Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Liberties, Shliberties

I haven’t done one of these in a while, but it’s time once again to do a Bizarro-Hyman commentary in which we take Hyman’s exact words and, by making only a handful of small changes, turn Hyman’s commentary from drab to fab. To quote This is Spinal Tap, it’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.

In this case, we’ll use Hyman’s recent commentary on the privacy issues raised by installing “black box” type recorders on cars. If Hyman was actually concerned about civil liberties, he might have said something like this:

It may help assign blame for a terrorist attack. It’s no bigger than your cellular phone. And if you’re making any calls to friends, family, or business associates in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, or Saudi Arabia, you may very well have one.

It’s called a wire tap, or “bug,” and it’s similar to those things police use to eavesdrop on mobsters. Nearly twenty years ago, the
Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act was passed, which clearly stated that wiretaps were appropriate to use to intercept messages between foreign powers and their agents within the United States. FISA allows the president to order wiretaps without a warrant, but only when it will not acquire information from a United States citizen and when the wiretap can be justified after the fact to the FISA court. Intelligence officials can analyze communication between suspected terrorists to uncover possible planned attacks.

But there are several problems. U.S. citizens aren’t aware if their phone lines have been tapped. And the
president and his attorney general claim they don’t have to get a warrant for a wiretap even after the fact. The Bush administration does not recognize any limitations on its rights to spy on people in the U.S. during the on-going (and, by definition, never-ending) “war on terror.” So privacy concerns arise. Can these devices and their data be exploited and abused? The administration’s wiretapping program should be the subject of intense debate and reasonable government regulation.

And that’s the Bizarro-Point.

Monday, January 30, 2006


Usually, Hyman’s “Mailbag” segments are exercises in self-congratulation in which he quotes from several viewers who agree with him, and perhaps includes one or two critical responses that are usually chosen or excerpted in a way that makes those who disagree with him seem unreasonable.

This is true almost every week, and I usually don’t bother commenting on them because by now, we’re all familiar with Hyman’s game.

the most recent Mailbag segment contained a bit of unadulterated ugliness that must be acknowledged.

Hyman quotes viewer responses to the decision by a judge to sentence a convicted child molester to treatment rather than a lengthy prison sentence.
As pointed out here, while this decision might seem unreasonable at first glance, the truth of the matter is that thanks to arbitrary state regulations, the convicted man would not have been eligible for treatment had he been sentenced to a multi-year prison sentence. He would have probably spent a maximum of 8 years in jail, meaning that when he got out, he would simply be an untreated child molester who had been incarcerated for a few years. The sentence the judge handed down was the only way to guarantee that the next time this individual is free, he’ll have gone through extensive treatment.

Reasonable people can disagree about the choice the judge made when faced with this dilemma, but Hyman did everything in his power in
his original commentary to demonize the judge and suggest he did not take the rape of a child seriously. He even went so far as to encourage viewers to give the judge an “attitude adjustment,” providing his audience with the judge’s phone number (the better to make harassing phone calls with).

If that wasn’t bad enough, in his mailbag segment, Hyman approvingly quotes a letter writer who asks the rhetorical question, “"What do you get for killing stupid judges?"

Apparently Hyman thought this was clever. But in light of Hyman’s previous encouragement of viewers to harass the judge in question, the quoting of this letter to an audience of millions is tantamount to a threat of physical violence.

This goes beyond liberal/conservative or issues of media reform.

This is simply a despicable act by a despicable human being.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Friday, January 27, 2006

God's in His Heaven . . .

I love it when the world makes sense.

For a while there, I was a bit worried and confused.
Mark Hyman has spent three consecutive nights extolling the virtues of the Scott Stapp Foundation, a charitable organization founded by the former lead singer of the band Creed. What I couldn’t figure out was why.

I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Hyman loves to mock pop culture celebrities who use their showbiz fame to champion social and political issues. On the surface, Stapp would seem to be a ripe target for such abuse. After all, he became famous for striking pseudo-messianic poses as a lead singer for rock band and styling himself as a spiritual artist singing inspirational songs, while at the same time appearing
drunk in public (including at his own concerts), alienating his band mates, and generally being an obnoxious boor. And despite having apparently turned a new leaf in his life, he was involved in a barroom brawl with another rock band as recently as two months ago.

So what gives? Hyman, who usually reserves multi-night diatribes for attacking academics, doing misleading shilling for the president’s Social Security scheme, or slandering a political candidate he doesn’t like, was devoting Point after Point to explaining the wondrous work Stapp’s foundation is doing and encouraging viewers to contribute.

This was particularly odd given the foundation’s mission. According to the website, the organization is devoted to truly admirable causes, particularly helping underprivileged children. Stapp himself sums up his philosophy on the site:

“I feel it is the responsibility of those who have been blessed to help take care of the less fortunate.”

What sentiment could be further from true blue conservatism? Traditionally, conservatives think that while charity is fine and dandy for those who want to do it, the idea that there is any moral or ethical responsibility for the haves to help out the have nots is anathema. Such an imperative, in the conservative world view, is tantamount to subsidizing failure, laziness, and lack of character.

So what could explain Hyman’s fixation on this foundation? Was it Stapp’s associations with conservative Christianity? Was it that one of Stapp’s recent projects is providing care packages for U.S. troops stationed in Iraq? Where was the self-serving slant? What was Hyman’s stake in all this?

I was flummoxed.

But a serendipitous bit of Googling helped bring order back to my personal cosmology.

The revelation began slowly. In my search for connections between Stapp and Hyman, I happened across a bit of gossipy entertainment news announcing that
Stapp had recently announced his engagement. I then found out that his bride-to-be was the director of public relations for the Scott Stapp Foundation. She also happened to be Miss New York 2004.

Her name is
Jaclyn Nesheiwat.

Regular Point-watchers and/or Counterpoint readers will likely find that last name familiar. One of
the producers of “The Point” is a woman named Dina Nesheiwat (who is herself a sometime model and beauty pageant contestant). Most memorably, Ms. Nesheiwat was used as a faux “correspondent” during “The Point’s” multi-night harangue against academia that offered a soapbox for a far-right organization to hawk both its philosophy and college guidebook. By putting Nesheiwat in the role of intrepid reporter, Hyman was able to distance himself from what was said and wrap a political commentary in the trappings of news reportage.

And indeed, Dina and Jaclyn Nesheiwat are sisters. They are also apparently members of a family that is tight enough with the folks in power in Washington that the whole clan scored an invitation to
George W. Bush’s 2005 inaugural ball. (And, in a bit of bizarre but admittedly irrelevant synchronicity, the Miss USA pageant in which Jaclyn Nesheiwat competed was hosted by none other than Dubya’s cousin, Billy Bush).

So there’s the connection: Hyman spent three nights championing a particular organization because it’s headed up by the future brother-in-law of one of his assistants.

