Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Hyman v Thomas Jefferson (Our Money's on TJ)

Hyman continues to ignore the pink elephant in the room in his second stab at “Turd Blossomgate” in as many days. Attempting to shift the focus from wrongdoing in the White House to that dastardly media, Hyman wonders rhetorically whether reporters should have the right to keep mum about their sources, even if they might have committed criminal acts.

In making this point, Hyman makes two fantastically ridiculous comments that even he doesn’t believe himself. First, he claims that the media is hypocritical because they (according to Hyman) called the potential leaker a criminal, but are now saying that jailing journalists for revealing sources will intimidate future whistle blowers. Which is it, Mark asks, criminal or whistleblower?

This is yet another case of Hyman insulting his audience’s intelligence. Hyman himself doesn’t actually believe that there’s any actual hypocrisy here, but by making a superficial claim that there is, he thinks he can help perpetuate of the “liberal elite” media.

For the record, though, let’s swat this one out of the park and move on. First,
as we pointed out here in April (when Hyman again accused journalists of being hypocritical about the Plame affair), even the supposedly liberal Washington Post’s coverage was careful not to call the leak a crime. Certainly some left leaning commentators were suggesting a crime had been committed, but if the Post is any indication of the media’s coverage of the issue, it’s been extremely careful and guarded. This doesn’t fit Hyman’s characterization of the world, so it is ignored.

Moreover, no journalist that I’m aware of has implied that Karl Ro…oops…I mean, the “anonymous White House source” is a “whistle blower.” That term simply doesn’t apply (not because of any value judgment, but simply on the basis of what the term “whistle blower” means). What journalists are saying, Mark, is that if reporters are made to reveal their sources in this case, it will have a chilling effect on those who might want to provide confidential information on important issues. The point is that even a bottom dweller like Kar . . . ummm . . .the “anonymous White House source” needs to have his confidentiality assured if the press is to do its job.

Which brings us to the second of Hyman’s inanities. At the close of the commentary, Hyman compares journalists maintaining a source’s confidentiality to a gangster’s refusing to name a source (how and why mobsters would use “sources” isn’t explained). Hyman says that “journalists aren’t gangsters,” but then suggests that his analogy is appropriate anyway.

Again, this is so stupid that even Hyman doesn’t buy it himself. We’ve even
gotten into this subject before with Hyman, but apparently he’s forgotten, so let’s play along. The difference, Mark, is that the job journalists do is not only legal, but an essential public good in a democracy. Sure, some so-called journalists and news organizations do shoddy work (we’re not naming any names), but journalism as a whole is essential for the public good. For that reason, there has been a traditional respect of the journalist/source relationship.

An infinitely more apt analogy than your lame mobster comparison would be to compare this relationship with the doctor/patient, lawyer/client, or the clergy/penitent relationship. You ask whether journalists should be allowed to play by different rules than everyone else. But what about psychiatrists, defense attorneys, and priests? Doing their job well demands that those who come to them be assured of confidentiality, and both the law and society as a whole accept this. Are you saying that priests should be compelled to reveal what is said to them in the confessional, Mark?

If journalists are made to reveal their sources, the freedom of the press will be harmed, and a democracy can not maintain itself without a free press. Great thinkers on democracy, from Thomas Jefferson to Hugo Black, have recognized this and spoken eloquently about it.

It’s also sadly ironic that someone working for a supposedly journalistic enterprise would attack one of the foundations of a free press.

Ironic, but not surprising, given who Mark Hyman works for.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.04

That Hyman . . . He's So Hot Right Now.

I’m not sure which is more disturbing, the fact that in his recent commentary on the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, Mark Hyman ignores the central act of treason in the case in favor of personal attack, or the fact that he takes Owen Wilson’s name in vain.

I love Owen Wilson, but I’m going to go with the treason thing. Discussing the “brouhaha” (one of Hyman’s favorite terms to use in minimizing an issue or controversy) over the demand by a judge that two reporters reveal the source of the Plame leak (a “brouhaha” that has led one reporter to be thrown in jail), Hyman all but ignores the central issue: someone in the White House committed treason.

You’d suppose that someone who wraps himself in the flag as much as Hyman does would be a little concerned if a government official revealed classified information that put an intelligence operative at risk (and thereby put the nation’s security at risk as well). Instead, Hyman spends his time attacking Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson (the guy who revealed documents about Niger’s supposed dealing of yellowcake uranium to Iraq as forgeries), claiming that Owen Wilson would have been more qualified to investigate. Moreover, Hyman says that an exhaustive British report (presumably the Butler Report, although Hyman doesn’t name it) says “their [the British?] yellowcake report was valid.” Finally, Hyman echoes columnist Bob Novak’s insinuation that Wilson was given the assignment to Niger because of his wife’s influence at the CIA.

Hyman’s smokescreen is easily dispersed by a few facts. First, while Wilson was not an authority on Niger or Africa in general, he had significant experience with Iraq, and had received an official commendation from George H.W. Bush for his service. Owen Wilson might be a better candidate to investigate what bark is made of (a little Zoolander reference for you to go along with the title of this particular post), but Wilson was certainly competent to look into affairs involving Iraq.

Secondly, the Butler Report doesn’t negate Wilson’s findings, nor does it say Iraq bought yellowcake uranium from Niger. In fact, the report acknowledges that there were fraudulent documents involved. All it says in terms of mitigating factors is that British intelligence didn’t overtly rely on these forgeries to make their claims about the yellowcake deal and that other evidence suggested this claim was plausible (although, as Joshua Micah Marshall pointed out at the time, even this limited defense of the claim is fishy). Hyman doesn’t refer to the Butler Report by name, probably because he’s afraid viewers might Google it and find out what it actually says about the Niger situation, as well as its scathing indictment of prewar intelligence overall.

