Monday, January 09, 2006

The Man Who Would Be Journalist

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.

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.


At 8:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apologists for Mr. Hyman will say that he's just doing his job of forwarding the opinions of right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group.

But that doesn't explain the personal attacks against various perceived "enemies" (including Mr. Remington). That propensity for below-the-belt blows, cuts away at the whole pretense of journalism or honest opinion-stating.

The Right likes to talk about morals, respect, and proper public behavior. Where are its critics of gutter journalism practiced by documented liars such as Hyman, O'Reilly, or Limbaugh?

At 9:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hyman's work is never complicated with conflicts over journalistic ethics, he doesn't have any. He never asks himself the question, "What Would Journalists Do?" His job, along with all of his Neo-Fascist ilk, is simply to hammer the nails, skew the view, pump up some rhetoric and point the finger of blame at the Liberals. Kind of funny, the way he asks for praise for a little-known recipient of the Navy Star, while heaping condenmnation and degradation on a well-known recipient of the Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. You have to wonder how he sleeps at night. Maybe there would have been more press coverage for the Navy Star recipient had he been facing execution by the state.

At 11:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess one of the more troubling thoughts about Hyman and other propagandists occurs when you take a step back and ask: where does our country go from here?

So the very wealthy buy stations or cable franchises and propagate their opinions. Not exactly a great thing for a democracy. We live in an oligarchy, where the very wealthy have much larger votes and influence on public policy.

I have free speech rights. Hyman has free speech rights. One or two people are reading (maybe) my semi-lucid thoughts. Thousands, possibly millions, hear Hyman's rants and smears every day. Not that I want stardom... just some real discourse and the advancement of issues.

One of the things that those who love arguing fail to understand is that this endless bickering, name-calling and vilifying of others prevents problem-solving. And this nation has real problems that are not being addressed. When you get down to it, it is cowardice. As a nation, we are willing to let those in the military do the dirty work to secure our oil habit. But those same leaders are speechless when it comes to something that can reduce future deaths: a real energy policy.

I think that this cowardly shirking of responsibility is one reason why public opinion polls show such disdain for both the President and Congress.

The people are way ahead of the bought Administration and Congress. It's shameful.

At 11:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon said, "I guess one of the more troubling thoughts about Hyman and other propagandists occurs when you take a step back and ask: where does our country go from here?"

Anon, we can only descend further into the abyss of Fascism if we are unable to gain a foothold in the corporate-controlled media.

The Forth Estate in this country must be forced to stop emulating The Faux News Network (We Distort, You Decipher).

Unfortunately, in America today, we are following the 'Golden Rule', those with the gold make the rules, and pay for the media to sell you on liking it.

At 1:38 AM, Anonymous hyman's turtle said...

funny, don't you think, that hyman complains about the lack of coverage surrounding one soldier, but when nightline tried to honor all of our war dead at once, sinclair refused to air it. ouch, my brain hurts.

At 11:42 AM, Anonymous Joe from MN said...

Nice points you guys' made in the comments...keep up the good work Ted!!


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