed non-entities who do news broadcasts for all Sinclair-affiliated stations in the state.

I’m angry that rather than allowing local stations the chance to have local commentary about local issues (and offering a chance for local residents to respond), you and the Smith clan think it is your droit-du-seigneur to foist off two minutes of your extreme political views on us from your headquarters half a continent away in Baltimore.

I’m angry that Sinclair ignores its responsibilities to be a good corporate citizen in the communities from which it profits, seemingly forgetting that we the people, not Sinclair, own the airwaves that allow you to make a profit. You make your money by using the natural resource we own, and give us precious little in return.

I’m angry that instead of giving us articulate, well-reasoned, professional commentary from multiple viewpoints, you give us predictable, clumsy, poorly-researched, poorly-written, factually inaccurate, amateurish, talk-radio-esque diatribes that demean and impoverish public discourse.

I’m angry that my professional life is devoted to teaching students the importance of thinking through issues carefully, considering opposing views honestly, and formulating their own arguments ethically, and then when they flip on their television, they see someone like you violate every basic principle of honest public discourse through your use of propaganda techniques, faulty logic, and misrepresentation of facts.

I’m angry that you and Sinclair claim to support our troops and accuse anyone who disagrees with your particular political views of hating them, yet when you feel that supporting the troops could possibly interfere with your unquestioning loyalty to the current administration (such as with “The Fallen”), you always choose the latter.

I’m angry that you act as a cheerleader for an administration that has sent former students of mine, as well as family members of close friends, to Iraq to fight and die but sent them there without justification, without the armor to protect their bodies, without the numbers of comrades needed to keep them safe in hostile streets, without a plan for bringing them home in one piece, and without a commander in chief who will take responsibility for his mistakes.

And I’m angry that you then have the balls to tell those of us who disagree with the war that we hate the troops.

So yes, Mr. Hyman…I am angry. Not angry in general, but angry about certain things and at certain people. And yes, one of those people is you, Mr. Hyman. And I’m angry at your company. But, as you can see, I certainly have good reason to be.

And, as you will see, I’ve got a lot of company.

And that’s my point.


Ted Remington

Friday, June 17, 2005

Hyman the Bully

On many levels, Sinclair Broadcasting operates under an ethos of bullying. Intimidation and threatening those with less power is a hallmark of the Sinclair style when it comes to dealing with everyone from those who criticize the company to its own employees.

Mark Hyman is no exception. A significant number of his commentaries are aimed at individuals or groups that have limited abilities to fight back.

Hyman the Bully

The latest victims of Hyman’s bullying are the students, faculty, and staff of the Bronx Community College. Yep, that’s right: two minutes of your local news (broadcast over the airwaves that you, the public taxpayer own) were devoted to Hyman attacking a small two-year-college that’s not even remotely close to where you live and which serves a community that’s well outside any Sinclair television market.

What crime has this educational institution committed to inspire Hyman to denigrate it and suggest it’s nowhere reasonable parents would let their child to go to school? The crime of allowing its students to express their political views.

Committing yet another elementary error in logic wide enough to drive a truck through, Hyman falsely equates the views of a single student group on campus with the college itself. Hyman rattles off a number of beliefs he attributes to a group called the “Revolutionary Reconstruction Club,” then implies that these beliefs are somehow representative of the college as a whole.

It’s unclear exactly what Hyman would have the college do. Should the administration crack down and ban student groups with political beliefs that are out of step with the majority of the campus community? If so, what of conservative student groups on campuses? If members of the Young Republican Club of Acme State University are voicing opinions with which most of their fellow students disagree and that most faculty and administrators find troublesome, should they be disbanded? Hyman, who often invokes ideals of intellectual freedom at universities when claiming conservatives are discriminated against, is awfully quick to condemn an entire institution for tolerating the existence of a political group with which he disagrees.