Finally, the whole nepotism charge is a red herring. As noted, Wilson was a veteran diplomat who had been praised by Bush I. Moreover, CIA regulations would prohibit Plame from authorizing her own husband’s mission. Finally, even if Plame recommended Wilson, what does it matter? Is this supposed to show that either of them was biased against the Bush administration? Does it somehow call into question the assertions made by Wilson or the facts that back him up? Of course not. Hyman is just playing the same game as Novak and Novak’s source in the White House: using personal smears when the facts are embarrassing.

And speaking of Novak’s source, it wasn’t “the left and its media partners” who asked for an investigation into the leak of Plame’s identity, it was the CIA itself. Why did the agency do this? Because they recognize (as Hyman pretends not to) that the outing of an undercover operative for mere political purposes is a despicable act that endangers the security of all Americans.

“Brouhaha” indeed.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.63

Monday, July 25, 2005

Catching Up Short Takes

Apologies again for the week off. We’re still waiting for our furniture to arrive at our new place, but the computer is here, the modem is up and running, and even though I’m typing while lying on a floor with no desk or chair in sight, it’s time to get back to Counterpointing!

In looking back over the week that was in “The Point,” I wonder about the following things:

Since when does institutionalized group prayer equal “teaching religious tolerance”?
In his commentary on the request of the Anti-Defamation League to have mandatory pre-meal prayers halted at the U.S. Naval Academy, Hyman claims the group prayers teach midshipmen religious tolerance. Hmmmm…I’m just spitballing here, but wouldn’t a better way of teaching the importance of religious tolerance be to not have mandatory moments of group prayer in which students must either participate or else stand out as “different”?

Doesn’t Hyman read “The Counterpoint”? I was a little hurt when Hyman took yet another gratuitous swipe at the ACLU in the above-mentioned commentary on prayer at the Naval Academy, saying the issue “could attract” the ACLU which, Hyman claims, “has a long history of fighting against publicly acceptable religious observance.” I had hoped Hyman read this blog. If he had, he’d know that the
ACLU is a long-standing supporter of individual religious expression. In fact, the ACLU supported a Jewish member of the Air Force in his petition to wear a yarmulke while on duty. The ACLU supports individual religious observance; what they don’t agree with is mandatory participation coerced or fostered by the government. You don’t suppose he might have actually known this and just decided to misrepresent the facts because it suited his purpose, do you?

Why doesn’t Hyman give a shout out to his friends? In
a recent commentary advocating that the Senate adopt more timely disclosure policies when it comes to 527 group funding, Hyman offers a curious definition of what a 527 group is:

527s are groups such as MoveOn.Org and America Coming Together that spent
hundreds of millions of dollars attempting to influence the November

Hyman is a bit schizophrenic when it comes to 527s. Sometimes, he derides attempts to limit them as unfair restrictions on political speech. But when it serves his purpose, as it does here, he paints them much more negatively. In Hyman’s world, this means painting them liberally. Therefore, we have two liberal/progressive groups listed as examples of 527s, and we’re told that they had attempted “to influence the November election.”

As we know, however, one of the leading (and most infamous) of the 527 groups was “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” [sic], a group funded by conservatives to produce ad hominem attacks on John Kerry. More damning is the fact that Hyman and Sinclair Broadcasting were in bed with the Swifties when they ran anti-Kerry propaganda and labeled it “news.” Not only that, but Hyman lied on national television about the connections between the Swifties and the group behind the anti-Kerry hit piece “Stolen Honor” that Sinclair wanted to run as a news program. A few words of wisdom, Mark: it’s difficult to persuasively argue Senators should be more forthcoming with ties to 527s when you refuse to do so yourself.

With friends like these, who needs enemies? Hyman seems to come to the defense of Andy Stern, a labor leader who has run afoul of the AFL/CIO on a number of occasions. Stern is a progressive political activist, so why is Hyman coming to his defense? Is it because Hyman actually cares about the fate of organized labor, or the plight of workers in general? Nope. As we know all too well, Sinclair Broadcasting routinely fires employees, from local reporters to their main political reporter, whenever it feels like it. And, according to the Rolling Stone expose of Sinclair, employees at the company report “a pervasive climate of fear” at the company. Rather, this is just another case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Sinclair and Hyman are anti-worker, so they go after the biggest organization that represents worker concerns: the AFL/CIO. If/when Stern gains more clout, he will undoubtedly come under fire from Hyman as well.

And where is David Smith registered? Hyman spends
a recent commentary talking about the need for a more hard-nosed approach to sex offenders. Hyman would be more credible on this topic if he wasn’t working for a man convicted of a sexual offense himself. As the Rolling Stone piece notes, Sinclair CEO David Smith was arrested for having a “lewd and perverted” sex act performed on him by a prostitute (while driving a Sinclair company car, by the way). Rather than paying his debt to society, Smith worked off his “public service” by having Sinclair employees produce news pieces on the local drug problem. And this is all on top of the fact that Smith’s first foray into the wonderful world of media was as a distributor of bootleg pornography. According to Smith’s partner in this venture, the company even had ties to the mob. Given all this, is Hyman really concerned about sexual crime and violence, or do you think he might just be using this issue to demagogue about “liberal” judges, etc.?

What about the kids? Speaking of demagoguery, we have another excellent example of it in Hyman’s
riveting commentary about a joke calendar that some teachers produced for a retiring colleague at a Massachusetts school. Apparently, the fact that the joke calendar featured teachers clad in towels was a bit too much for the priggish Mr. Hyman. Even though there was no evidence the calendar was made on school time, that it was a private joke among a group of teachers, and that the school superintendent had concluded that no wrongdoing was done by anyone involved, Hyman says the real question should be whether administrators would have turned a blind eye to all this had the calendar featured children instead of teachers.

Whaaaaaaaaaa????????? Having followed Hyman’s shenanigans for some time, I’ve developed fairly good legs for making logical leaps, but this is one is beyond me. How on earth the question of how administrators would react to children in such a calendar is relevant to how they should react to an inside joke among adults is beyond comprehension. After just having done a commentary on the evils of sexual predators who target children, you’d think that Hyman would have a clearer sense of how and why standards of conduct regarding anything sexual are different when it comes to kids than they are with adults. Is Hyman saying such differences don’t exist? Is he saying that adults (or at least those who have jobs involving children) should not participate in any activity, even in private, that they would not feel comfortable having children do?

