Wednesday, May 31, 2006

All Politics Is Local

Unless you live in Baltimore, Maryland, or Asheville, North Carolina, you probably weren’t aware of two recent editorials Mark Hyman did specifically for these markets. In both of these “customized” editorials, Hyman lashes out at local media outlets that he feels have done Sinclair or its friends wrong.

The first of these is yet another attack on the Baltimore Sun, a frequent Hyman target. The Sun recently ran a story about how then-state delegate (and current governor) Bob Ehrlich helped push legislation that helped break down the separations between utility companies and the state regulatory agency that oversaw them.

Hyman works himself into a tizzy, complaining that Ehrlich could not have pushed such legislation through single handedly and that the Sun’s article amounts to a “cheap shot.”

There are multiple problems with Hyman’s argument. First, Hyman ignores the fact (mentioned in the Sun article) that Ehrlich was the only sponsor of the legislation. Certainly he didn’t pass it alone, but he led the charge. Secondly, the article focuses on Ehrlich because he’s currently the governor of the state and is, therefore, in a position to shape the relationship between state regulatory agencies and the private companies they oversee. Is putting the current governor’s actions in the context of his previous political career unethical, particularly when the Ehrlich says he still stands by that legislation?

No, but what is unethical is the fact that Hyman yet again delivers a pro-Ehrlich editorial without disclosing the fact that he worked for Ehrlich when he was in Congress, or that
Sinclair Broadcasting and Ehrlich have enjoyed a cozy quid pro quo relationship for years.

the second of his custom-job editorials, Hyman goes after another newspaper, the Citizen-Times of Asheville, North Carolina. Their sin? According to Hyman, they ran “an editorial moaning over the fact that I do editorials on News 13.”

I looked up
the editorial in question, and I’m afraid it look s as if our friend Mark might be suffering from paranoid megalomania. The editorial is actually about possible federal regulation regarding “Internet neutrality.” The authors make the point that federal regulation is a tricky business, because it often has mixed results. Pointing to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the editorial notes that there were some undesirable consequences:

Now, one owner claims more than 1,200 radio stations, and the
changes to local TV stations have given us the gift of folks like Mark Hyman,
the Baltimore-based commentator carried on Sinclair stations.
We’d like to toss that particular fish back.

That’s it. That’s the extent of the editorial’s attention to Hyman—a sentence and a half in an editorial that runs more than 700 words.

But that’s more than enough to send Mark into fits of righteous anger. Pointing out that the Citizen-Times is owned by Gannett, Hyman accuses the paper of hypocrisy since Gannett also profited from the 1996 Telecommunications Act. He also claims that “Gannett's TV station coverage dwarfs that of Sinclair.”

Again, we’ve got multiple problems here. First, Hyman is simply being deceitful when he claims Gannett’s TV coverage “dwarfs” Sinclair’s. According to the Gannett website, the company owns 21 television stations and reaches 19.8 million households. Sinclair’s website says their company owns 58 stations and reaches 22% of all television households. According to the folks at Nielsen Media Research, there are currently 110,200,000 television households in the U.S. That means Sinclair stations reach 24.2 million households.

Not that Gannett is a wallflower when it comes to the media consolidation hoedown. They certainly *have* benefited from increased consolidation, just as Sinclair has. But notice that Hyman’s accusation of “hypocrisy” is not a defense. It’s a basic argumentative fallacy—being guilty of an offense yourself does not by itself invalidate your claim that someone else is guilty of the same thing. Sure, maybe the editorial’s authors are hypocrites, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

But that brings us to the even larger flaw in Hyman’s reasoning. Far from exposing hypocrisy, the editorial’s position suggests that the Citizen-Times is able to stake its own editorial positions regardless of the broader interests of its corporate ownership. Unlike Sinclair’s local news stations, which are forced to carry the parent company’s editorials rather than have their own local voices, it seems Gannett allows its newspapers to have their own editorial positions.

Admittedly, this might be a hard topic for Hyman to grasp—the idea that a parent company might actually allow its local media outlets to be truly local. But the fact that Hyman doesn’t get it shouldn’t blind us from the truth of the matter.

The fact that Gannett owns so many media outlets is unsettling, and I’m all for tighter ownership regulations. But in this case, it is Sinclair’s bullying, not Gannett, that gives us a clear picture of the consequences of media ownership deregulation.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


At 11:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Isn't it frustrating that there is no longer a debate about ideas, but rather, simply endless propaganda?

What you've so well noted is Hyman's standard behavior: trash opponents, but never provide any substantive discussion.

Can our society long prosper when everything is presented as commercial advertising? Most polled indicate that the public feels that we're "going the wrong direction". I'm hoping that the trend to commericialize everything will be recognized as an evil.


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