Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Hyman Is a Friend of Bob

There are two levels of disingenuousness in Mark Hyman’s recent editorial about the energy price crunch in Maryland.

The first is simply the fact that Hyman misrepresents the facts to suit his argument. The issue gets complicated (there’s a nice article about the Maryland situation
here if you want the details), but basically Maryland tried to deregulate the energy industry to provide more competition (and lower prices for consumers) in 1999. The problem is that new businesses didn’t emerge, and the temporary price fixes put in place in the meantime run out this summer, resulting in a 72% rate hike for many Maryland customers.

Hyman fudges facts in a number of ways. He blames the current state legislature for the problem, ignoring the fact that deregulation occurred seven years ago. He claims a move to spread out the rate increase over time to reduce the impact on citizens is an election year ploy by legislators. Actually, it was Governor (and Hyman buddy) Bob Ehrlich who proposed the measure. He says a commission that the Maryland legislature wanted to disband was being unfairly framed as a scapegoat for the rate hike. In fact, members of this commission (the Public Service Commission)
were very cozy with the energy companies (one of them had been an employee for 20 years). Hyman also cites capped prices as the cause of California’s energy crunch five years ago. But investigations revealed that price manipulation by Enron was largely to blame, and that corporate executives gleefully joked about how they were getting rich by cutting off electricity to California customers.

The subject of energy regulation/deregulation is beyond the scope of this blog. What knowledge I have of such matters suggests that publicly owned utilities (including not just energy, but internet service, cable television, etc.) are the best way to go. When the product being sold is one that the vast majority of citizens use, the risks of corporo-socialism, in which one or two mammoth companies control the supply, are far greater than any hypothetical benefits of increased competition. That’s what’s happening in Baltimore right now; one company has an effective monopoly on the market, and is reaping benefits without facing any competition.

The much larger issue (and here we come to the second, and deeper, level of Hyman’s dishonesty) is why Hyman is concerned about this issue in the first place. After all, “The Point” is seen on TVs all across the country. Why spend an entire editorial on what is essentially a local issue?

Of course, Hyman and his bosses at Sinclair are based in Baltimore, so one might conclude that Hyman is simply being city-centric in his choice of topics. That would be bad enough, given that his editorial on Maryland politics is taking up airtime on local stations in communities that have their own issues that should be covered and discussed in the local media.

But it’s worse than that.

Anyone who’s dropped in on this blog with any regularity knows by now that
Republican governor Bob Ehrlich is tight with the folks at Sinclair. Heck, Hyman himself worked on Ehrlich’s staff when the governor was a mere congressman. In the past, Ehrlich lobbied for legislation that directly benefited Sinclair, received illegal in-kind contributions from the Smith family (the owners of Sinclair), benefited from “journalistic” hit-pieces aired by Sinclair stations attacking his opponents during election years, and struck a sweetheart deal with Sinclair to buy airtime on its stations in return for Sinclair producing spots promoting Maryland tourism . . . spots that just happened to star Bob Ehrlich himself.

Hyman has editorialized many times on Maryland-specific issues, always in ways that support Ehrlich’s positions, and always without breathing a word about his personal connection to Ehrlich or his company’s longtime relationship with the governor.

This latest editorial is no exception. The energy rate crisis is a central issue in the current gubernatorial race, and it has
caused a great deal of animosity between the Democratic legislature and the Republican governor. The political stakes are high. Disgruntled voters might very well hold incumbents responsible. That could spell doom for Ehrlich this November, who is seen by many to be a strong ally of the energy industry in Maryland, and who is running against a Democratic candidate who has suggested reregulating energy utilities.

The solution for a Friend of Ehrlich (FOE) like Hyman? Try to pin all the blame on the current Democratic legislature.

And that’s exactly what he’s doing here. To no one’s surprise, however, he doesn’t acknowledge the enormous conflict of interest that any reputable journalist would feel compelled to mention in the interest of full disclosure.

Viewers deserve to have issues that directly concern them discussed on their airwaves, not the personal hobby-horses of a corporate executive half a country away. And Marylanders, for whom this is a local issue, deserve to know if a commentator who is fudging the facts might be doing so because he has a personal stake in the matter.

But with Hyman, all we get are unjust desserts.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.29 (along with a disturbing new high in Hyman’s raw verbosity: this edition of “The Point” clocks in at 303 words)


At 1:03 PM, Anonymous ajs said...

I love your blog. Could you provide your method for determining the "Hyman Index"? I often think that your score is too low, so I must be forgetting how you figured this index.


At 4:45 PM, Blogger Ted Remington said...

You can read the blog entry where I describe the Hyman Index in the "Cream of the Counterpoint" (see the sidebar to the right of the page).

Basically, I add up the number of obvious uses of classic propagandistic techniques and divide them by the number of words in the editorial.

To be honest, it's essentially what baseball statistic freaks would call a "junk statistic" in that it's somewhat arbitrary, and it seems more exact than the actual phenomenon it claims to be measuring.

But I like it because it *does* do a couple of things. First, it does allow us to compare one Hyman editorial to another in terms of how much it depends on overtly propagandistic appeals (or at least how many it uses).

More importantly (for me, at least) it serves as a subtle reminder that Hyman regularly uses overtly propagandistic appeals in every editorial he does. The Hyman Index serves as a sort of shorthand way of reminding readers that even when I don't happen to mention things like use of "glittering generalities" or "appeals to authority" specifically in my posts, that doesn't mean they aren't there. They are.

Thanks for the post!



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