Obviously not, but that still leaves the question of why this is a commentary-worthy issue. The answer to this question is one that touches on a recurring theme in this collection of commentaries, and Hyman’s modus operandi generally. There are certain groups of people whom Hyman feels it’s good to say negative things about on general principle. It doesn’t matter what the context is, if the argument he makes is valid, or if there’s any immediate short term political payoff. As doltish as he often is, Hyman does have a big-picture mentality that is effective. He knows that his privileged position as a talking head on millions of TV screens every night allows him to plant rhetorical seeds that will mature down the line. What Hyman often does is simply juxtapose those he feels are worthy of condemnation with negative epithets and descriptions. Even if these don’t have an obvious tie to a particular political issue, the constant drumbeat of negativity, when associated with chosen political targets, can get an audience to begin to march in lock step.

So, in this recent collection of commentaries, we have negative comments about the ACLU (never mind that they aren’t involved in the Naval Academy controversy), and Americans Coming Together (never mind that Hyman supports 527s and that Sinclair has ties to them), members of Congress (never mind that these members are predominantly Republican), the AFL/CIO (never mind that it comes in the context of supporting a progressive labor activist), teachers (never mind that it’s only a handful of teachers at a single school who did nothing wrong), and Madeleine Albright (never mind that she hasn’t been Secretary of State for years; her connection with the Clintons makes her an enemy).

Hyman detests the ACLU, progressive groups, pro-worker organizations, educators, the Clintons, and government in general ( or at least he feels it’s in his political interest to rail against politicians; as we know, conservatives aren’t against big government—they just want to pose as anti-government to foster a pseudo-populist front that allows them to win support). None of the commentaries he gives necessarily have to make sense on their own or be ideologically coherent. It’s enough to link enough “devil terms” with groups who are seen as enemies. Hear enough accusations about teachers run wild and you become more susceptible to arguments that work against educators in general. If you hear “ACLU” linked with “anti-religion” often enough, it’s more likely that you’ll buy into the general notion that the group is on the lunatic fringe. Hear enough stories in which the AFL/CIO plays the heavy, and you’re more likely to be skeptical of labor leaders and pro-worker movements in general. Hear former Clinton associates called elitist and hypocritical, and you’ve become softened up for arguments that say that the Clintons themselves (and perhaps all prominent Democrats) have these traits.

This is why it’s important to keep busting Hyman (pardon the pun, and a tip of the cap to Counterpoint regular Mike B in S.C.) on his underlying agenda and on the larger issue of media ownership. It’s not enough to simply note that his commentaries are laughably sophomoric. Even in the most idiotic of “Point’s”, there’s a larger agenda at work. And as much fun as it is to mock Hyman’s argumentative skills (or lack thereof) and to point out his factual misstatements, we need to also remind ourselves that the agenda being pushed by Sinclair on a nightly basis does not necessarily depend on sound arguments and factual statements. If it did, Hyman would have been out of a job long ago. The true weapon isn’t Hyman’s intellect (would that it were!), but rather the ability of Sinclair to put on this guy on a nightly basis to repeat monotonous mantras whose purpose is not to enlighten or enrich the public forum, but to slowly and steadily influence public thought in a disengenuous way.

Supposedly, if someone hears music (particularly with a throbbing drumbeat), the body’s systems react, even without the listener being aware of it. One starts walking in time to the music. Breathing starts to mirror the tempo. Even the heart beats in time with the rhythm. This is the effect Sinclair is looking to have with Hyman. The music might be discordant, and the musician himself completely incompetent, but sheer repetition has its own seductive qualities that are hard to deny or resist.

Let us play a different tune.

And that’s a catch-up edition of The Counterpoint. Back to regular posts tomorrow, along with the return of the Hyman Index!

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Hi all--

Sorry for being off the job for a while--my wife and I are in the process of moving, and we've been without internet access for a number of days. We just got hooked up at our new place, and The Counterpoint will again be operational within a day or two. Thanks for hanging in there!


Thursday, July 14, 2005

Hyman v. the Public II

A recurring theme of this blog is that it’s not so much Mark Hyman’s positions on the issues that are offensive as much as it is the way he expresses them and the fact that does so on public airwaves that are a local public resource.

Kelo v. New London trilogy offers perhaps the best case study of this yet. As I noted in the previous post, a reasonable person can certainly disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling on the use of private lands for economic development. I have my own concerns about the possible fallout of the decision.

So, I don’t take issue with Hyman’s position, but I take exception at the crass way he approaches an important and complex issue. Rather than acknowledging the competing values involved in the debate (the rights of individual property owners vs. the rights of the community), Hyman caricatures the issue into a melodramatic farce with big bad bureaucrats slavering over the prospects of “tax revenue” (Hyman fails to note that the reason governments like tax revenue is that it can be invested in making the community better, but I digress.)

Why demagogue this issue? Hyman would have you believe it’s because he’s looking out for the working class family living in a modest home, a single mom in a trailer park, or a small businessman. Of course, we’ve seen that in a host of ways, Hyman holds such people in contempt by hypocritically advocating policies that help the wealthiest among us (e.g., tax breaks for the wealthy, cuts in social programs, and preemptive wars in which working class kids get killed) under the guise of pseudo-populism.

The last time Hyman devoted so many “Points” in a row to the same topic was when he spent a week slandering John Kerry in September of 2004, so you know that Hyman must feel invested in this topic on some deep level to yammer on for so long on a topic. Given the recent announcement by Sandra Day O’Connor that she’s stepping down from the Supreme Court, and the speculation that William Rhenquist will follow suit, it didn’t come as much of a surprise that Hyman used the Kelo v. New London case as an excuse to do some advance lobbying for a die-hard conservative to be nominated to the Court.

What did come as a surprise, even to us veteran “Point”-watchers, was the screeching, foaming diatribe that ended the series.