Hyman's Motivation

How Hyman can justify condemnation of intellectual freedom on campus in one commentary while championing it in another is not a terribly interesting question. Any viewer of “The Point” knows Hyman simply doesn’t concern himself with intellectual or ethical consistency. Principles are merely tools with which to construct ad hoc arguments. The more interesting question is why Hyman goes after this particular college.

After all, college students being . . . well . . . college students, there are certainly any number of self-styled Marxist, anarchist, or socialist student groups across America’s campuses. Why single out the Bronx Community College?

Might it have something to do with the fact that the college is in New York City, one of America’s most cosmopolitan and progressive metropolises (which, of course, makes it a den of iniquity in Hyman’s universe)? Whether it’s the New York Times or simply “elitest, out-of-touch liberals,” Hyman loves to use New York as a metonym for the perceived evils of liberalism generally.

More troubling is the possibility that Hyman singles out this college because of who goes there. The Bronx Community College’s student body is
almost entirely made up of minority students (approximately half African American and half Hispanic). Whites make up less than five percent of the student population. Hyman, who has denigrated civil rights leaders and groups in the past, and who infamously equated undocumented immigrants with al-Qaeda terrorists, is not above being a “race hustler” (a phrase Hyman used to describe Jesse Jackson earlier this week, but which is far more applicable to Hyman himself).

Like most bullies, Hyman relies on his targets not fighting back. It would be wonderful to see the Bronx Community College sue Hyman and Sinclair for defamation, given that Hyman’s commentary uses flawed and distorted reasoning in an attempt to convince his audience not to patronize the school. (Remember that Sinclair Broadcasting
threatened to sue groups who participated in what it called “trade defamation” in the wake of the “Stolen Honor” fiasco on the basis that such groups were interfering with Sinclair’s ability to do business. What’s good for the goose, etc. etc. etc.).

Turning Hyman on His Head

But for now, let’s throw in our two cents and turn Hyman on his head with another edition of “The Bizarro Point” in which we, by only changing a few of Hyman’s own words, go through the looking glass to a world where “The Point” actually makes sense:

Do you have a child who watches television? Do they intend on watching television in the near future?

Do you believe that honoring soldiers killed in Iraq is a “political act” that should be censored? Do you believe that anyone who doesn’t support the Bush administration’s foreign policy “hates America”? Do you think that, despite official military records and eyewitness testimony that confirm John Kerry served valiantly in Vietnam, that he actually murdered a wounded, unarmed kid running away from a battle? Do you think that the undocumented immigrant who does menial labor in your community is the moral equivalent of an al-Qaeda terrorist? Do you believe that tax cuts that shift the tax burden to the middle class and give away huge payoffs to the rich are a good idea? Do you think that the current American economy is “on fire”? Do you agree that the invasion of Iraq was a wonderful idea and that things are going swimmingly there?

If so, then the perfect television channel for your child just might be your local Sinclair Broadcasting affiliate. The Baltimore-based conglomerate owns more than 60 television stations across the country, including several duopolies, and its executives donate tens of thousands of dollars to Republican causes. Its offerings include “The Point” with Mark Hyman, whose commentaries favor the issues I mentioned a few moments ago. And Hyman is quite active. He is proud of the fact that he distorted and smeared John Kerry’s war record and ignored George W. Bush’s disgraceful lack of service. He personally fired Sinclair’s lead political reporter, Jon Lieberman, when Lieberman dared suggest that running propaganda two weeks before an election was not good journalism.

But if these actions don’t coincide with your beliefs and values, then I suggest your Sinclair affiliate is not proper viewing for your child.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Imagine That!

Mark Hyman recently added his voice (well, sort of . . . more on that later) to those right wing bloggers working themselves into a tizzy about a recent story that appeared in a major newspaper about an internal controversy at the ACLU regarding document shredding. As is typical, Hyman's purpose isn’t to actually make a valid argument, but to simply sling mud at an organization that's one of the uber-bogeymen lurking in the radical right’s collective imagination.

