Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Getting caught up

Hi all,

Sorry for the momentary hiatus. Midsem time has arrived and I've been clawing my way out from under a mountain of papers, as well as going to a conference. We'll be back on schedule on Wednesday with a commentary on Hyman's take on voting rights as well as a response to his three part trilogy on NAMBLA.

To quote John Stewart, how far down do you have to be before you decide to throw the "Hail NAMBLA"?

See you soon.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Two Words

That whirring sound you here are the rotor blades of the black helicopters in Mark Hyman’s head.

Ignoring all evidence to the contrary (not least of which is the existence of Sinclair Broadcasting itself),
Hyman continues to participate in the ritual excoriation of the corporate media as allegedly liberally biased.

This time around, his “evidence” is that the Mark Foley scandal was the subject of 235 articles and editorials in leading national newspapers in the week after the story broke, while “similar” scandals involving Democratic politicians Mel Reynolds and Barney Frank only got a fraction of the attention.

One could spend quite a bit of time pointing out in detail how the scandals were not “similar”: how neither the Reynolds or Frank affairs involved the outing of a closeted gay man, that neither the Reynolds or Frank were the chairs of a congressional subcommittee on exploited children who then had inappropriate contact with an underage congressional page, that neither Franks or Reynolds supported party positions that were homophobic while being homosexual themselves, that in neither the Franks or Reynolds case did party leadership tell wildly varying versions of who knew what and when, that in neither the Franks or Reynolds case did it come to light that congressional leaders knew about inappropriate action and looked the other way for political purposes, etc.

One could say all that and much, much more. But there’s actually a simple two-word rebuttal to Hyman’s point, one that not only explains why so many column inches were devoted to a sex scandal in 2006 when other scandals that happened more than twelve years ago received less attention, but also puts the lie to any contention that the allegedly “liberal” press looks the other way at Democratic scandal.

Here it is:

Bill Clinton

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.55

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Is Hyman Pro-Stupid or Anti-Smart?

Mark Hyman has recently made two commentaries dealing with language, a subject near and dear to my heart.

His comments on Mouseprint.org are banal enough; the takeaway is that this website, which reveals the “catches” often included in the small print of advertisements, is a good thing.

I think that’s something we can all get on board with. I just wish Sinclair would provide *any* print, large or small, that tells its viewers that Mark Hyman is a non-local Sinclair executive, not a journalist or a local figure.

Hyman’s next editorial that’s more interesting. He takes the Associated Press new style guide to task for dropping the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” and replacing them with “anti-abortion” and “abortion rights.”

Hyman claims that the AP “has chosen sides in the abortion debate.” But it’s clear that the AP’s terminology is meant to create more accurate labels that cut past the rhetorical packaging both sides in the debate have used.

Those who are against abortion rightly point out that “pro choice” equates choosing abortion with choice generally. They counter that they are *for* any number of choices about how handle the problem of unwanted pregnancy: having the baby, giving the baby up for adoption, using any one of a dizzying array of birth control methods, or simply not having intercourse. It’s only one particular choice, the artificial termination of a pregnancy, that they oppose.

Those who support the right to have an abortion similarly argue that “pro life” equates a fertilized ovum with human life, a premise they don’t grant, and it also suggests that valuing life is defined by treating an embryo as if it were fully human. What about the other “lives” at stake: the life of the mother which might be ended if she gets an illegal abortion, the lives of children that might suffer if their parent(s) must care for an unplanned child, the life of potential children that will not be born in the future when the parent(s) are better prepared to raise them because the parent(s) will have to sacrifice education, income, etc., to care for a child they aren’t ready to deal with?

And what about the lives of children who die soon after they are born because so many of those who oppose abortion also oppose universal childcare, a political decision that has led America to have the highest infant mortality rate in the industrialized world?

What the AP has tried to do is come up with terms that focus specifically on the issue of abortion, rejecting the use of the fuzzier labels proponents of both sides tend to choose. “Pro choice” and “pro life” are both terms that attempt to tie in the specific issue of abortion into larger values. This is a time-honored rhetorical technique, and those who use them shouldn’t be demonized for packaging their points of view to advantage.

But the AP is trying to *not* take sides in the debate by dropping terms that both sides object to, replacing them with labels that are more accurate in that they are specific to the abortion debate. Those who are against abortion are, logically enough, “anti-abortion.” Those who think abortion is a procedure covered by existing constitutional rights are advocates of “abortion rights.”

Let’s give Hyman his due: he’s almost within striking distance of a legitimate, and even subtle, point about language. It’s true that the prefix “anti” carries an automatic negative connotation, while “rights” carries positive connotations.

Of course, a lot depends on the words you pair them with. Anti-slavery, anti-apartheid, anti-drug, anti-cancer, anti-spam . . . these are just a few “anti” terms carried proudly as labels now and in the past.

The problem is that Hyman applies his logic in a biased way. Hyman says pro-life folks would say that “abortion rights” is a misnomer, since it implies that these “rights” exist in the first place, which is a premise the pro-life side doesn’t grant.