The first two installments of Hyman’s Kelo commentaries were fairly repetitive and focused on presenting the issues involved from a single point of view, suggesting that there wasn’t a reasonable argument to be made on the other side. This leads to an argument that manages to be at the same time both weak and manipulative, but not in any way that we haven’t seen many, many times before from Hyman. For example, there are a mere six overt uses of propagandistic appeals in the first commentary (yielding a Hyman Index of 2.51). This builds slightly in the second commentary to eight (which leads to a robust 3.98 Hyman Index).

This slight rise in propagandistic appeals is paralleled by a growing ideological bent in the commentaries. At the end of the first commentary, Hyman promises to tell us next time “who on the Supreme Court voted against your private property rights.” In the second, Hyman follows through by pointedly labeling the dissenting votes of as coming from “the three most conservative jurists,” as well as “swing voter” O’Connor. As for those who were in the majority, he labels Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer as the “most liberal justices” and Kennedy as “moderate.” Never mind that seven of the nine justices were appointed by Republicans and that almost all of the “liberal” judges on this court would be considered moderates in most judicial contexts. Those facts don’t suit Hyman’s purpose.

Which is, not surprisingly, to savage liberalism in general. At the end of the second commentary, Hyman says that in the next “Point,” he will “talk about the ideologies behind this outrageous court decision.”

Political ideology is an interesting point when talking about the Kelo v. New London case. After all, here you have conservatives complaining that the federal government isn’t actively intervening enough in the actions of local governments and businesses. This apparent ideological inconsistency should serve as an indicator that the issues involved in the case are more complex and subtle than meets the eye.

But we don’t go to Hyman for complexity and subtlety. And while it was entirely predictable that
his final commentary on the matter would be a paean to the wonders of conservatism and the need for right wing justices on the Supreme Court, it’s actually surprising how ludicrously over the top Hyman’s climactic rant is.

In an orgy of propaganda (“propagasm”?), Hyman uses at least 14 separate propagandistic appeals. Plain folks appeals are entwined with fear mongering which is laid on unwarranted extrapolation, etc., etc., etc. Hyman’s spewings garner him a 6.39 on the Hyman Index, a record that will likely stand for some time.

We’re told that five Supreme Court justices ruled “against the people” and “for wealthy developers.” The battle is a clash of “adherence to the Constitution vs. judicial activism. Conservative principles over liberal ideologies” [emphasis mine].

And what is an example of a fundamental Conservative belief? That the individual has “certain inalienable rights.” Apparently conservatives have laid claim to sole possession of the Declaration of Independence as well as the stars and stripes.

You liberals might not have gotten the memo, but your “ideology” is that “individual rights can be trampled in favor of the collective good” and that this is “the same principle behind the failed Socialist and Communist forms of government.”

That’s bad enough, but liberal beliefs are also “a cancer on the American way of life.”

The entire commentary must truly be seen to be believed. It would read like a comic parody of Hymanesque rhetoric if it hadn’t come from the man himself.

Even then, it might be easy to poke fun at the spectacle Hyman makes of himself in this piece, except for the fact that it’s not simply his own public image he’s sullying. This is simply a particularly egregious example of what is most disturbing about “The Point” for anyone, regardless of your opinion on Kelo v New London, who you think should be on the Supreme Court, or your political alignment. Every time a public figure such as Hyman chooses to use such venomous rhetoric and abandons any pretext of rationality, it encourages the acceptance and practice of amoral public discourse—speech in which there are no rules or standards of ethics or judgment, where “truth” is simply whatever is yelled the loudest, and the object of discussion is to befuddle and manipulate rather than create understanding.

As much as Hyman frames the battle for the public sphere as that between liberals and conservatives, it isn’t. People of all political stripes can disagree emphatically on any number of issues, but still agree on the proper way to carry out the basic give and take of civic life. No, the true divide is between those of us, both red and blue, who think public debate should be carried out vigorously but with a sense of integrity and intellectual honesty, and those who, either by choice or lack of skills, turn it into a destructive brawl.

That is what Hyman is doing, both in this particular commentary and in his entire rotten oeuvre. More than any four letter word that might escape the lips of a shock jock or drunken rock star, it’s an obscenity—one that we shouldn’t suffer to allow on our publicly owned airwaves.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman v. The Public I

Apologies for the delay in responding to the latest series of Hyman commentaries on the Kelo v. New London case. When it became clear that Hyman was cobbling together a series of “Points” into one extended riff, I thought I’d wait until he finished and respond to the entirety in one go.

After the most recent installment, however, I think we need to look at this from two different perspectives and focus on each of these in turn.

In this post, let’s take a look at the smaller of the two issues: the case itself and the Supreme Court’s decision. In the following post, we’ll look at the “meta” issue of how Hyman makes his argument.

From the outset, I want to make clear that I don’t necessarily disagree with Hyman’s claim that the Supreme Court ruling was in error and might infringe on the property rights of some individuals. Indeed, a number of progressive and liberal voices have decried the Supreme Court’s decision for precisely the reason Hyman claims he does: it will target homeowners who are disproportionately poor.

But while there’s certainly an argument to be made that the Supreme Court’s decision is in error, there’s also a reasonable argument to be made that it is the right decision. Hyman (and others who disagree with the court) frame the issue by putting their audience in the place of the homeowners who are told they have to move out of their house to make way for a large company to build a store, factory, etc. That’s fine, but to understand the issue fully, you have to consider the other side as well.

Imagine that you are living in one of the many towns and small cities (particularly in New England) that have fallen on economic hard times. Built around industries that have taken major hits in the last twenty years, such as textiles and steel manufacturing, these once vibrant communities are now empty husks, with major sections of their downtown areas abandoned or dilapidated.

Now, let’s say that Pfizer or some other company comes knocking and wants to invest in your town by building a brand new facility in the heart of your city. This promises to provide desperately needed jobs, as well as bringing money to the downtown area. The influx of cash, both from the additional jobs and the tax revenues, holds out the promise of a revitalized town center. The company wants to come. The local government, made up of members of this community, have examined the plan and concluded that it will bring new life to the community.