Hyman (and his brethren) claim the ACLU is hypocritical for shredding documents when it fights for government transparency and openness, and darkly suggest that that some something unethical is going on. A quick read of the actual article shows that what’s going on is an attempt to negotiate the conflicts between two valid and important goals of non-profit organizations: the need to maintain complete and open records of its actions and the need to protect the personal information of its members and donors. Such a conflict, common though it is in many organizations, is obviously one that must be approached with particular care by a group whose raison d’etre is to lobby for both institutional openness and privacy rights. The article suggests that some at the ACLU haven’t established enough oversight over the casual use of shredders to dispose of documents, but nowhere is there any allegation that the organization has actually done anything wrong. Rather, it’s a matter of maintaining the ACLU’s organizational ethos.

But again, to simply show that the charges made against the ACLU are hype is to suggest that Hyman’s argument is made in good faith. It’s not. Neither Hyman, nor his fellow ultra-cons, care much about the validity of their accusations (or lack thereof). What matters is that they can make them. The news article, when stripped of context and detail, allows a superficial justification for their bleating. And when this bleating is taken up by multiple voices feeding off of one another, the result is cacophony that, although based on nothing of substance, makes very real noise.

This use of discourse as a mere cudgel or stone to be flung at an enemy rather than a form of social interaction rests on two assumptions: one philosophical, the other practical. Philosophically, it means that one must accept the idea that basic tenets of interpersonal ethics and decency don’t apply to communication. When it comes to the use of language, ultra-conservatives are thoroughgoing moral relativists.

More pragmatically, it means that you want to get as many people throwing stones as possible. If one doesn’t bother with the subtleties of making a valid, coherent, ethically and logically sound argument (or denies that there is any meaningful or coherent way to distinguish sound and unsound arguments to begin with), that means that the only true way to make an argument persuasive is to have it repeated by as many people as possible. When skill is taken out of the equation, argumentation becomes simply a numbers game.

Thus we have Hyman’s participation in the larger noise machine of the far right. This is not a right wing conspiracy, per se, but a loose confederation of people who share both a right wing political ideology and a belief that language is merely a means to an end, not a social interaction that requires acknowledging some shared assumptions about decency.

The result is what we see so frequently in many quarters of the “blogosphere” as well as the larger public forum: the parroting of ideas by multiple sources in an effort not to add to the quality of our ongoing collective conversation, but to its quantity. In the case of the ACLU story, all you have to do is Google the phrase “ACLU and shredding” to see this at work. What starts out at Drudge gets picked up by Newsmax, the Freepers, and other right wing folks (including
white supremacist websites, which is interesting if only because the ACLU has been attacked for its willingness to fight for the rights of KKK members and neo-Nazis).

The goal is to give the impression that there is a huge story (where there’s smoke, there’s fire) not by using facts, but by simply turning up the volume. One of the downsides of this tactic is that sometimes the results of this intellectual inbreeding are so obvious that they reveal the mindlessness of the process.

We’ve got an amusing case in point in Hyman’s editorial. Here’s an excerpt from Hyman’s commentary:

What is ironic is that this self-righteous group of litigants has a different
view of preserving documents when it comes to preserving its own records. The
ACLU has been shredding documents over the repeated objections of its records
manager and in conflict with the organization's longstanding policies on the
preservation and disposal of records. In this case, the ACLU's own practices are
inconsistent with its public positions. Imagine that!

Now, here’s an excerpt from a post that appeared on the rightwing website

Imagine that. This holier than thou (oops, I forgot about the
separation of God and ACLU), self-righteous group of litigants may actually be
trying to coverup its own lawlessness.

Imagine that! This self-righteous group of right wingers just boilerplates from each other’s arguments!

Despite the fact that the post is dated June 4, and Hyman’s editorial is dated June 15, I’m sure the Redstater is cribbing from Hyman. After all, we know our Mark is nothing if not an avowed enemy of plagiarism.