This doesn’t suggest anything negative about the Scott Stapp Foundation itself. As I say, from what’s on its website, it seems like a noble endeavor that’s trying to do good things for people in need. And given what Hyman usually foists off on his viewers on a nightly basis, we should be so lucky as to have him do more commercials for charitable organizations run by friends and family of his staff.

But I must admit to finding it hilarious that even when he’s donning the mantle of the champion of charity, Hyman is doing it with a personal agenda. And of course there’s the issue of not disclosing the connection between him and the foundation, something any professional commentator would feel obliged to do.

As Hyman’s ethical lapses go, this is not as outrageous as what we often get, but it certainly is consistent with what we’ve come to expect from him.

And as for me, I can rest easier now knowing that God’s in his heaven, and all’s right with the world.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

REALLY Junky Stats!

Hyman has no love for people in academia . . . unless they say something that happens to support his talking points.

Exhibit A is
the recent editorial on a study done by Timothy Groseclose, a political science professor at UCLA, and Jeffrey Milyo, an economics professor at the University of Missouri that claims to have identified a thoroughly objective way of measuring media bias.

Hyman touts this study because it falls in line with the conservative party line on the media: it’s systematically left leaning, a fact that Hyman says “reasonable people” already know from watching television and reading the papers.

The problem? The study, even by its own standards, is thoroughly biased.

To begin with, although Hyman calls the study a “UCLA” study, only two professors (and only one from UCLA) worked on the project. That by itself is not so much the issue as the fact that both men have been
fellows at conservative think tanks and receive significant funds from them. A few years ago, the same men paired up to write a piece for the right wing magazine The American Spectator. On top of that, although their study appeared in the respected Quarterly Journal of Economics, it apparently was strongly pushed by one of the journal’s co-editors who is notably conservative himself. (All this raises the question: What happened to the supposed stranglehold liberals had on academia?)

This is especially interesting given the methodology of their media study. In an attempt to find an objective way of measuring bias, Groseclose and Milyo make think tanks the fundamental measure of bias.

The tortured reasoning goes something like this:
Americans for Democratic Action is an organization that assigns a score (0-100) to members of Congress based on their votes. The number represents where they fall on the conservative-liberal scale: the higher the score, the more liberal a Congressional representative is.

What Groseclose and Milyo do is count the number of times a member of Congress cites statistics provided by certain think tanks to support an argument. They then assign a 0-100 score to the think tank based on how liberal or conservative the Congressmen who cite it are. Then they count the number of times this think tank is cited in news stories by various television and print sources. The more often think tanks that Groseclose and Milyo have assigned a “liberal” score to are cited by a newspaper or news broadcast, the more liberal the news source’s bias (and vice versa).

If, like me, you found this series of steps a bit hard to follow, rest easy in knowing that the fault is not yours. The study makes no sense.

If you want proof, here you go. According to Groseclose and Milyo’s scoring system:

The Wall Street Journal is the most liberal news source in America. (Of course,
the paper has contested the findings by pointing out numerous basic flaws in the study, but you’d expect that sort of spin from a leftist rag like the WSJ, wouldn’t you?)

The ACLU is a conservative organization.

The RAND Institute is a liberal organization.

The NRA is barely to the right of center.

The Council on Foreign Relations is a liberal organization.

Dopey? Laughable? Useless? Yes, yes, and yes, but that’s what Groseclose and Milyo’s formula kicked out, so according to them, it must be true. You can see more of the topsy-turvy results of the study in the excellent analysis of it by
Media Matters for America.

Given these bizarre assignations, it’s not surprising that the results are both dramatic and meaningless.

And, as I alluded to above, given the close ties to conservative think tanks these two men have had, their own logic suggests that they themselves have a conservative bias (unless, of course, their odd scoring system pegs the Heritage Foundation as more liberal than the AFL-CIO—a distinct possibility if you take a glance at the other results they come up with).

But it’s the methodology itself that’s most damning. In addition to the twisted logic involved in assigning scores, Groseclose and Milyo gather wildly different sets of data from different news sources and treat them equivalently. For example, they used 12 years of data in analyzing CBS, but only 4 months when analyzing the Wall Street Journal. They also ignore a significant number of important think tanks. Individual authorities and experts cited in news stories are not taken into account at all. And the notion that a reporter citing a think tank somehow equates with a news story being biased is utterly loopy. (For more on the methodological issues with the study, see
Eric Alterman’s fine piece on it).

As a rhetorician, I can’t help but scratch my head at scholars whose attempt to analyze communication leaves out both content and context. And the methodology ignores basic facts about rhetoric that should be obvious.

For example, if I’m a liberal member of Congress trying to convince centrist and conservative colleagues to accept a proposal on an assault weapons ban, as a matter of argumentative tactics, I’d love to cite statistics from the NRA if possible, as a way of demonstrating that I was using data from a source that my conservative colleagues could not doubt. But according to this study, my citing of the NRA would make it receive a more “liberal” score as a think tank. Then, when Brit Hume does a story on FOX about opposition to an assault weapons ban and mentions the NRA, the story ends up being coded more liberal (or at least less conservative) because I, a liberal Congressman, cited the NRA in a speech in favor of the assault weapons ban.

I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

And given how many times Hyman cites the ACLU in his editorials, maybe this study would say “The Point” is liberal. But wait--the study says the ACLU is actually mildly conservative. So maybe “The Point” is actually centrist. And maybe pigs will fly. And maybe there’s snowboarding in Hades. And maybe the moon is made of a creamy Camembert.

And maybe that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.31

Monday, January 23, 2006

Junk Stat

I’ve used the phrase “junk stat” before in this blog—a term used by baseball enthusiasts to describe a statistic that is perhaps interesting but doesn’t actually measure anything meaningfully.

We have an excellent case in point in Mark Hyman’s commentary on the “
Index of Economic Freedom.”

First, the index is compiled by the
Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal. By itself, this doesn’t mean anything, but it should put a wary reader on guard that it might not be a completely disinterested, scientific measure.

And indeed, the index defines “economic freedom” in a peculiar way, one that fetishizes lack of environmental regulations, worker protections, etc. as examples of “freedom.”

The index comes in for criticism both
by progressives as well as libertarians for its often bizarre interpretation of what “freedom” is.

More pointedly, Hyman only offers us a hint at what the index says. He confines his remarks to saying that the U.S. has moved up into the top 10 of the index rankings, intending to suggest that the U.S. economy is doing increasingly well under the Bush administration.

What he doesn’t mention is that
some of the countries ahead of the U.S. are nations that Hyman doesn’t want the U.S. to become more like. For example, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and several Scandinavian countries lead the U.S. in economic freedom, as defined by the index. If we were to take the index seriously, therefore, would it not suggest that more progressive taxation and government subsidized services (such as healthcare) would increase economic freedom, or at the very least not be antithetical to it?