The problem is that one or two dozen people live in the area where the new facility will be built. They must be relocated for the deal to go through, but they (understandably) aren’t anxious to move. So the question is this: should this small group of citizens be allowed to stand in the way of a project that has been vetted by the representative government of their community and which will improve the lives of the town as a whole, or do the rights of individuals always trump those of the collective community?

In framing the question this way, I don’t mean to suggest that the Supreme Court was necessarily correct in its ruling. I simply point out that there’s a reasonable argument on the other side. Hyman claims the benefits of the civic improvement plan involved in this case will go only to big corporations and “government bureaucrats” ( you know—all those filthy rich city council members you see walking around the average American town). He also says that the court will help large corporations at the expense of small businesses (never mind that Hyman routinely supports Wal-Mart, a huge corporation that has an entire business model based on driving out Mom-and-Pop stores).

But one of the draws of such deals between towns and companies is precisely the fact that it will inject money into the poorest sections of town, bring job opportunities for the unemployed, and improve the livability of towns as a whole. While those who suffer displacement will likely be working class or poor, so will those who will get many of the benefits.

Balancing the rights of the individual with those of the community is a tricky business in a democracy. Even Hyman would agree that there should be some restrictions on the rights of private property owners. Unless he’s comfortable with the idea of his neighbor setting up a hog processing plant next door or with an entrepreneur opening an adult book shop across the street from his kids’ school, Hyman would grant that there must be reasonable limitations on what an individual can do with property in order to make the larger community a more livable place.

Of course, actually taking away someone’s house and forcing them to move is a far cry from simply not allowing them to slaughter livestock in their backyard. Even if such forcible evictions are ruled legal, it must be with the caveat that the property owners be paid a fair market price for their property, along with expenses to cover moving and inconvenience. Often, this doesn’t happen.

But to pretend that the issue is not complex is to do a disservice to the public debate. Hyman shrilly claims that this is a case of the “government taking away your property” without acknowledging the rights of a community to come to decisions through democratic government that it feels will be a boon to everyone who lives there.

In this case, a good argument can be made that the Supreme Court erred too far on the side of communal rights vs. individual rights, but Hyman doesn’t make it. He ignores the subtlety of the issue in order to stroke his own ego (e.g., his claim that he’s been the only national commentator to cover this issue) and to demagogue it for political purposes. In doing so, Hyman abuses his access to the public forum.

More on that in the following post.

And that’s The Counterpoint

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Hyman's Commentary on Pew Stinks

You might remember that a few months ago, Mark Hyman selectively quoted from a study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism to suggest that local news (Sinclair Broadcast Group’s bread and butter) was the most trusted form of news, while types of media were viewed critically (if at all).

latest is a follow up of sorts to this earlier commentary, and like most sequels, it’s thinner and duller than the original, but it’s worth a comment or two.

Citing a poll by the
Pew Research Center, Hyman correctly notes that faith in all forms of news media has declined recently. However, Hyman selectively cites numbers that don’t tell the whole story. For example, Hyman talks about the “steady decline” of favorability ratings for the media, but neglects to mention that daily newspapers, local TV news, cable news, and network TV news all have favorability ratings between 75 and 80 percent. Yes, they’ve declined since 2001, but only by a few points, and the overwhelming majority of Americans still give all forms of news media a favorable rating.

As a side note, Hyman points out that major national newspapers have taken the biggest hit in favorability (74% to 61% in the last four years), but neglects to mention that the second biggest hit came for cable news, which suffered a nine point drop (88% to 79%) in the same period. The interesting thing about this is that the 88% rating in 2001 only applied to MSNBC and CNN. In 2005, the folks at Pew added Fox News to the mix, and the result was a precipitous dip in favorability. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Hyman also plays with the numbers when he says that “a growing number [of Americans] question the patriotism and fairness of the media.” First off, it’s unclear to me why it’s important for media to be “patriotic.” Most Americans seem to agree. According to the Pew study itself, more than two-thirds of Americans says news coverage of the “war on terror” should be neutral, with only 24% saying it would be better if news outlets took a pro-American stance. Given the fact that Sinclair is the company that forced their on-air talent to vow support for George W. Bush after September 11, it’s not surprising that Hyman might complain that the media aren’t being biased enough.

Moreover, Hyman’s statement only applies if one starts counting the trend in popular opinion since the fall of 2001. In fact, the Pew study charts attitudes about the media’s patriotism and fairness going back to February, 1999. At that time, more people felt the press were too critical of America (42%) and hurt democracy (38%) than do now (40% and 33% respectively). Why the negative attitudes six and a half years ago? That was when the supposedly liberal press was compulsively reporting on every aspect of the Clinton impeachment trial.

And despite Hyman’s recurring assertions that the media is biased against the Bush administration, the Pew study shows that far more people believe press criticism of political leaders is a positive way of keeping them on the straight and narrow (60%) than think that criticism keeps leaders from doing their job (28%). The gap between these two numbers is as large as it’s been in about 15 years. The narrowest it has been in that period (i.e., when the number of people thinking press criticism of leaders was hurtful most closely approached the number who thought it was helpful) again came during the Lewinsky affair (55% help, 39% hurt).

Hyman also claims the Pew study shows how respected local news is. It’s true that local news compares favorably in general with other forms of news media (although it was ranked below network TV news when it came to “believability”). The interesting thing about this in the context of Hyman’s commentary, however, is why people like local news. When asked, people said the things they liked best about local TV news were that it focused on their local area, it kept them connected to their community, and it provides up-to-date information.

If you know anything about Sinclair Broadcasting, you know that their business model is based on undermining each of these advantages. Sinclair stations often rely almost solely on canned news feeds from the Baltimore headquarters, not truly local news. Even at those stations that still have a skeleton reporting staff, little time is allowed to adequately cover stories of community interest, and we certainly know that no editorial time is allowed for local voices to be heard. And given that “The Point” editorials are taped up to a week in advance, there’s not much to be said for the timeliness of Hyman’s commentaries. The “hometown factor” cited as the most important draw for local news by the Pew study is exactly what Sinclair is eradicating from the airwaves.