But this is just a more egregious example than most of what you can discover from a quick perusal of “Point” commentaries: they are culled from whatever the current screed-du-jour is on the radical right. Want to know what Hyman will be talking about next week? Read Drudge or Newsmax this week.

Which raises the larger issue: if Hyman’s “commentaries” are not local, not well done, often incoherent, and not even original, why must local viewers have them foisted upon them by Sinclair? Hyman uses his two minutes of airtime (between 5 and 10 percent of the average local newscast) to vent his spleen (or spleen he has borrowed from someone else) on those who occupy the pantheon of perceived enemies of the right wing. What could be less in the public interest than that?

Oh, and one last bit of trivia on this matter you might find amusing: about the only entity that comes in for as much regular abuse as the ACLU in Hyman’s commentaries is the New York Times (always charaterized as a liberal elitist rag by Hyman). But guess what publication broke the ACLU shredding story (to the extent there’s a “story” at all) and has served as the basis for not only Hyman’s commentary but of all those other ultra-con treatments of the issue?

Yep, the Gray Lady herself.

Imagine that!

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Battles Are Won Before They Are Fought

One of the purposes of what David Brock has termed the “Right Wing Noise Machine” is to not simply participate in ideological conflict, but to choose and define the rhetorical battlefield before the first shot is fired.

Despite the claims by Sinclair Broadcasting that Mark Hyman is simply a single employee expressing his personal views, it’s obvious to even the most casual viewer that he marches in jack-booted lock step with the far right establishment. Given this, one of the recurring dynamics of Hyman’s commentaries is his attempt to help frame issues in a way that will give his fellow conservatives higher rhetorical ground in an anticipated struggle.

This sort of malignant synergy is on vivid display in Hyman’s
recent commentary on the Supreme Court. Suggesting that both Justices Rehnquist and O’Connor might step down soon, Hyman predicts the “mother of all confirmation battles.” (By the way, Mark, could you please get some new writers for your commentary? The phrase “mother of all . . . whatever” jumped the shark around January 22, 1991. Of course, “jumped the shark” has jumped the shark by now, too, so maybe I shouldn’t cast stones!).

Laughably, Hyman advises Senate Democrats that supporting a conservative justice to replace Rehnquist will make them look “statesmen-like” and help build “good will.” After all, Hyman argues, replacing a Rehnquist with a conservative will be a “one-for-one” replacement.

I’d like to offer Hyman some advice in the same vein: Hyman ought to embrace the idea of inviting Al Franken, David Brock, or even me to share time on his “Point” segments. Such a move would make him look statesman-like and help build good will.

Obviously, it’s easy to call for statesmanship from the other side when it serves your own purpose. Of course, Hyman hasn’t called for statesmanship or waxed rhapsodic about the logic of “one for one” replacements as the Bush administration has
packed federal appeals courts with rightwing justices, creating a wildly unbalanced judiciary. Nor, apparently, does Hyman feel his argument should apply on a wider historical scale. After all, the Supreme Court itself has become heavily weighted towards the conservative side over the last 35 years. Nearly all the justices on the court currently (even relatively liberal justices, such as Breyer), replaced justices who were further left than they are.

There’s no more dramatic example than one of the most cynical appointments in Supreme Court history, that of Clarence Thomas. Filling the vacancy of the legendary Thurgood Marshall, the Bush I administration chose a man whose similarities to Marshall were literally only skin deep. A champion of civil rights and social justice was replaced with a man for whom such concepts were anathema (except, of course, when they served his own individual advantage). What a falling off was there!

Hyman compounds this foolishness when he describes O’Connor as a swing vote “between the four conservatives and the four liberals on the court.”