But Hyman doesn’t want us to ask that question, so he elides any specific mention of these countries.

Which leaves us with the obvious question: does even Hyman take this index seriously?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.62

Walmart, Ehrlich, and Hyman

Hyman engages in yet more journalistic malpractice in his recent commentary on WalMart.

Specifically, Hyman attacks the Marlyand state legislature for overriding the veto of Governor Bob Ehrlich of a law that would require Walmart to spend more money on its healthcare plan for employees.

Without any evidence to support his assertions, Hyman calls the bill “anti-worker,” suggests that it will cost taxpayers money, and says that “The WalMart bill was passed to appease the United Food and Commercial Workers Union - because WalMart workers have consistently voted down union efforts to organize them.”

Don’t bother trying to parse that last sentence for anything resembling logic—there isn’t any.

In fact, turn Hyman’s assertions on their head, and you get something closer to the truth. One WalMart worker who lobbied in favor of the law said that although she had been working at the retail giant for five years,
she still couldn’t afford the company’s healthcare plan. When the majority of Walmart workers can’t get health insurance through the company, they end up using taxpayer subsidized healthcare systems, often in ways that are not financially sound (e.g., going to the emergency room to get treatment for a chronic condition that would be better handled with ongoing medication).

Even for those bottom-liners who don’t put any stock in the ethical argument that an employer (particularly as one as huge and wealthy as WalMart) owes its employees an affordable health plan, it makes financial sense to have WalMart fund a reasonable plan for its workers rather than letting the government subsidize the maintenance of the company’s workforce.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to what Bruce Newcomb has to say:

“[WalMart] is eating everybody else alive. They come in and suck the town dry. I
resent that. Wal-Mart's blowing people out of the water, and if they're doing
that by having the public sector subsidize their health care, that's wrong.
That's really wrong. Rather than taxpayers subsidizing the wealthiest
family in the world, maybe the wealthiest family in the world ought to reimburse

Is Mr. Newcomb a disgruntled WalMart employee? Some sort of agitatin’ union boss? A garden variety bleeding heart liberal?

None of the above. He’s the Republican speaker of the heavily Republican House of
Representatives in the highly conservative state of Idaho.

The content of Hyman’s argument is so obviously nonsensical and contrary to common sense (e.g., the less a company spends on healthcare for its workers, the better that plan probably is) as to be laughable.

A larger meta-issue is the continual disregard Hyman has for basic journalistic integrity.

Again, Hyman uses his nationally syndicated segment to comment on an issue in his own backyard of Maryland (although, to be fair, Hyman did have the decency to do a separate Baltimore-only edition of “The Point” last week when
he attacked a local competitor in the Baltimore media).

Again, Hyman does not mention that Governor Ehrlich, whose position on the WalMart bill Hyman is defending, is
his personal friend and former employer (Hyman staffed for Ehrlich when Ehrlich was in the House of Representatives).

Again, Hyman does not mention that
Ehrlich aggressively lobbied on behalf of Sinclair’s business interests when he was in the House.

Again, Hyman does not mention that when he was running for governor, Ehrlich received large
campaign donations from Sinclair executives (not to mention WalMart itself).

Again, Hyman does not mention that Sinclair-owned stations
attacked Ehrlich’s opponent in the gubernatorial race.

Again, Hyman does not mention that Sinclair gave illegal campaign donations to Ehrlich in the form of
freebie rides on the corporate helicopter as he went from campaign event to campaign event.

Again, Hyman does not mention that Sinclair and Ehrlich worked out
a quid pro quo deal in
which Sinclair produced Maryland tourism ads featuring the governor for free in exchange for the state of Maryland buying $60,000 of ad time on Sinclair stations.

Again, we’re left to ask the question that won’t go away: does Hyman have no shame?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 6.32

Friday, January 20, 2006


Apologies for this being slightly off topic, but given Mark Hyman's continual harrangues about "radicals" in academia, I thought it worth noting that an organization of UCLA alumni have taken the chilling step (one, I'm afraid, that will be encouraged more broadly by right wingers) of paying UCLA students to record lectures by faculty that are too left wing for their taste.

Students will be paid $100 if they record a teacher's lecture and turn the recording and other class materials over to the alumni group. They get only $50 if they supply notes and printed materials, but no recording.

Tellingly, the website of the UCLA alumni group respnsible for putting prices on the heads of faculty only lists faculty with left-leaning political affiliations as among the "worst of the worst."

Anybody want to start a pool on when Hyman will dedicate a "Point" editorial to applauding this tactic?

You can find a Reuters piece on this here.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Peter Paul & Hyman

A favorite argumentative technique of the Rabid Right is the moral equivalency game. Whether it’s trying to equate Bush’s unilateral invasion of Iraq with Clinton launching cruise missiles or comparing legal wiretaps done under Clinton with the widespread illegal spying done on the Bush administration’s orders, you can usually count on conservatives to try to muddy the waters about their own shortcomings by suggesting they are no different than actions of Democrats (preferably those whose name is “Clinton”).

Usually, though, the two cases being compared are “equivalent” to the same degree that a Great White and a guppy are both “fish.”

Abramoff-gate continues to reveal the level to which Republican congressional politicians are besmeared with corruption, right wing apologists are attempting damage control by charging that Democrats are just as bad.

The suggestion that Democrats are as involved in the Abramoff case as Democrats
doesn’t pass the giggle test, so some are looking further afield.

Cue Mark Hyman, who tells us that something we “probably didn’t see in the news” is a story about an FEC fine of a fundraising group for Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senatorial campaign.

So, a plague on both your houses, right?

Maybe, but not because Abramoff-gate and the FEC fine are in the same galaxy in terms of questionable ethics.

Hyman notes that
Peter F. Paul, an ex-con who became a small-time media mogul, helped throw a fundraiser for Senator Clinton, the total expense of which was underreported by the fundraising group. The FEC found that although the group had done nothing illegal, but said that because of the underreporting, the Senator’s fundraising group had to pay a fine of $35,000. The group has agreed to pay this restitution.

Hyman fails to note that Paul’s raising the money was a part of
an attempt to lure former President Clinton to work for his company. He also makes no mention of the fact that after the 2000 election, when Clinton didn’t become an employee, Peter Paul turned on the Clintons and became the darling of the radical right, particularly Judicial Watch, a group devoted to legal harassment of the Clintons. Guilt by association works both ways.

But Hyman doesn’t want his audience to actually know the whole story. He’d hopes the phrases “fundraising scandal,” “convicted felon,” and “Hillary Clinton” will all bleed together and cause people unencumbered with the facts to think this is somehow equivalent to the colossal fraud and corruption of Tom DeLay and the host of other Congressional Republicans who were on the take.