True enough, but same logic applies to the terms Hyman claims “pretty much give equal standing to both sides of the debate”: pro-life and pro-choice. The label “pro life” implies that the embryo, even at its earliest stages, constitutes human life, with all the moral import that connotes. But that’s a premise that pro-choice advocates don’t accept.

The fact that Hyman is blind to the way his argument against the AP labels also applies to the labels he champions is surprising if for no other reason than that Hyman has made it clear in the past that he is in the “pro-choice/abortion rights” camp, despite his conservative politics.

But maybe it’s not all that surprising after all. As we’ve seen, Hyman’s role isn’t as an independent thinker about issues, but as part of the right wing echo chamber. And given Hyman’s general lack of ethics when it comes to his political rants, it shouldn’t shock us that he’d sell his own values out to shill for the conservative party line. That, after all, is his bread and butter.

Hyman Index: 3.81

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

No Comparison

An elementary logical fallacy is the false analogy: comparing one thing to another when the two items in question have little in common.

Mark Hyman gives us a wonderful example in
his recent editorial about illegal immigration.

Yes, I know you think you’ve heard just about everything Hyman has to say on this issue, given that it’s the subject he discusses more than any other. But just wait! He’s got an ingenious twist in store for you!

See, this time around, he’s not talking about illegal immigration from Mexico. Instead, he’s talking about illegal immigration from Africa to the Canary Islands (which are Spanish territory).

He tells us of how the islands are being “burdened” by the “staggering numbers” of immigrants coming from Africa (Senegal, in particular).

With a wink-wink, nudge-nudge attitude, Hyman suggests the situation is parallel with the situation at the U.S. border.

In some interesting ways, they are. For example, the Canary Islands were seized by Spain many years ago, taken from their original inhabitants who had come from the African continent. Similarly, Mexican immigrants entering the U.S. illegally are doing so largely into territories formerly owned by Mexico and taken by force.

So in both cases, you have countries who used force to take control of a geographic area facing the unwanted return of the people they displaced so long ago, and calling this return “illegal.”

Sorry . . . didn’t mean to go all post-colonial on you, but you don’t have to be an outspoken advocate of open boarders to see the irony in the situation.

Another similarity is that in both cases, the people immigrating are doing so to find jobs, often to support families who have stayed behind. And in both cases, they have been charged with trying to freeload off of government programs and burdening the natives, despite no evidence of this.

Yet, the difference is much more important, and it's a difference that flies in the face of Hyman's central assertion. The Canary Islands are a geographically microscopic entity with limited space and economic resources, despite their connection to Spain. A sudden influx of immigrants entering the country illegally could conceivably do harm (although, as noted above, the immigrants are coming to find jobs).

The United States, on the other hand, is the wealthiest nation in the history of humanity. To compare a tiny group of islands dealing with an influx of immigrants to the situation of the United States is silliness.

This isn’t to say that national boarders shouldn’t be respected or that illegal immigration doesn’t create problems. But the use of invalid scare tactics and thinly-veiled racism not only demeans the people who are often risking life and limb for a chance to live the American (or Canary Island) Dream, but demeans the public sphere, where reasonable people should be able to talk intelligently, respectfully, and sincerely about the issue and how to best address it.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.56

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Hyman Suffers from Thinkaphobia

Mark Hyman recently returned to the issue of Tariq Ramadan. He first brought up the prominent Muslim scholar in a diatribe against the ACLU, which defended Ramadan’s right to enter the United States.

At issue is the U.S. government’s revocation of Ramadan’s visa, a move that has angered those at the University of Notre Dame, who had invited Ramadan to come to the school as a scholar and teacher at their International Peace Studies program.

Why was his visa revoked? Good question.
Some say it’s because of donations he made totaling a few hundred dollars to a Muslim charity that ended up being linked to Hamas. That might make sense except for the fact that the charity Ramadan donated money to weren’t blacklisted by the U.S. government until long after Ramadan had given money. The suggestion is that Ramadan should have known he was giving money to an organization that might in turn give it to Hamas. Yet the U.S. government itself hadn’t identified this charity as having connections to terrorists.

More frightening is the cacophony of innuendo that’s been used to bolster the case against Ramadan. Hyman repeats several
slanderous accusations that have no support and in fact have been proved wrong (including calling one of the men responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, as well as a high-level al-Qaeda leader, “close terrorist colleagues”; in fact, Ramadan has never met either man). As we know all too well, Hyman has no problems making up horrific allegations to smear someone he thinks he doesn’t like (I doubt he knows enough about Ramadan to actually have an informed opinion).

The scary thing isn’t simply that reactionaries like Hyman have resurrected Red baiting, but that they are targeting an individual who’s exactly the last person they should attack.

Ramadan, in addition to being named one of the 100 most innovative people for the coming century, has long argued that Muslims living in the West should embrace their adopted cultures and stop seeing being Muslim and being Western as mutually exclusive. He’s spoken out for modernization of Islamic beliefs, to such an extent that he’s been
called “The Muslim Martin Luther.” He upbraided fellow Muslims who sought to scapegoat America, Israel, or other forces for the 9/11 attacks. British Prime Minister Tony Blair asked him to be part of a government taskforce to help root out Muslim extremists in Britain.