Come again? I’m not sure to whom Hyman is referring when he talks about the four liberals on the court. Let’s assume that the only two judges appointed by a Democrat (Ginsberg and Breyer) count as liberal. Which of the seven Republican nominees is “liberal” in any meaningful sense of the term? I suppose Stevens and Souter, both of whom dissented in Bush v. Gore, are the most likely candidates, but simply putting basic legal principle ahead of political expediency does not a liberal make (well, perhaps these days it does, but it certainly shouldn’t). Stevens and Souter would have been seen as clear conservatives in almost any other legal context than the post-Reagan Supreme Court.

Hyman knows his characterization is distorted. He knows that those in his audience who have wonkish tendencies will also recognize that he’s framing the issue crookedly. That’s of no consequence, however. He’s counting on the vast majority of his audience not knowing any better. By stating that there’s ideological parity on the court, offering “advice” to Democrats about the benefits of being “statesman-like,” the perils of the new filibuster rules, and predicting that (despite his sincere efforts to steer them in the right direction) Democrats will oppose “any” Bush nominee, Hyman does his small part in preparing the battlefield for his ideological comrades in arms.

Of course the Democrats won’t oppose “any” Bush nominee to the Supreme Court. Heck, they’ve overwhelmingly confirmed all but a handful of Bush’s judicial nominees. But by publicly framing any potential objection to a Bush nominee as no more than predictable political obstructionism, Hyman softens up the Dems for a rhetorical offensive by the right wing talking heads if/when any concern is raised about even the most extreme nominee Bush puts forward (and given his nominations on other federal appeals courts, there’s little reason to assume that Bush will be “statesman-like” when given the opportunity to pack the judiciary at the highest of levels).

As is customary, Hyman counts on his audience being uneducated and uninvolved enough to simply assume that his characterization of events is accurate. Given that the majority of the American people (even those who profess to be conservatives) are far more liberal than the Bush administration on almost every issue, he had better hope so. The only way conservatives can win electoral and rhetorical battles is by framing the conflict in a way that camouflages right wing radicalism as good ol’ common sense. The only way progressives can lose these battles is by allowing them to get away with it.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Is This the Best the Right Can Do?

Hyman’s attack on the American Association of University Professors is a lazy repetition of several Hymanesque motifs (anti-intellectualism, empty appeals to patriotism, claims that political adversaries hate the military and hate religion). The question I can’t help asking myself is this: don’t those who are on Hyman’s side of the political spectrum feel embarrassed or insulted by having their views argued in such a clumsy, unpersuasive, and lackadaisical way?

Hyman cites the AAUP’s support of Yale Law School in its ban of army recruiters on its campus as evidence that "AAUP's acceptance of differing viewpoints do not include acceptance of those held by America's sons and daughters serving in uniform.”

This is a rehash of an argument Hyman made in an edition of “The Point” last month regarding the Solomon Act.
As we pointed out, nearly every accredited law school in the country abides by a nondiscrimination policy that ensures equal treatment of all students based on race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. Given the stated policy of the military to discriminate based on sexual orientation, schools of law have little choice but to oppose the recruitment of their students. And the courts have backed up this decision.

Pulling out the “they hate the troops” canard yet again, Hyman knowingly misleads his audience by glossing over the particulars, suggesting that these high-fallutin’ law profs are against the military in general and are discriminating against recruiters because of their pinko-Marxist-peacenik tendencies (after all, isn’t everyone in higher education a pinko-Marxist-peacenik?). But in fact, the policy of the Yale Law School is simply the only possible response to the recruitment of their students by an organization that practices a form of discrimination (rightly or wrongly) that violates the basic principles upon which the school is based.

If Hyman glosses over and distorts the facts when it comes to the Yale matter, he simply does away with them altogether in the rest of his commentary. Hyman accuses the AAUP of not approving of certain religious beliefs, and offers as “evidence” of this the fact that the organization has censured many schools that are affiliated with churches, including Philander Smith College. In an apparent attempt to paint the AAUP as so out of touch that it even violates the tenets of Political Correctness, Hyman points out that Philander Smith College is the oldest historically Black college in Arkansas.