Oh, and about Hyman’s insinuation that the Clinton story was somehow covered up by the allegedly liberal corporate media, here’s a partial list of the newspapers that carried at least one story on the matter:

The Washington Post
The Los Angeles Times
The New York Times
USA Today
The New York Sun
The Guardian Unlimited
The San Diego Union Tribune
The San Francisco Chronicle
The Seattle Post Intelligencer
The Boston Globe
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review
The Kansas City Star
The Saint Paul Pioneer Press
The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
The Sacramento Bee
The Edmonton Sun
The San Jose Mercury News
The Fort Worth Star Telegram
The Biloxi Sun Herald
The Billings Gazette
The Centre Daily Times
The Fort Wayne News Sentinel
The San Luis Obispo Tribune
The Myrtle Beach Sun News
The Duluth News Tribune
The Monterey County Herald
The Bradenton Herald
The Belleville News Democrat
The North County Times
The People’s Daily

Oh, and all three broadcast networks, all three major cable news channels, hosts of local television and radio broadcasts, etc. etc. etc.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.45

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Hyman AWOL on MLK Day

It’s more than a little ironic that Mark Hyman would use the occasion of the holiday commemorating Martin Luther King to accuse San Francisco of not sufficiently marking Veterans Day or Memorial Day holidays. Self awareness doesn’t seem to be Hyman’s strong suit.

Rather than making any comment on MLK or any of the plethora of related topics, Hyman gives us a typical example of his trademark “pastiche” editorials—commentaries in which the idea is to simply juxtapose a number of terms to prompt his audience to make conscious or unconscious associations among them, despite any logical connection.

This time around, the key concepts or terms Hyman wants to bleed together are “Angry Left,” “San Francisco,” “Homosexuals,” “Mexico and Brazil,” and “anti-Veteran.” The result of blending these ingredients is smelly right-wing ratatouille that has no purpose other than to smear those with whom Hyman disagrees.

The nominal topic of Hyman’s commentary is the decision by the San Francisco city council last summer to not bring the decommissioned U.S.S. Iowa to the city as a tourist attraction. In fact, many in San Francisco—including alleged uber liberal Diane Feinstein-- have
recently revived attempts to bring the battleship to the city, a fact Hyman ignores.

He also ignores the fact that in a city where gay and lesbian individuals hold a significant amount of political clout, there might be an understandable reason for being lukewarm about having the Iowa in San Francisco; after the tragic 1989 accident that killed dozens of sailors on the Iowa, the Navy slandered a dead crewman by suggesting he sabotaged the ship because of the rejection by other sailors of his homosexual advances—a charge that was later found to be false.

All this leads to Hyman’s accusation that San Francisco has snubbed and ignored veterans in general by only putting up a small amount of money for the city parades on Veterans Day and Memorial Day, while putting up tens of thousands of dollars for parades marking Mexican and Brazilian holidays, as well as “the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Pride Parade and the annual Dyke March.”

Beyond the weak suggestion that raw dollar amounts given for a once-a-year parade are an accurate indication of the respect a group receives, Hyman’s charges are flawed. For example, Hyman elides the fact that the other events he mentions likely cost more to hold (for any number of reasons) than a Veterans Day parade. For example, despite Hyman’s assertions that San Franciscans don’t like veterans, it’s a safe bet that much more security is needed to protect lesbian and gay marchers from people who don’t like them than it would take to protect veterans from the non-existent “veteran haters” Hyman envisions stalking the streets of San Francisco.

Hyman also leaves out the fact that
the city’s funding is partially based on what money is raised by the groups sponsoring the events. The other parades Hyman mentions actually cost far more to put on than the city provides. The difference is that private groups raise the majority of the money. The city kicks in a percentage of this total as a way of encouraging groups to create events that will draw people to the city. There doesn’t seem to be a private organization fundraising for the Veterans and Memorial Day parades. Should the city spend more to make up for this? Perhaps, but that’s a separate argument. Hyman’s suggestion that the city is covering the costs of all these parades itself is simply false.

Then there’s that precious final line of Hyman’s: “The Angry Left just keeps getting angrier and they don't like veterans.”

Beyond the logical fallacies of 1) equating dollars spent by San Francisco’s city government on parades to admiration for those holding the parades, and 2) equating the actions of San Francisco’s city government with the “left” in general, Hyman’s accusation is disingenuous.

For example, Hyman ignores the fact that tens of thousands of those on the liberal side of the political spectrum are currently serving in Iraq, and countless more served in past wars.

He also ignores the fact that thousands of vets have organized and identified themselves as both veterans and anti-war (if not explicitly liberal), including
Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

And of course, Hyman doesn’t admit that he doesn’t like veterans either, at least if they are running for president against a candidate whose politics he likes. He’s
more than happy to dishonor their service and lie about them in that case.

Hyman also doesn’t like members of the military who’ve died in combat in Iraq, at least when he believes that there’s a choice between honoring their service and supporting a favorite politician. He’ll happily
blackout any recognition of the fallen if he thinks it politically unwise.

He also doesn’t like veterans who died in the line of duty if their mother does something to embarrass Hyman’s political heroes. He’s happy to personally
attack a veteran’s mom to score political points.

And obviously, Hyman literally doesn’t have a minute to spare to honor a fallen soldier who marched and fought in a different kind of war—the war for equality, harmony, and justice.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.53

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Hyman Hoodwinking Again

Mark Hyman treats us to another of his book recommendations (rather than actually offer commentary on anything) in his most recent editorial. And as with past Hyman recommendations, it appears that this tome’s rightful place is in the bathroom—and not as reading material.

I’ve not read “Hoodwinked” by Jack Cashill, which purports to unmask laziness and chicanery by notable intellectuals (a term that apparently is synonymous with liberals in Cashill’s vocabulary) such as Alfred Kinsey, Margaret Sanger, Rachel Carson, and Charles Darwin.

But while I haven’t read it, I have done some research on who Jack Cashill is. Under the heading of “consider the source” and “physician, heal thyself,” it would be wise to keep the following in mind:

Jack Cashill is a regular contributor to ultra-rightwing website
He wrote a
7 part series for WND arguing that radical pro-lifer James Kopp did not murder a doctor who performed abortions. Kopp later admitted that he had killed the doctor, but Cashill has apparently not retracted the story.

Cashill also has similar warm fuzzy feelings about Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph, whom
he suggests was targeted by the FBI because of his anti-abortion politics. Rudolph has confessed his guilt in the bombings.

Cashill has written a book suggesting that Clinton friend and cabinet officer Ron Brown, who died in a plane crash in the former Yugoslavia,
was actually assassinated because of his potentially embarrassing revelations about the administration.

Cashill suggests that
the crash of TWA 800 was not an accident (as was determined by a lengthy investigation), but was part of yet another Clintonian cover-up.

has blamed the 9/11 attacks on the Clinton administration, somehow working it into an expansive narrative that also includes the Olympic Park bombing and TWA 800.