None of this is meant as a defense of the current news media. There’s plenty to be upset about in terms of the quality of print, broadcast, and cable journalism. What’s problematic is not that Hyman is criticizing the media, but that he’s doing so in a way that distorts the facts to feather his own nest. Continuing to perpetuate the myth of liberal bias in the corporate media and gushing about how respected local news is doesn’t serve the public’s interest; it serves Hyman’s.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 1.40

Monday, July 11, 2005


In previous installments of “The Counterpoint,” we’ve seen examples of how Mark Hyman often uses propaganda techniques to make his arguments. Given the central role these tactics play in his rhetoric, I thought it helpful to come up with a way of A) pointing out that nearly every edition of “The Point” makes use of standard propaganda techniques, and B) comparing individual “Point” commentaries to each other in terms of how much they rely on propaganda techniques.

The result is what I’m calling the Hyman Index.

The basic formula is to count up the number of statements in a given commentary that are examples of propaganda techniques (P) and divide this number by the length of the commentary in words (W), not counting the obligatory signoff (i.e., “And that’s The Point.”). The result is then multiplied by 100 and rounded to the nearest one hundredth (P/W * 100).

This allows us to get a fairly objective read on how much of the content of a given commentary is devoted to propagandistic appeals.

The major variable is what one counts as propaganda techniques. There are any number of lists of emotional appeals and examples of misleading or faulty logic that we could use. I think the best approach, however, is to keep things simple. In my count, I’m using the list drawn up in the 1930s by the Institute
of Propaganda Analysis. Their list of different types of appeals is fairly short, and some might argue that the categories are overly broad as a result. However, I think using an abbreviated list will make things easier to understand and will allow us to more easily discriminate between persuasive appeals and true propaganda (some lists of propaganda techniques are so vast and detailed that almost any statement more subjective than a mathematical equation would fall under one of the categories).

The IPA list is as follows:

Word games

Glittering generalities

False connections

Special Appeals
Plain Folks

Logical fallacies
Bad Logic or propaganda?
Unwarranted extrapolation

For our purposes, logical fallacies will include fairly standard examples of bad logic, such as post hoc reasoning and “slippery slope” arguments.

So let’s see the Hyman index in action! Here’s the text of a “Point” commentary from a week ago that I didn’t comment on at the time because it was taken off of the Newscentral website, then suddenly reappeared. I’ve placed the names of propaganda appeals in brackets after the relevant statements. I’ve tried to be as generous as I can with Hyman’s rhetoric; you might feel I’m being a bit stingy in what I’m labeling propaganda. You might also not agree with my particular label, given that the IPA categories are broad enough that there is bound to be some overlap. However, I’ve tried to be as reasonable and careful as I can in making my calls.

Earlier this month the Portland, Maine School Committee adopted a policy that advocates discrimination. [NAME CALLING]

The committee voted 6-3 to direct its lawyer to rewrite the policy regarding the distribution of fliers to students. Their intention is to ban Boy Scouts literature. The reason? The Boy Scouts do not allow openly homosexual Scouts or leaders. The city of Portland has an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

You know those nasty old Boy Scouts. They've been the scourge of American society for years. [PLAIN FOLKS]

So what's next? Banning evangelical Christian, Catholic and Muslim students because of their religious views on sexual orientation? Will servicemen and women family members be banned from attending school functions because of the military's policies? [UNWARRANTED EXTRAPOLATION]

The city's website proudly displays a colorful boast that "Portland [is] where diversity works." But this is code meaning that only a narrow set of views are accepted. [NAME CALLING] Fail to embrace them and you are banished forever. [FEAR]
You don't have to agree with the Boy Scouts' policy on the exclusion of openly homosexual Scouts and leaders to recognize theirs is but one viewpoint. In other words diversity. [BANDWAGON]

The irony is that tailoring a policy to ban certain groups - groups such as the Boy Scouts that have accomplished more good than most - is just an officially sanctioned form of discrimination. [NAME CALLING]

You can share your views with the Portland School Committee at (207) 874-8100 or at

Dividing the number of propagandistic appeals Hyman uses (7) by the number of total words in the commentary, multiplying by 100, and then rounding to the hundredths place, we get a Hyman Index of 2.98. After doing a number of test runs on other editions of the commentary, this seems to be about average (the range being from about 1.5 to 4.5).

I’ll include a Hyman Index, whenever applicable, to future Counterpoints and comment on them when they reveal something particularly interesting.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Hyman's Sails Are Limp

Hyman talks about the upcoming “summer doldrums,” but he’s already dead in the water. Devoting an episode of “The Point” to telling us what we will be wondering about in the future, Hyman proceeds to wonder about these topics right now. (No one accused Hyman of making much sense).

His content-free musings consist of unsupported ad hominem attacks on Michael Jackson (admittedly an easy target), “Runaway Bride” Jennifer Wilbanks, Howard Dean, Natalee Holloway’s parents, and George Soros (whom Hyman describes in an adjectival frenzy as “the leading investor of the extreme fringe element of the far left wing” [italics added]; note to self: send Hyman a copy of Strunk & White’s
Elements of Style).

But Hyman’s vacuousness does not force us to follow suit. Instead, we offer some meatier topics to ponder:

How long will it be before George Bush claims the London bombings are proof of the need to fight the war on terror . . . in Iraq?

How soon will right wing talking heads (including Hyman) begin trying to use the tragedy in London to bolster the sagging popularity of Bush foreign policy?

How often will Bush mention 9/11 in his next public speech about Iraq, despite the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with it?

When will we find those darn WMDs, anyway?

Will the mainstream press allow the Bush administration and its handmaidens among the punditocracy get away with suggesting the war in Iraq is making us safer from terrorist attacks when the CIA itself states that Iraq has become the premier training ground for terrorists since the U.S. invasion?