That’s all well and good, but do you notice that there’s nothing in all of this about the AAUP actually objecting to anything having to do with religion and Philander Smith (or any other school)? That’s because the censure of Philander Smith had nothing to do with its affiliation with a church. It was based on an
administrative decision to punish a faculty member who wrote an email to a local paper about the college’s decision about salaries and organization in a particular department. In fact, most of the AAUP’s censures are based on issues of administrative due process in the hiring and firing of faculty, and have nothing whatsoever to do with the acceptability of certain ideas or beliefs. That’s not the purview of the AAUP.

Hyman’s commentary then ends with a resounding thud:

And the group is vitriolic in its opposition to the rights of
students to express and not be punished for views that do not conform to the
narrow set of viewpoints dictated by college faculty and staff.

I’d love to comment on the validity of the evidence Hyman uses to back up this bit of biliousness, but there isn’t any. He just makes this statement and leaves it at that. No examples. No quotations. No citations. Nothing.

For those of us who recognize Hyman’s ideology for what it is and reject it, this is all par for the course. What interests me, though, is how those who are sympathetic to Hyman’s political views react to being consistently lied to by him. If it doesn’t give them pause to reflect on the opinions expressed, doesn’t it at least make them feel they’re getting mistreated and taken advantage of by someone who seems to think that his audience is so blockheaded that they don’t care if their beliefs are articulated in a reasonable way? For myself, I find those who think they can win me over by simply mouthing empty platitudes to beliefs that I happen to share to be more annoying than those who make coherent arguments that I disagree with. It’s insulting to be taken for granted by someone who thinks I’m so Pavlovian in my political responses that I don’t need or deserve to be approached with intellectual integrity.

Perhaps those on the wacky right have thicker skins than I do, but one would think that simply for pragmatic reasons, even they would want those who speak on their behalf to do so with some level of skill. If Hyman is the best they can do, they’re in deep doo-doo.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Catching Up With Hyman

Back from being out of town for a week, and back to countering "The Point"!

I wonder about the following topics . . .

So, is Hyman now against visceral hatred? In
his mailbag segment from last week focusing on response to his attack on Linda Foley, Hyman read several comments from those cheering him on, and added that he couldn’t include many responses from the other side of the issue. Why? According to Hyman, “The few who wrote in support of Foley were so naked in their visceral hatred of the military that most of their remarks are inappropriate.”

Apparently, visceral hatred of the media is just fine, however. The quotations Hyman included from his supporters included one that described the supposed anti-military bias of the media as “wicked,” as well as a comment that anyone who causes harm to U.S. troops “should be tried for treason and at the very least have their U.S. citizenship revoked.” There was no explanation of how Foley’s comments “harmed” U.S. troops.

This is just a more blatant than usual framing of the “mailbag” segment as a way to bash those who disagree with Hyman’s diatribes. When critical comments are aired at all, they are usually chosen so as to best play into the idea that anyone who might disagree with Hyman must be a wild-eyed, knee-jerk, leftwing ideologue. No doubt Hyman receives plenty of articulate responses to his commentaries, but those wouldn’t serve his purposes. Just to be sure, however, I’ll send him a copy of the Counterpoint from last week which pointed out that if media figures who slander U.S. troops are going to be tied to the whipping post, Hyman should be first in line.

Did Hyman sleep through history class?
In his commentary on the Alamo, Hyman accuses Nickelodeon (which, in a characteristic non sequitur, he mentioned was a “sister channel” of CBS) of doing bad history. The cause of this was a one-minute educational short that aired on the station that pointed out that the issue of slavery was one of the issues that led to the fight for Texas independence from Mexico.