Cashill’s most recent book
suggests that Muhammad Ali was somehow responsible for racial division in the United States in the late 60s and for ending “the dream” of Martin Luther King.

claims that the theory of evolution is a fraud and that there is no compelling fossil evidence for it.

One of my favorite Cashill nuggets is the following quote, culled from his

The America that the terrorists hate is progressive America: gay rights,
abortion, radical feminism, pornography, MTV, you name it. And yet, our
progressive friends are almost pathetically eager to embrace radical Islam. Why?
There’s one thing they have in common: their shared distaste for America.

That’s right: the animosity of the Islamic fundamentalists toward the United States doesn’t have anything to do with U.S. troops stationed in Saudi Arabia, the American position vis-à-vis the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, or decades of disingenuous foreign policy guided by thirst for Middle Eastern oil—it’s those damned feminist lesbians watching MTV!

All this suggests that “Hoodwinked” probably features the same lucidity and intellectual content as an
Anna Nicole Smith awards speech. But again, I haven’t read the book. So, I’ll provide some excerpts of reviews from those who have. I was unable to find an official review from a reputable source, so I’ll simply give you some reader reviews about Hoodwinked from Amazon.com. And lest one think these are simply people who are predisposed to dislike the book’s premise, keep in mind that these are written by people who actually looked at the book and decided to plunk down the $25 for it.

This book uses a mixture of truth, half-truth, and misrepresentation to attack
the Godless "progressives." It's aim, I assume, is to "preach to the choir" of
religous conservatives, boosting morale - it will have no effect on Godless
"progressives" except to provoke righteous anger. The treatment of evolution is
atrocious. The book also suffers from lousy proof-reading - in various places
Cashill gives the authors of "Inherit the Wind" incorrectly, inadvertently uses
a man's middle name (rather than last) to refer to him, and gives the title of
Kinsey's second book wrong.

If one were not knowledgeable of the subject matter, it would be easy to swallow
Cashill's assessments whole and unquestioned.

At the recommendation of a friend, I purchased Hoodwinked. I eagerly anticipated
the opportunity to read about lazy or fraudulent academics hoist on their own
pitard. (As a faculty member at Harvard, by the way, I expect that my own work
should also be held to standards that require clear, rational, and obviously
non-fraudulent argument.) There are certainly some interesting and entertaining
stories in this book. However, it was difficult to accept any of Cashill's
theses at face value after reading chapter 4. It was abundantly clear from both
the book jacket and large portions of chapter 4, 'Darwin's Heirs', that Cashill
is no lover himself of honest intellectual effort. The stunning hypocrisy of an
obvious evangelical Christian creationist (Cashill) accusing Neo-Darwinists of
intellectual fraud was difficult to stomach.

As another reviewer rightly submits, this book offers some slightly interesting
attempts at discrediting intellectuals of left-leaning type...until we get to
Chapter 4. After that, you come to understand that this author is defecating on
your time, energy, and (poorly spent, if you bought it) money. Run; run as fast
as you can from this work; better yet...borrow it from someone and read it...but
start with Chapter 4. That will keep you from utterly wasting your time beyond

The most laughably unsupported and wild claim of moral superiority has to do
with Mr. Cashill's claim on the Judeo-Christian ethic. I agree that it is in
trouble from some of the persons so represented, but no less from liberals, than
from right-wing nut brains. Mr. Cashill has shown little Christian forebearance
himself in his joyful de-constructions. I wonder how Mr. Cashill from his high
moral position would de-construct Mr. Robertson statements...or Mr. Bush's
decidedly un-Christian strategy of "kill your enemy"?

Unfortunately the author simply lets his right wing prejudices run wild. Which
is unfortunate, for he is right about intellectual hucksters in many cases.
However he himself becomes one when he starts his rants about evolution,
sexuality, etc. One problem, among many, appears to be that he simply has no
grasp of scientific method at all.

The author writes about bias from a biased point of view. If one is looking for
truth, one should avoid this book.

This isn't a novel or research; it's propaganda for the tenacious conservative
right that continues to peddle half truths skillfully written to ensure being
Hoodwinked. This is cherry picking at it's best and in normal conservative
fashion an issue is plucked clean of any useful material with the rest of the
'picture' out of view. This book serves one purpose: to blind those seeking the
entire argument of an issue and the promotion of old school thinking of the
conservative dogma. No wonder free thinking scares conservatives; once you get
the ball rolling, their house of cards will come crumbling down.

This reader cannot easily recall the last time he encountered such a cumbersome
work of tripe. This book is easily the most tiresomely and trite diatribe of the
year. Save yourself some money and go watch mold growing. There is neither
anything new in the way of rhetoric, illuminating in the way of "information",
or enlightening in the way of political philosophy. It's another one of those
works where you'll be slapping your head wondering a. why did you buy this? and
b. can I use it as a doorstop? This is fringe reading at best for those who are unable to spend their time more productively.

And those are The Counterpoints.

Friday, January 13, 2006

More Scare Tactics

Hyman continues to grapple with one of the demons that most haunts his psyche: Spanish-speaking undocumented immigrants.

Most recently, he attempts to scare his audience by telling the story of Federico Ortega, a man who was arrested in Colorado and facing a wide variety of possible criminal charges, including sexual assault, assault with a deadly weapon, and drug possession. Hyman notes that Ortega had entered the U.S. illegally, was deported from Colorado, then returned to the state in a matter of days. Hyman’s conclusion? “Our border security is completely broken.”

Well, perhaps, but it’s a jump in logic to claim that one particular individual getting back into the country is proof of porous borders (even the Berlin Wall wasn’t 100% effective). Certainly many arguments could be made about the inadequate state of border security, but citing this single case is simply an exercise in fear mongering.

More importantly, Hyman leaves out a key fact about Ortega’s odyssey. The only reason he was given the opportunity to reenter the United States was because of miscommunication among federal and local law enforcement in Colorado.
Ortega faced possible felony charges in the state, meaning that he should have stayed locked up until trial. But immigration officials got involved and ended up deporting him rather than making sure he stayed in Colorado to face charges. Apparently, both federal and local officials thought they were doing the right thing, but ended up working at cross purposes.

That detail makes the story less sensationalistic (but perhaps even more troubling) than Hyman’s version, and suggests that better law enforcement practices, not erecting a Great Wall of Texas, might be a good first step in making us more secure.

It also reminds us that the threat Ortega represented was his criminality, not his country of origin. But by using Ortega’s story as a representative anecdote about illegal immigration, Hyman hopes to taint attitudes toward all undocumented immigrants (the vast majority of whom are people simply looking for work and are willing to do about any job for very low pay).