Why didn’t Bush actually establish democracy in Afghanistan rather than letting it slide back into chaos as he pursued a policy of preemptive war in Iraq?

How much good would have been done if one tenth of the money we’ve poured into the occupation of Iraq had been invested in a complete retooling of our intelligence program so that it could better monitor, infiltrate, and stop al-Qaeda?

If invading Iraq was supposed to make us safer, why are
there more terrorist attacks now?

When will George Bush’s daughters volunteer for military service?

Would more than 50 Londoners, 1700 U.S. soldiers, and 20,000 Iraqis be dead today if the Bush administration had focused on al-Qaeda rather than pursuing an unpopular, ill-planned, and unethical preemptive war?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


Hyman loves to try to portray progressives and liberals as hypocrites by accusing them of participating in exactly the same sorts of narrow-mindedness they criticize in conservatism. Hyman’s latest attempt is his explanation of what he terms “euphemisms” of the left. Through his bizarre definitions, he charges liberals with being racist, anti-Semitic, and intolerant. (Paging Dr. Freud . . . Doctor Sigmund Freud . . . A severe case of projection in Baltimore, Maryland.)

Hyman offers no examples of anyone using these terms in the euphemistic way he claims they are. I can’t say that I know anyone who defines these words the way Hyman does, either. I won’t speak for others, but below I’ve described what I mean when I use the phrases Hyman defines. Afterward, I offer a list of terms culled from nearly a year of Counterpoints that are tried and true examples of Hymanspeak and offered translations for you English speakers out there.

Affirmative Action: policies that attempt to provide a level playing field by counteracting hundreds of years of discrimination that artificially kept talented and motivated people from realizing their full potential.

Neoconservative: a politician, government official, or public intellectual who believes, among other things, that democracy is best spread through unilateral military action and that the U.S. should ignore its commitments to other countries when they seem bothersome.

Diversity: The range of experiences, beliefs, and personal backgrounds that has led the United States to be the most culturally vibrant nation in the world.

Tolerance: Accepting the right of others to be who they are, including the right to be bigoted; does not include the right to openly discriminate against others on the basis of that bigotry.

Undocumented immigrants: people who entered the U.S. illegally, but who are not themselves “illegal.” Actions can be illegal; individual people are not.

Patriotism: love of the ideals and people of your nation without respect to specific policies of those currently in power; OR willingness to speak and act in the best interest of your country even if it contradicts the positions of those in power

Hymanspeak to English Translations

War on Terror: Preemptive invasion of Iraq (which, by the way, had no ties to 9/11, Osama bin Laden, or al-Qaeda).

Non-partisan: conservative

Partisan: reporting facts that conservatives would rather you not know about

Flat tax: work tax in which working people bear the greatest tax burden

Sales tax: consumption tax in which working people bear the greatest tax burden

Tax simplification: making the tax system more regressive
Middle class: those making over $100,000

Immigrant: brown person

Terrorist: brown person with a gun (or, sometimes, just a brown person)

Liberal: anyone who disagrees with Hyman

“Hate America crowd”: anyone who disagrees with Hyman

“The Angry left”: anyone who disagrees with Hyman

Communists: anyone who disagrees with Hyman

Whack-jobs: anyone who disagrees with Hyman
Elite: People with education and/or money who aren't conservatives.

Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys: The people who saved our bacon in the American Revolution and gave us the Statue of Liberty.

Liberal media: the corporate owned media controlled by a handful of giant conglomerations and run by those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and pursuing a conservative economic agenda.

Local news: Prefabricated news from Sinclair headquarters in Baltimore

News: Partisan propaganda (when applied to “Stolen Honor”)

Disgruntled Employee: Principled employee (Jon Lieberman)

Tolerance: allowing the majority’s opinions and values to trump those of the minority

Supporting the troops: supporting the Bush administration, even when its actions harm the soldiers and help the terrorists

Supporting the terrorists: criticizing the Bush administration, even when its actions hurt the soldiers and help the terrorists; OR reporting news stories that suggest anything is less than hunky-dory in Iraq

Dishonoring the troops: Honoring the troops

Koppelgate: Sinclairgate—Sinclair’s decision to order its ABC stations not to run the episode of Nightline honoring troops that died in Iraq which prompted condemnation from Democrats, Republicans, families of the troops, Sinclair’s own viewers, etc.

Public Interest: the interest of the Bush administration and/or Sinclair Broadcasting

Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich: longtime friend to Sinclair Broadcasting, former employer of Mark Hyman when he was a Representative, receiver of illegal campaign contributions from Sinclair Broadcasting executives, and unethical lobbyist for deregulation of broadcast ownership rules that benefit Sinclair.

Academia: college teachers of courses in the humanities and some social sciences (although not the hard sciences, economics, business, engineering, etc.) who teach critical thinking skills, present students with new ideas, and prompt them to self-reflection

Fringe thinker: yours truly, along with anyone else who disagrees with Hyman

And that's The Counterpoint.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Hyman's Late Hit

Mark Hyman often uses ad hominem attacks as a means to an end. In his commentary about Mark “Deep Throat” Felt, however, personal attack is an end in itself.

More than a month after Vanity Fair revealed the identity of Bob Woodward’s clandestine source, Hyman delivers a late hit as he piles on the 91-year-old man, adding his own weight to that of former Nixon White House staff (e.g., Chuck Colson) and other Nixon apologists who have gone after Felt.

Hyman claims metaphysical certainty about what motivated Felt, saying that “the facts now before us” show that Felt acted out of anger and vindictiveness, not out of patriotism or a sense of conscience. This leads Hyman to pronounce that “Felt was just as bad as those he had sought to destroy” and “is a smaller than life man.”

You don’t need to think Felt is Norma Rae, Karen Silkwood, and Sinclair Lewis rolled into one uber whistleblower to see how twisted Hyman’s thinking is. I don’t think Felt is a particularly heroic man, but he did the right thing. Felt might not be larger than life, but to call him smaller than life and equate him with those who sought to pervert justice is logically and ethically indefensible.