Hyman’s only actual challenge of the facts in the piece concerns the statement that most of the people living in San Antonio at the time were white slaveholders. Most, Hyman says, were actually Tejanos. But this misses the point. In fact,
Texas as a whole was awash in white settlers (Anglos outnumbering Tejanos by at least a 6 to 1 ratio), many of whom had come to Texas specifically because of the promise that they’d be able to keep their slaves. It was this Anglo influx that caused the conflict of which the battle at the Alamo was a part. Slavery might not have been “the” issue, but it was certainly a catalyst. To simply call the fight a “secessionist” battle is a bit like summing up the Civil War as being about “states’ rights”; it might be accurate, but it hardly tells the whole story. While any one-minute summation of a complex historical event can’t help but be simplistic and a bit distorted, the Nickelodeon piece beats the refried beans out of Hyman’s rebuttal.

If Hyman can’t think critically himself, can’t he at least recognize it in others? Hyman spends
an episode of “The Point” suggesting that Cornell University practiced discrimination when it asked a potential law professor during the hiring process (who happened to be an evangelical Christian) how he could teach gay students. Hyman implies this question was asked in an attempt to find out the applicant’s religious beliefs in order to keep him from getting the job, thereby challenging his civil rights (a dopey assertion, given the fact that the individual’s religious beliefs were already known at the time, and that he got the job).

What Hyman fails to recognize is that in academics (and many other professions), the way one thinks and responds to queries is at least as important as the content of the answer. In this case, the interviewer was asking a perfectly legitimate question to see how the applicant thought about the relationship to his personal identity and his role as a teacher. To use similar example, it would be wrong to not hire a man to teach at an all women’s college simply because he was male, but it would be important to ask the applicant to articulate if/how teaching a class entirely made up of the opposite sex would affect his teaching. In fact, it would be extremely odd for this issue not to be raised in the interview.

In the case of the Cornell law professor, he got the job not because he evaded or confounded his interviewer, but because he showed an ability to reflect upon and articulate a reasonable response to a challenging question. Hyman either willfully ignores this obvious point, or is simply so unfamiliar with concepts of critical thinking that he can’t even recognize it when he sees it.

Remind us again, Mark: who’s not living in the real world? Hyman
calls Reverend Jesse Jackson a “race hustler” because of Jackson’s objections to a voter I.D. measure pending in Georgia. The law, which would require voters to produce a picture I.D. in order to vote, has drawn criticism from civil rights groups because it adds restrictions that could prevent people from voting. According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, as many as 6% of eligible voters in Georgia would be kept from voting by the new restrictions (and given that most of these people will be poor and/or minorities, guess which party will benefit by these restrictions).

Hyman says charges that some people might not have photo I.D.’s come from those who don’t live in the “real world.” Perhaps Mark should take a trip to rural Georgia. He might discover that not everyone owns their own car, or has any other reason to own an official picture I.D. Heck, my own grandmother never learned to drive, and to my knowledge didn’t have a photo I.D. of any sort. I guess she must not have been living in the “real world.”

Hyman’s concern about voting fraud would be much more believable if he also championed efforts to count votes equally. Legitimate votes going uncounted is a much greater threat than the polls being swarmed by poor, elderly, African American grandmothers trying to vote multiple times. Unfortunately, the lack of a uniform voting system (usually with the least reliable voting machines being used in the poorest precincts) means that thousands and thousands of legitimate votes are not counted.

Of course, a handful of votes never actually affects the outcome of an election, right?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Hyman Principle? No Principles!

Is Mark Hyman a man of principle? Hardly. In fact, he’s a liar.

his most recent commentary, Hyman tries to don the mantle of a man of disinterested conviction, but it just doesn’t fit.

Hyman crafts his editorial as a “strange bedfellows” piece, noting that he and America Coming Together, a progressive 527 group, are both against a Senate bill that would limit the ability of such organizations to spend unlimited money on campaign ads before elections. The difference, according to Hyman, is that while ACT’s position is based on wanting to “stay in business,” he opposes it “on principle.”