It’s particularly interesting that Hyman takes such a hard line on securing our border with Mexico to prevent job-seeking men and women from coming to the U.S. when the president he so often champions has done so little to secure us from much more malevolent threats.

Despite trading in the rhetoric of fear for several years (see the previous post), the Bush administration has done precious little to secure the nation in ways that would actually protect us from a terrorist attack.

According to a study by the non-profit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, the Bush administration has failed to secure chemical plants, nuclear power plants, hazardous materials, ports, and water systems.

Why would our wartime president allow us to remain so vulnerable? According to Public Citizen, it’s no accident.

Around 85% of the nation’s infrastructure is run by private interests, not the government. Therefore, to control the infrastructure, the government has to put laws into place that would regulate businesses (e.g., power companies that own nuclear plants) to maintain a uniform level of security.

Unfortunately for us, a great many people who run the businesses at issue are also major Bush donors, and don’t particularly want federal regulations interfering with their right to do business as they see fit (even if these regulations are meant to ensure the safety of Americans). Therefore, not much has been done to secure these vulnerable areas of our infrastructure.

But rather than use his bully pulpit (a phrase which I think is overused, but is doubly appropriate when talking about Hyman’s often thuggish rhetoric) to call on the administration to put the security of the American people ahead of political palm greasing, Hyman continues to obsess over the supposed dangers of hordes from the south invading us.

Which raises the question: what is it about Hyman that makes him fear Manny, the undocumented gardener down the street, more than the prospect of uranium being shipped at will to any port in the U.S.?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.70

Bush: "Yes, Fear the Reaper!"

It’s odd that Mark Hyman would cite a study that concludes that George W. Bush lied and spun his way to reelection, but that’s exactly what he does in a recent editorial about Bush and the “fear of death.”

a recent study by two scholars at Rutgers University, Hyman notes that in an experiment, potential voters favored John Kerry over Bush, but that when subjects were presented with some subtle (even subconscious) reminder of death, they tended to favor Bush.

Some on the right, apparently including Hyman, believe (or want you to believe) that this is somehow proof of the rightness of reelecting our “wartime” president.

What Hyman ignores is one of the fundamental conclusions of the study. The researchers see this tendency to be subtly influenced by fear as a negative, dangerous phenomenon. They conclude that

[t]he best antidote to this problem may be to monitor and take pains to resist any efforts by candidates to capitalize on fear-mongering.

Why would Hyman would leave out this conclusion (one that’s mentioned in almost all the summaries I found of the article in the medical press)?

Probably because even Hyman knows that the Bush administration’s rhetoric over the last few years (and particularly during the presidential campaign) has drawn its energy from a single source: fear. From the incessant juxtaposition of “Saddam Hussein” with “terrorists” and “9/11” to the assertion by the vice president that a Kerry victory could mean “
we’ll get hit again,” the Bush administration’s default tactic in almost any scenario is to use fear mongering to defend itself and attack others.

For some excellent articles on the Bush administration’s use of fear and the rhetoric of war, check out the articles linked to from the website
Rhetoricians for Peace.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.55

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Tale Told by an Idiot . . .

More than the fact that Hyman is often wrong in what he says, I find his tendency to dumb down the level of public discourse particularly troublesome.

A case in point is
his recent editorial expressing outrage over the light sentence handed down to a convicted child rapist in Vermont. Mark Hulett, convicted of repeatedly sexually assaulting a young girl, was given a sentence of 60 days plus mandatory psychological treatment. If he does not successfully complete the treatment, he could face a life sentence.

The 60 day sentence certainly seems outrageous, and Hyman provides viewers with Judge Edward Cashman’s phone number, encouraging them to vent their spleen on him.

But Hyman leaves out important facts in order to foment outrage, and this omission denigrates the legitimate public debate that needs to take place around the issue of crime and punishment.

The key point is that in Vermont, only those sex offenders classified as being “at high risk” to re-offend receive psychological treatment while in prison. Hulett is classified as being at low risk to repeat his crimes. Given that even the sentence asked for by prosecutors would have likely only been 8 years, it would mean that Hulett would be back in society, still young, and without having received any treatment for his perversion.

The prosecutors, defense, and the judge in the case are united in their condemnation of the state’s Corrections Department for their no-treatment policy for those deemed at low risk of re-offending. The judge was essentially given the choice of giving Hulett either treatment or a lengthy prison sentence. The judge, citing his belief after 25 years on the bench that punishment by itself does nothing to rehabilitate criminals, chose treatment.

That’s a decision that’s certainly open to counter argument. Reasonable people can disagree. And it raises the much broader issue of how we should handle criminals. Is the purpose of the justice system to punish, or to rehabilitate and prevent future criminal acts? Is it better to punish criminals with harsh sentences, even if it means they will likely emerge from prison more anti-social and more likely to commit crimes, or is it wise to try to treat and rehabilitate criminals, even if it means that “just punishment” might not be done?

This is an important argument to have in any democracy. But Hyman, by blaming the judge rather than the arbitrary rules of the Corrections Department, and by distorting the issue in order to make it appear that the Judge was simply giving the 60 day sentence out of a lack of concern about the crime of child molestation, degrades the public forum with a Point-less harangue that, in stirring people up, only succeeds in muddying the waters.

As is typical, Hyman’s commentary is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.65

Habla Hymanese?

Mark Hyman’s absolutely right: checks and balances are essential limitations that all branches of government must honor. And the case he cites in his recent editorial supports his point, but in a way exactly contrary to his interpretation of it.

Hyman performs a variation on the “activist judges” conservative riff by decrying a recent decision by a federal judge concerning the funding of ESL teachers in Arizona schools. Recently, Judge Raner Collins held that the state of Arizona could be fined millions of dollars if the legislature and governor don’t get together to fully fund instruction in English for the thousands of non-native speakers in Arizona public schools. According to Hyman, this is a case of an activist judge violating separation of powers by forcing the legislature to pass laws crafted by the judge.

But that’s not what’s happening. The controversy is part of the fallout from
the lawsuit Flores v. Arizona. The issue was that Arizona implemented a high stakes graduation test that all public students had to pass in order to get a diploma. But many parents of non-native speakers of English noted that there wasn’t enough instruction to help their kids get up to speed in English, a situation that set them up for failure and dropping out of school when the test rolled around.

Hyman notes that the lawsuit was filed in 1992, but then erroneously says that “a court battle has since raged.”

Not true. A decision was made in 2000. The judge found that the state of Arizona had not funded ESL instruction adequately. What has happened since then is a lot of foot dragging, particularly on the part of the Republican legislature. Despite periodical prodding by the courts, the legislature and governor have not come up with a plan to fully fund ESL instruction.

In fact, the legislature reneged on payment for a study of the issue when the results didn’t come back the way they wanted. The National Conference of State Legislatures was commissioned to do a study of how to best fund ESL education. When their report wasn’t to the liking of the legislature, they declared the study “flawed” and refused payment.

