Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Hyman's ACLU Smears 4

Mark Hyman’s climactic editorial in his series about the ACLU is simply an example of garden variety distortions, misrepresentations, and plain old lying. Just another day of journalism, Sinclair style.

Hyman attempts to tie his citations of 80-year-old quotations by the founder of the ACLU to its current politics by citing an interview with Nadine Strosser, current ACLU president, that he claims suggests the ACLU is a radical left organization.

Of course, Hyman doesn’t specifically tell us where that interview appeared. Instead, viewers are treated simply to close-ups of a handful of words from a transcript of the interview, with bold yellow highlights of phrases Hyman claims to be paraphrasing (although sometimes the highlighted text is actually from the questions asked of Strossen, not her answers). But the close-ups are such that you can’t see the context of the terms. All we get are fragments of sentences, and Hyman wants us to assume he’s accurately describing the content.

But we won’t. Instead, a little creative Googling revealed that the interview Hyman claims to be quoting from is one that
appeared last year in Reason Magazine. Once you read the actual interview, it’s clear why Hyman doesn’t cite it specifically in his editorial: he knows that anyone who reads it will see how far from reality his caricature is.

Let’s go through Hyman’s charges one by one.

Hyman: The ACLU’s priorities include “ending a moment of silence in public schools.”

Truth: Strossen said that the priorities of the ACLU include fighting for the separation of church and state (something that’s at least as valuable as a protection for religion as it is a protection of the state, I might add). The
Supreme Court ruled in 1985 that a mandated moment of silence is religious in nature and therefore unconstitutional. The ACLU is simply supporting this established precedent from right wing judicial activism.

Hyman: The ACLU is for “abandoning personal property rights.”

Truth: Hyman is lying. In fact, the statement Hyman appears to refer to says exactly the opposite. When asked if the ACLU makes a distinction between basic civil liberties and property rights, Strossen says no, because, “People have rights. Property doesn’t have rights.” That is, there isn’t a distinction between civil rights and property rights, since so many civil rights involve property. To cite just once example, the ACLU has fought unjust uses of eminent domain seizure by government.

Hyman: The ACLU is for “limiting school choice.”

Truth: The ACLU opposes school voucher systems that are biased in favor of religious schools because it amounts to tax payer funding of religious institutions. When asked if the ACLU would oppose more neutral voucher programs that weren’t so slanted toward religious schools, Strossen says: “we would not per se exclude programs that included parochial schools any more than we per se oppose Pell grants.”

Hyman: The ACLU is for placing “some restrictions on religious freedom.”

Truth: This is another lie. Strossen is asked if there are cases where one fundamental right might come into conflict with another. She answers that in some marginal cases, you might have an instance where, for instance, freedom to exercise religion comes into conflict with the freedom from government establishment of religion, but “in the vast, vast, vast majority of cases, I think those rights are mutually reinforcing. It's that understanding that has led the ACLU from its beginning to attempt to consistently defend all fundamental rights for all people precisely because they are indivisible.” Hyman takes Strossen’s statement of a simple fact (that occasionally basic rights come into conflict) and claims she’s for limiting religious freedom. Absolutely pathetic.

Hyman: “The ACLU does not necessarily view rights embodied in the Constitution as being valid.”

Truth: Here’s the quotation that Hyman is manipulating: “our view has never been that civil liberties are necessarily coextensive with constitutional rights. Conversely, I guess the fact that something is mentioned in the Constitution doesn't necessarily mean that it is a fundamental civil liberty.”

What she’s referring to is the basic definition of what a civil liberty is. As a legal term, a civil liberties are those rights enshrined in the First Amendment and similar laws concerning the right to free speech, assembly, practice or religion, etc. As
Law.com notes, “[t]hese liberties are protective in nature, while civil rights form a broader concept and include positive elements such as the right to use facilities, the right to an equal education, or the right to participate in government.”

There’s no questioning of the validity of the Constitution. It’s a simple but important legal and philosophical distinction (given the ACLU’s focus on civil liberties specifically). Again, Hyman, either through overt attempts to manipulate his audience or through sheer ignorance, skips over this fact and simply replaces reality with his own personal, creative interpretation of it.

Hyman then restates the canard that the ACLU is against the military, religion, Scouting, etc., and that it “has advocated a nation made up of workers collectives.”
Absolute drivel. As we’ve pointed out here many times, the ACLU has vigorously championed the right of individuals to practice their religion
, including siding with conservative Christian groups on many occasions. The only thing they’ve opposed in government interference in religious practice, either through prohibiting its practice or by instituting religious practices that favor one belief system over another. The ACLU has championed the causes of individual members of the military on many occasions. And their objections are not to Scouting, but to the public funding of a group that invokes religion and discriminates against certain minorities.

As for “workers collectives,” this is just ancient Red-baiting nonsense. The fact of the matter is the ACLU is not for or against religion, scouting, the military, or anything else. They are for the rights of the individual and seek to protect these rights from organizations, governmental or private, that would seek to restrict or limit these individual rights. What could be less “collectivist” than this?

But philosophical coherence isn’t a goal of Hyman’s. He simply wants to throw enough mud at his target that some of it will stick. But in his desperation, Hyman reveals the utter poverty of his own argument. If you have to make up facts to support your position, it’s a pretty safe bet you’re wrong.

And he is.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 7.14


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