Not only does Hyman not make it clear what “business” ACT is trying to stay in, but he counts on viewers not knowing that Sinclair Broadcasting Incorporated was in bed with one of the biggest 527s of the 2004 election: Swift Boat Veterans for “Truth” [sic]. Despite Hyman’s public comments to the contrary at the time, the Swifties
were part of the same organization as the group peddling the propaganda piece “Stolen Honor,” which Sinclair wanted to air in its entirety as a “news” segment (and which it did air in a slightly altered form after massive public protest against Sinclair).

Principle indeed.

Hyman goes on to restate his objection to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation (or, as he unfailingly calls it, the “infamous McCain-Feingold law”). In a completely duplicitous assertion, Hyman claims that in a system where incumbents have huge advantages, “PACs and political committees are often the great equalizers.”

That is utter nonsense, and the Infamous Hyman knows it. In fact PACs give overwhelmingly to incumbents.
Thomas Patterson, the Bradlee Professor of Government & the Press at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, notes that:

Today's House incumbents have created a lock on the offices they hold. When the
campaign finance laws were changed during the 1970s in reaction to Watergate,
PACs suddenly sprouted, increasing in number from 600 to 4,000 within a decade.
This new source of money turned out to be a bonanza for incumbents. PACs are
reluctant to oppose politicians who are already in power. Today, upwards of 85
percent of PAC money ends up in the pockets of incumbents, who also operate
year-around reelection campaigns at taxpayer expense. When members of Congress
in the 1960s voted to greatly enlarge their personal staffs, they argued that
the additional personnel were needed in order to offset the executive branch's
domination of policy information. However, an estimated 50 percent and more of
congressional staff resources are devoted to public relations, constituency
service, and other activities that serve primarily to keep House members in
office., the nonpartisan watchdog group on campaign contributions concurs, stating that:

Political action committees, whoever their sponsor and whatever their agenda,
have one overriding mandate: get the most bang for the buck. To maximize their
dollars, nearly all PACs – particularly among business groups – give the
overwhelming proportion of their campaign dollars to incumbents. With
congressional reelection rates typically in the 90 percent range, from their
point of view that’s a sound investment.

Not only are PACs not the “great equalizer” the Infamous Hyman claims them to be; they are a major factor in making the playing field unequal. Not that Sinclair executives care about fairness--their own corporate PAC gives virtually every penny to Republican candidates. In fact, the "principle" behind Hyman's position on this issue is almost certainly his staunch right-wing dogmatism; with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, anything that helps incumbants helps the GOP.

527 groups are a bit harder to pin down, simply because they are not officially linked to specific candidates. Yet, there’s little reason to think they have a different effect on the electoral process than hard money PACs. Those who invest in candidates want a return on their investment, and the smart money is always on incumbents. In fact, many politicians (including Tom “The Hammer” Delay) use 527s as ghost fundraising organizations for their own PACs. According to the Sourcewatch website (a project sponsored by the Center for Media and Democracy), “politician 527s generally serve as soft money arms of 'leadership PACs,' which incumbents use to aid other candidates and otherwise further their own careers”

There are valid arguments to be made about the regulation of campaign contributions as a possible infringement on First Amendment rights, and groups such as ACT and the ACLU are making them.

There are also a number of valid reasons to be concerned about 527s: the lack of any limits on donations, the lack of disclosure of donors, their use as barely-camouflaged front groups for specific candidates and parties, their ability to throw huge amounts of money into campaigns at the last moment, the continuing premium they put on raising money as a prerequisite for attaining and keeping office, the automatic bias toward incumbents this entails, as well as the larger issue of whether it makes sense to equate writing a huge check with “political speech.”

The country deserves an honest debate about these topics. And while the Infamous Hyman has every right to take part in such a debate, his record of dishonesty on the subject should cause all of us, no matter what side of the issue we might be on, to disregard him entirely.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Cost of the War in Iraq
(JavaScript Error)
To see more details, click here.