As Judge Collins said in his ruling, there is no telling how many non-native English speakers have been held back or dropped out of the school system due to lack of resources to fund proper instruction. The blame for this lies squarely on the shoulders of those politicians who’ve tried to shortchange Arizona’s ESL students. The threat of fines is simply there to get the legislature and the governor to finally step up to the plate and abide by the ruling made by the court six years ago.

So yes, Hyman is right: all branches of government must abide by the system of checks and balances. But that means that when the judiciary finds a current law or practice illegal, it's incumbent on the legislative and executive branches to remedy the problem, not drag their feet (and punish children) because they disagree with the ruling.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.26

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Modest Proposal

I have a suggestion that I think everyone here can get on board with, whether you are a Hyman Hater, a Point-head, or anywhere in between. More on that in a moment.

takes another swipe at academia, this time in the guise of reporting on the Young America’s Foundation’s releasing of “The Dirty Dozen -- America’s Most Bizarre and Politically Correct College Courses.”

Hyman says that this list documents the “worthless, dopey classes” taught at prominent colleges and universities. As
pointed out in this blog before, this is a common technique when attacking higher education: find courses that have unusual or provocative titles and/or advanced seminars on narrow topics, and then suggest that they are somehow representative of the state of higher education.

This is exactly what YAF and Hyman have done. For example, two courses listed by Hyman are seminars offered at
Occidental College that are part of a program in which freshman can choose from among 30 or more topics to focus on as they learn the basics of college research and writing. The idea of giving freshman the chance to dig into a narrow and focused topic that intrigues them in lieu of a more generic “Intro to College Skills” course is not new (I took such a freshman seminar myself in the 1980s) and has much to be said for it. The idea is to get students interested in provocative topics from the beginning of their studies. At Occidental, they take this a step further by giving many of their seminars eye-catching (and often humorous) names.

That’s the case with the two seminars Hyman notes: “The Unbearable Whiteness of Barbie” and “Stupidity.” The first (a play on the title “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”) is in fact a look at how Barbie and other childhood toys reflect/affect cultural beliefs and stereotypes—not a trivial or unchallenging topic. The second, “Stupidity,” is actually a philosophy seminar that includes readings by folks such as Friedrich Nietzsche Gilles Deleuze, writers who are rarely encountered until upper level seminars or graduate school. My guess is that Hyman couldn’t spell their names, let alone read them with any comprehension.

Then we have a series of courses listed that are supposedly scary simply because they touch on social or political issues Hyman and the YAF find objectionable on principle: “Psychology of the Lesbian Experience,” “Lesbian Novels since World War II,” and “Marxist Concepts of Racism.” Hyman doesn’t explain why these courses are objectionable or “worthless.” Apparently the simple inclusion of the words “lesbian,” “racism,” and “Marxist” in the names of the courses is evidence enough.

Then there’s a course about which Hyman simply makes stuff up. About Duke’s course “American Dreams/American Realities,” Hyman says that it “reportedly debunks the myth that America is a decent place to live.”

Reported by whom? Hyman doesn’t say. A quick visit to the
course description on the Duke webpage reveals that the course actually focuses on how archetypal American stories and figures (e.g., “rags to riches,” “the immigrant,” etc.) affect our lived experiences and vice versa. But because the course’s title suggests there might be some distinction whatsoever between the symbolic America we construct through language and the actual place we live, Hyman and YAF suggest it is un-American.

I’ll get to the last course Hyman mentions in a moment, but first just a bit on YAF. As you might guess (though Hyman doesn’t mention it), they are
a conservative activist group. Nothing wrong with that in itself, but it goes to the issue of credibility. They’ve got an agenda, and that should be noted (and would be, if Hyman followed basic journalistic ethics).

A visit
to their webpage is an interesting experience. YAF is clearly not interested in combating “wacky” ideas being disseminated on college campuses in general, since they actively market intellectually suspect speakers to college campuses if they happen to be conservative, such as Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter (of whom, bizarrely, YAF offers a pinup poster you can buy from them).

They also have culled a list of
their top ten recommended conservative colleges and universities. This is particularly interesting. If you visit the sites of some of these colleges, it takes no time at all to find courses that are every bit as narrowly conceived and politically motivated as YAF claims their “Dirty Dozen” are.

For example,
Harding University offers a course on “The Christian Family” as well as an entire program that teaches students how to more effectively convert non-believers to Christianity.

In addition to offering courses such as
“Conservative Political Theory” and “Christian Political Theory,” (and, needless to say, no course on liberal political theory), Patrick Henry College states that “Any biology, Bible or other courses at PHC dealing with creation will teach creation from the understanding of Scripture that God's creative work, as described in Genesis 1:1-31, was completed in six twenty-four hour days. All faculty for such courses will be chosen on the basis of their personal adherence to this view.”

At Jerry
Falwell’s Liberty University, the two basic courses in government that are required to take any more advanced courses are “Constitutional Government and Free Enterprise,” which the course catalog says, “emphasiz[es] the close relationship between a system of limited constitutional government and the freeenterprise economy and providing an overview of the Christian world view with regard to government and economics,” and “American Government,” which emphasizes the “struggle between liberalism and conservatism.”

Are these courses that promote beliefs and values not held by most Americans? Yes. Most people don’t believe the universe was created in 144 hours (whatever “hours” would mean before the Earth was created). And most Americans don’t hold the narrowly constructed version of conservative or Christian beliefs promoted by these universities. And some of us believing Christians find the theological views of Falwell & Co. contrary to basic scriptural truths and the explicit tying of these beliefs to a political agenda to be quite literally “unholy.”

Should these universities offer such courses? Sure—if their students want them. The point is simply that one person’s “worthless and dopey” classes are another’s core curriculum. YAF, Hyman, and other conservative critics who play the “outrageous course” game have no problem with narrowly conceived, highly specialized, or politically active college courses—they just have a problem when they perceive (often erroneously) that the ideas discussed in the classes don’t happen to coincide with their own belief system.

Which finally brings us back to my idea. The last course Hyman mentions is a course in Egyptology offered at Johns Hopkins University titled “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ancient Egypt.” As with the Occidental University offerings mentioned earlier, this is a course that’s given a dramatic title to capture interest. In fact,
it’s a beginning course in ancient Egyptian culture taught by the chair of the Near Eastern Studies Department who has done extensive archaeological work in Egypt and authored important scholarship. YAF and Hyman pick it simply because of its title, obviously not having bothered to actually look at the course content.