For starters, Felt’s motives are not nearly as clear cut as Hyman would have them. True, Felt was angry at Nixon for naming L. Patrick Gray as interim head of the FBI after J. Edgar Hoover’s death, but to write off Felt’s frustration as merely personal doesn’t do justice to either Felt or history. The unprecedented appointment of a non-FBI man to head the agency was part of a larger effort by Nixon to get the agency to do his bidding. Chief among his goals was to get the FBI off of the Watergate investigation. Felt, along with other members of the FBI, were understandably upset and concerned about Nixon’s manipulation of a federal agency to which they had devoted their lives. Even if Felt was motivated by nothing other than internal FBI politics, the fact remains that he had more than his own personal advancement to motivate him.

But a larger point is to what extent should someone’s motivation color our judgment of their actions. The implication of Hyman’s argument is that it’s not simply enough to do the right thing—our motives for doing it must also be pure as the driven snow. If self interest plays a role in our decision, then we are (according to Hyman’s reckoning) “smaller than life.”

I wonder how many of us could defend even our noblest actions against this standard. Is the soldier who enlisted not because of a burning desire to serve his country but because he wanted to earn money for college “smaller than life” despite the fact that he’s on the ground in Iraq? What about the college student who volunteers at the burn unit of the local hospital, at least in part because she thinks the experience will help make her a more desirable applicant to medical school?

I don’t think we want to live in a world in which admirable actions are completely discounted if they aren’t purely altruistic. If Felt is tarred and feathered today because he lacked the proper saintliness, who will be willing to come forward tomorrow to testify to abuse of power in the highest places?

And if Felt was motivated by nothing other than self-interest, what are we to make of his long silence? Wouldn’t a man motivated by vengeance have lorded it over those he helped bring down? Wouldn’t he have cashed in long ago? Whatever evidence their might be that self-interest played a role in Felt’s decision, there’s also ample evidence that motivations beyond this were also involved.

True, Felt did some less than ethical things in the FBI (although Hyman fails to mention that the charges against Felt had to do with activities against leftist groups and that these actions were directed by the Nixon White House). And his motivations were probably a combination of personal, professional, and patriotic (unlike Hyman, I don’t claim to be able to judge Felt’s heart from afar to the extent that I can state his reasons for acting with certainty).

But the fact that Felt did the right thing (and that Nixon and his cohort of felons did the wrong thing) shouldn’t be any less clear for all that. Felt isn’t larger or smaller than life. He, like the rest of us, is a life-sized man, with everything that entails. And like the rest of us, he tried to judge the right thing to do from his limited perspective clouded by emotions and ego. Fortunately for us, he did the right thing 30 years ago. If we assume that good can only be done by plaster saints and give up on the idea that a sinner can be touched by grace (sometimes even in spite of himself), we will live in a bleak and gray world.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Friday, July 01, 2005

No Person Is Illegal

"You shall know that no one is illegal. It is a contradiction in
itself. People can be beautiful or even more beautiful. They may be just or
unjust. But illegal? How can someone be illegal?" -- Elie Wiesel

I’m sick of Mark Hyman’s commentaries on immigration. I’m sick not simply because it’s a topic he returns to with disturbing frequency; I’m sick because I feel I need to take a shower after I read his comments. I’m sick of the race baiting. I’m sick of the attempts to scare his audience. I’m sick of being exposed to the contempt Hyman has for his fellow human beings.

As we’ve noted many, many times in the past, immigration is one of the only issues on which Hyman directly attacks the Bush administration. For him, Bush is not tough enough. As we’ve also noted many, many times, Hyman’s feelings on this issue are typified by his infamous equation of undocumented immigrants to al-Qaeda terrorists.

Hyman’s latest comments draw on statistics from a recent study done by the Pew Hispanic Center, which offers estimates of the number of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, from Mexico in the U.S. currently, and projects the future population of immigrants based on current trends.

After pointing out that more immigrants from Mexico are undocumented than are documented, Hyman drops what he assumes is a bombshell statistic: 1 in 7 people born in Mexico will be living in the U.S. by the year 2050. He even makes a production out of repeating this statistic for his audience to let it sink in.

The funny thing is that nowhere in the commentary does Hyman say why this is bad. There isn’t any claim made that this influx of immigrants will bankrupt the country, drive up taxes, increase poverty, or make for scarcer jobs. It’s simply laid out as something so obviously awful that no explanation is needed.

This is particularly grotesque given the way Hyman vacillates between talking about undocumented immigrants and documented immigrants. It’s clear that Hyman’s problem isn’t with undocumented immigrants; it’s with immigrants, period (at least those from Mexico). His bombshell stat doesn’t describe the number of undocumented immigrants coming to America; it’s simply a statement about the number of native Mexicans living in the U.S.

This is the definition of xenophobia. It’s not that these immigrants will cause a specific problem in the United States. To the contrary, the study Hyman cites for his numbers on undocumented immigration points out that the employment rate for Hispanic immigrants is high (92% of undocumented male immigrants are part of the workforce). A quarter of undocumented immigrants have at least some college education. Most have at least a high school education and the majority have families. In fact, undocumented immigrants come to the U.S. because they want to work hard and provide a better life for their children. Conservatives once touted these as admirable qualities that we needed more of in society (and
some still do.)

Hyman, however, chooses to leave these stereotype-busting facts out of his commentary because, to him, they don’t matter. The problem is not what these immigrants do or how they get here; it’s simply that they are here, in “our” country.

Hyman ends his screed with the rhetorical question, “Is it any wonder why the group of citizens who call themselves Minutemen and who are patrolling our southern borders are doing what they are doing?”

Again, Hyman asks the question as if the answer is obvious, and for a certain segment of his audience, it probably is. The answer is based on prejudices so vile that Hyman can’t bring himself to lay them out in the light of day, so he simply suggests them passively, inviting us as his audience to fill in the void with what the worst angels of our nature whisper in our ear.

Let us listen to our better angels.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Cost of the War in Iraq
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