Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Mark Hyman’s recent comments on foreign policy priorities is an example of one of his favored genres: the pointless editorial.

In his commentary, Hyman notes that while the recently released National Security Strategy calls for active fostering of democracies in other countries,

“this shouldn't be so, according to Public Agenda, a left-leaning research and advocacy group. According to a report it released at the same time, only 36% of respondents to its survey thought the U.S could help countries become democratic while 58% said other countries were on their own.”

Hyman doesn’t say which side he’s on. Rather, he simply “reports” the two sides in a loaded fashion. He manages to be biased without actually having the forthrightness to stake a position.

Beyond the passive-aggressive nature of the editorial, there are flaws aplenty in Hyman’s remarks. First, there is the epithet “left-leaning” when applied to Public Agenda. As we know, Hyman often cites conservative think tanks and organizations without noting their political alignment, yet he has a different set of rules when he feels an organization is to the left of center.

What makes this all the more disingenuous is the fact that
Public Agenda is hardly a left-wing organization. In fact, the study cited by Hyman was co-sponsored by the journal “Public Affairs,” the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations (not exactly a famous lefty organization).

Secondly, Hyman uses the phrase “this shouldn’t be so, according to Public Agenda.” But
Public Agenda’s study did not take a position. It simply measured the attitudes of its respondents. Hyman frames the skepticism toward democracy-building as if it was a policy championed by the “left-leaning” public agenda, when it in fact is simply an attitude reflected in the poll conducted by the group.

And given the fact that Hyman labels the group “left-leaning,” Hyman’s referral to the “respondents to its survey” is an intentionally misleading phrase, suggesting that Public Agenda was issuing the surveys to its own members, or people that it specifically chose to take the survey. In fact, Public Agenda surveyed 1,000 American adults, the intention being to find out what the general attitudes of the American people were. Yet Hyman words his commentary in such a way that, without actually lying, he leaves the viewer with the impression that the survey was more limited in scope.

A more competent commentator would directly address the fact that the stated policy goals of the administration don’t reflect the attitudes of the American people (at least as reflected in this particular study), and then make an argument about the relevance or reasons for this discrepancy and/or offer thoughts on which set of priorities is better.

For example, I could easily imagine a supporter of the administration acknowledging that democracy-building is a messy process and that it’s not surprising the American people would be skeptical of it given the situation in Iraq, but that it’s still a task that reflects the values of the United States and will pay dividends in the long run.

But that would require an intellectually honest and forthcoming commentator, and that’s not what we have with Hyman.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.54


At 12:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Do you sometimes worry that, by closely attending to the words of such a demogogue, that your fine brain will end up with a permanent impairment?

I worry that, by having exposed Americans (and the world) to BushCo for 5+ years, that the current state of dysfunctional affairs will become the "new normal".

Some of us go to church regularly if, for no other reason than to have a "reality check" and consider -- at least every once in a while -- the concerns of others instead of our own (oftentimes silly) needs.

But how the hell do we do this on a national basis, when only once in a very blue moon someone like Colbert rips the curtain away from disfunctional governance and media systems?


At 2:31 PM, Blogger Ted Remington said...

Thanks for your concern!

I agree with your points about both churchgoing and the lack of a collective "reality check." I don't think there's a silver bullet. I think the answer lies in Bill Murray's mantra in "What About Bob?": Baby steps, baby steps.

As for permanent mental impairment, some who know me would say the damage was done long ago! I will, say, however, that as someone who has training and experience in reading and grading first-year college writing essays, I think I've developed the intellectual equivalent of a "hazmat" suit that I can don when venturing into rhetorically toxic environments.



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