Here’s my idea: Johns Hopkins is in Baltimore, Maryland, home of Sinclair Broadcasting. Why doesn’t Hyman take this course himself and report on it? He can post the assignments and his class notes to the Newscentral.tv website so we can all see the course for ourselves. If it’s half as “worthless and dopey” as he says it is, Hyman should have no trouble acing the class and showing us how silly it is. If, on the other hand, Hyman finds that he actually learns something about Egyptian culture and finds the readings and work challenging, he can offer an on-air retraction and apology to the professor for publicly defaming her as a “nutty” professor teaching a “loopy” course.

The beauty part is that all of us can get behind this. Hyman fans, who believe that courses such as this are worthless, would love to see Hyman nail higher ed to the wall by systematically demonstrating the triviality of a course offered at one of the nation’s most prestigious schools. Those of us who think Hyman’s being dishonest would love to see him eat crow when he finds one of the courses he mocked is actually substantive and challenging.

So what do you say? Let’s send Hyman back to school! I encourage everyone to go the
Newscentral.tv website to post feedback or email Hyman (editorial@sbgnet.com or mhyman@sbgnet.com) asking him to step up to the plate and participate in this little educational experiment.

How about it, Mark?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.19

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.

Monday, January 02, 2006


I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the efforts of Iowans for Better Local Television, a group I was fortunate enough to be associated with when I was in Iowa City. Just a few days ago, IBLTV completed a petition to deny license renewal for Sinclair affiliate KGAN in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The culminating event was the in-person delivery of this petition to the station manager at KGAN. You can read about this project and see the petition itself on IBLTV's website.

The petition itself was nearly a year in the making, comprising roughly 400 pages of affidavits (including one by yours truly), exhibits (such as evidence about the lack of coverage of local issues on KGAN), and a lengthy list of signatures on a supporting petition.

I can tell you from personal knowledge that the good folks at IBLTV have dedicated countless hours to putting this comprehensive document together because they believe in the cause. Their dedication and diligence is deserving of the gratitude of all of us who find Sinclair's brand of cut-rate, slanted journalism to be an afront to the very concept of "local news." Great work, folks!

Those of you who might be interested in taking action on the Sinclair issue in your own home towns should make a particular point of looking at the petition, since it serves as an excellent example of how to put together a comprehensive challenge.

Let's keep up the fight!


Short Take Catch-Up

Sorry for the unannounced hiatus--I had planned on posting a note before leaving on holiday touring, but time ran short and it got lost in the shuffle.

At any rate, we're back for a quick catchup before leaving for a few days. We'll be back for good this weekend, as will the blog.

For now, let's take a brief look at the week that was in Hyman-land.

First, on Christmas, Hyman officially joined in with the silly "war on Christmas" rhetoric, making the absurd claim that "somehow a notion has developed that recognizing, let alone celebrating, Christmas - the only federal holiday in December - is wrong."

Of course, this is absolute nonsense. No one has said celebrating Christmas is wrong; what some have noted is that given the diverse beliefs held by Americans (and the fact that many of these belief systems celebrate a variety of holidays at this time of year), it might be more polite, when addressing those whose religious beliefs (or lack thereof) aren't known, to simply say "Happy Holidays" -- a greeting that acknowledges the season without assuming anything about those to whom you're speaking.

This has provided the radical right with an excuse to drag out the tired war on Christmas rhetoric. This is nothing new. As I noted in a comment following up to an earlier post, conservatives have been crying wolf about a war on Christmas for the better part of a century. In his rabidly anti-Semitic work, The International Jew, Henry Ford was making exactly the same claims in 1921 that O'Reilly and Co. are these days (e.g., that one can hardly find a greeting card for the season that mentions the birth of Christ, that public displays of overtly Christian religious displays on public grounds are objected to, etc.).

Then, forty years later, the John Birch Society dragged out the very same claims, this time laying the blame on the "Reds." Today, rather than Jews or communists, the scapegoats are "secular humanists" and "the politically correct crowd" (both code for anyone left of center).

All this reminds me of a line from the sermon the pastor delivered at the Christmas Eve service I attended this year. He prayed that we be saved from a host of evils, including "those who would seek to manipulate the Christ child for their own purposes." Amen to that.

Later on in the week, Hyman (not exactly filled with the Christmas spirit) kicked dirt on the grave of Jack Anderson, whom he said had embellished stories with manufactured details. His source? Howard Kurtz, who worked under Anderson. Hyman then goes on to accuse Kurtz of the same thing, saying that Kurtz had personally told him that he hadn't seen "Stolen Honor" even though the Washington Post/CNN correspondent had reported on the propaganda piece. Hyman then lists several other correspondents whom he accuses of similar journalistic malfeasance.

Of course, Armstrong Williams doesn't appear on this list, despite the fact that the disgraced columnist admitted to receiving pay from the Bush administration to write columns touting its programs. Maybe that has something to do with Armstrong's cozy relationship with Sinclair.

And needless to say, Hyman doesn't admit to his colossal lapse of journalistic ethics by running large chunks of "Stolen Honor," a film that is not only overtly politically biased but documented to be untruthful, as "news" in the days just before the 2004 election. Apparently for Hyman, Anderson's creative description of a politician's "ruddy complexion" is a greater affront to journalistic ethics than his own company's attempt to influence the outcome of an election by airing propaganda labeled as news.

As if we didn't already have evidence aplenty of Hyman's fast and loose relationship with both journalistic ethics and the truth, Hyman gives us yet more examples in his attack on the Boston Globe. Citing an editorial that called for current Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney to step down now if he doesn't plan on running for reelection, Hyman says the Globe is "unprincipled" because it didn't call on either Michael Dukakis or John Kerry to step down when they ran for president (it's speculated that Romney isn't running again because he wants to take a shot at the GOP nomination).

But if you try to follow Hyman's tortured logic, it leads nowhere. The Globe didn't take a similar position on Dukakis and Kerry because their situations were utterly different from Romney's. Most obviously, Dukakis and Kerry continued to serve out their terms despite running for the presidency. They didn't bail on commitments made to the people of Massachusetts to do so. Moreover, both Dukakis and Kerry had spent years and years serving in public office.

In contrast, Romney hasn't even finished out his first term as governor. And, despite making iron-clad promises that he'd be running for reelection, he has suddenly done an about face and said that he won't run again, making him a lame duck governor.

So Hyman's attack on the Globe's lack of consistency is absurd on its face. Hyman implies that the Globe is applying different standards to the same situation, but in fact the situations involved are nothing like each other. Neither Kerry or Dukakis made themselves de facto lame ducks, and neither reneged on a promise to voters. Add the fact that Romney seems to be using the position he was given by Massachusetts voters as a mere means to an end, and it's understandable that The Globe and its readers would be a bit miffed at Mitt.

But as always, this critique assumes that logical consistency is a goal of Hyman's; perhaps it's unfair to attack him for not accomplishing basic intellectual coherence when it's something he clearly has no interest in.

And those are the Counterpoint short takes.

Cost of the War in Iraq
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