As we’ve seen many, many times, Mark Hyman plays fast and loose with the term “journalist,” particularly as it applies to him. When it suits him, he fashions himself as a reporter covering stories; when he’s called on his lack of objectivity and casual relationship with the truth, he says he’s merely a commentator offering a personal point of view.
A couple of recent “Points” illustrate Hyman’s inside/outside relationship with journalism nicely. In a recent editorial, despite not having an iota of training as a journalist, Hyman refers to himself as “one of the nearly two dozen journalists” who attended a November conference sponsored by the International Center for Journalists dealing with Arab/American issues in journalism.
So Hyman dons the mantle of the intrepid reporter in this case (when it builds his ethos with his audience) but refers to “The Point” as only commentary and is referred to by Sinclair as merely an employee offering his opinions. This is just the latest of the almost endless number of examples we’ve seen of this dynamic, but it’s worth noting in that this is (to my knowledge) the first time Hyman has actually used the “J-word” in reference to himself.
But as a journalist (if we concede Hyman’s conceit for the moment), Hyman does a poor job of portraying the main point of the ICJ meeting. Hyman says what he got out of it was that even Arab journalists are shocked at how critical American reporting of Iraq has been.
I’ll give you a moment to finish chuckling at that one.
But the ICJ’s website says that the meeting focused on misperceptions of the Arab world fostered by U.S. media and vice versa. The concern the conference addressed was that the American media has provided a picture of the Mideast based on American prejudices.
To illustrate this point, the ICJ website offers a quotation from one well-known American journalist that illustrates the attitude that contributes to the tendency of journalists to slant the news according to their own nationality:
“I'm going to do my job as a journalist, but (…) I want to be a patriotic American without apology.”
The speaker? The supposedly uber liberal (and therefore, according to Hyman, anti-American) Dan Rather.
Hyman offers no quotations and names no sources for the comments from the Arab journalists who apparently found American coverage of Iraq so dismal.
Perhaps this is because he’s a bad journalist. But it also might be because his underlying assertion lacks compelling evidence.
A Project for Excellence in Journalism study found no clear bias, positive or negative, on broadcast news stories regarding Iraq (although it’s been pointed out that the study had its own internal bias that tended to undercount pro-war stories).
A Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) study showed that most Americans held at least one of three key misperceptions about the situation in Iraq in the aftermath of the invasion (that Iraq and al Qaeda had been collaborators, that WMDs had been found, and that world opinion favored the invasion). More importantly, the study suggests that the media played a key role in shaping and reinforcing these misperceptions (all of which were misperceptions fostered by the Bush administration). Even more intriguingly, the study looked at how likely viewers of different networks were to hold one or more of these misperceptions. The least brainwashed were those who watched or listened to PBS and NPR (with only 23% believing one of the misperceptions). The most deluded? Surprise, surprise: Fox viewers. Fully 80% of the O’Reilly set held at least one of the three misconceptions about the war.
And it’s also a bit hard to accuse the American media of being anti-American when a significant number of the news stories shown on local news were prepared by the government itself. As we’ve learned, the Bush administration actively created faux “news” segments to be run across the country, masquerading as actual journalism.
And for a foreign perspective, let’s go to the director general of the BBC, a newsman from one of our few allies in the Iraq war. In a speech to a journalism symposium in London, Greg Dyke warned that his country’s journalists could not afford to go down the same path as American journalism, where there is an overt “mix[ing] of patriotism and journalism.”
In Hyman’s case, it isn’t simply a mixing of patriotism and journalism; it’s the overt camouflaging of partisan hackery as journalism. Another of his recent editorials offers a nice case study. Despite claiming to be a journalist, Hyman also likes to stand apart from journalists and criticize them. In a recent “Point,” Hyman makes another of his patented apples to oranges comparisons, bemoaning the number of newspaper stories devoted to the execution of Stanley “Tookie” Williams compared to those covering Brian Chontosh, a marine who won the Navy Star in Iraq.
Chontosh, whose award Hyman claims was not covered by several major papers but was in fact covered by the AP, received far less coverage than the “dozens of sympathetic stories” given to Williams. This proves, according to Hyman, that journalists are ignoring “good people doing good deeds in Iraq.”
First of all, Hyman pulls the adjective “sympathetic” out of thin air. He doesn’t provide any evidence that the stories he counted up are “pro-Tookie.” I took a casual glance at a sampling of stories from the newspapers Hyman cited and found that their stories were almost all straight news (e.g., “Schwarzenegger Denies Stay for Williams”), not sympathetic (or demonizing) pieces.
Second, as a “journalist,” Hyman should know that stories revolve around conflict. Chontosh, as noteworthy as his deeds were, is not a figure who inspires conflict. He committed heroic deeds and was rewarded for them. As wonderful as this is, it doesn’t make for an ongoing story. The Williams case involved intense feelings on both sides, an ongoing legal and political battle, and any number of questions central to our social values (e.g., can criminals be redeemed? If so, should they be released? What is the purpose of prison? What purpose does the death penalty deserve? Can good deeds make up for bad deeds done in the past?). Williams got more column inches not because journalists thought he was a better guy than Chontosh, but because he made for a better story (i.e., one with more conflict in it).
But I suspect Hyman knows this. Even someone without a bit of journalistic experience can figure that out. So why make an obviously erroneous and invalid comparison? Because Hyman wants to perpetrate the myth of the out-of-touch, anti-American journalist. In his ongoing attempt to inoculate the war and the president from bad news, he shoots the messenger, claiming that journalists are motivated by politics.
The obvious irony here is that Hyman, the Man Who Would Be a Journalist, is himself a leading practitioner of the sort of faux journalism that substitutes political sloganeering for news and opinion for fact.
And that's The Counterpoint.