In other words, he’s precisely the sort of progressive Muslim voice we should hope gains a wider audience. Let’s not forget to mention (as Hyman did) that Notre Dame invited him to be part of their International Peace Studies program. Unless Hyman and others of his ilk (such as Daniel Pipes) want to argue that Notre Dame is a hotbed of subversive anti-Americanism that secretly wants to give a terrorist sympathizer a soapbox on which to preach violence, it’s difficult to reconcile any of the charges made against Ramadan with his actual views and intellectual mission.

Ultimately, what’s most frightening (but, alas, not surprising) is that Hyman and his ideological allies are arguing *against* having an open discussion involving provocative ideas. They aren’t actually worried about Ramadan advocating violence. They worry about his ideas (he’s seen as not being sufficiently pro-Israel or anti-Muslim enough to be a true voice of reform).

Heaven forbid we actually *discuss* things in this country. As we’ve seen not only from Hyman himself, but the Bush administration and the neo-con project as a whole, ideas, debate, and even thought are inherently suspect. Those skills that we’ve often considered central to having a well-developed intellect, often collectively referred to as “critical thinking,” are dismissed as irrelevant or subversive, even as they are paid lip service by the educational standards coming out of the “No Child Left Behind” initiatives. Look at a situation from someone else’s point of view? Hell, no! That’s for pussies!

It’s not Ramadan’s non-existent ties with terrorists, or even his politics, that offends Hyman and Co.; it’s the very idea he represents: that exploring alternative ideas that challenge the status quo is a healthy and productive thing.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.61

Monday, October 23, 2006


It's certainly too early to call it a victory, but a recent perusal of the Newscentral.tv website shows that the two recent commentaries about George Soros that slandered him as a Nazi collaborator have been taken down.

This might simply be a coincidence. The Newscentral website is often squirrely and things go missing and reappear often without any reason.

Yet, the sudden departure of these particualr two commentaries following the notification of Soros's organization by a number of you along with yours truly might be linked. At the very least, it may be that someone in legal at Sinclair may have recognized after the fact that they were leaving themselves open for huge slander suit.

We'll wait to see what happens. If any one out there can confirm if Soros (or anyone else) pressured Sinclair to remove these posts, please share the good news.

Of course, this is not an adequate response, even if it turns out Sinclair has taken them down as a result of pressure. Hyman must publicly apologize and repudiate his statements. Please visit the Newscentral.tv website and keep the pressure on!


The People v. Mark Hyman

Mark Hyman uses a classic propaganda technique in his recent commentary about the evils of class action lawsuits.

This time around, his weapon of choice is using a specific, worst-case scenario to imply a wider problem.

Specifically, Hyman attacks the courts of Madison County, Illinois, for their generally pro-plaintiff stance in class action lawsuits, a quality that has led a disproportionate number of such lawsuits to be filed there.

Hyman paints a picture of greedy trial lawyers growing rich while winning settlements that net individual plaintiffs only a few bucks each.

While there’s no doubt that lawsuits lacking merit have been filed, there’s also no doubt that companies have cheated and mistreated customers and employees. The class action lawsuit is one of the few ways such groups can hold corporate behemoths accountable.

Think of it this way: if you found out your bank, energy company, insurance company, etc. had been charging you a fishy “utilization fee” buried in your monthly statement that was nothing other than a way of squeezing a few more dollars out of you without you noticing, you’d be mad. But would you sue? Probably not, given that the few dollars a month you’ve been cheated out of wouldn’t even begin to pay for a lawyer.

So, as long as the cheating they do is minimal, corporations can safely rob customers of millions of dollars, as long as the pain is spread out enough to keep any one customer from filing suit against them.

The class action lawsuit changes this, allowing groups of customers to band together to fight companies. Given the nature of the offenses involved, it’s true that the actual rewards to individual consumers are often small, particularly when compared to the money taken in by the law firm representing them.

But that’s not a fair way of judging the fairness of the suit. A better way would be to measure the *total* amount of money won for all the plaintiffs, and also (and this is important) figure in the costs (real and opportunity costs) incurred by the law firm trying the case.

After all, corporations have deep pockets and can spend millions on lawyers to defend them and drag cases out for years. No law firm will be able to stand up for customers if there wasn’t a substantial reward for them.

Make no mistake: Hyman isn’t simply against the Madison County courts; he’s against class action suits that protect consumers’ rights. This is the attitude that’s behind the evergreen conservative talking point, “tort reform.” In fact, tort reform means stripping away the rights of consumers to hold corporations accountable when they are mistreated or cheated by them.

Why do conservatives favor taking rights away from consumers? Because in their cosmology, what’s good for the corporate world is an absolute good. All the talk about accountability and values go out the window when attention is turned toward corporations. When it comes to making a profit, conservatives believe in the ethic of “by any means necessary.”

And in the case of Hyman, it’s particularly understandable why he’d live in fear of consumers having the power to hold a company responsible. Can you imagine what would happen if Sinclair viewers banded together and brought a class action lawsuit against the company for abusing the public resource of the broadcast spectrum?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.88

The Cockeysville Lyin' Hymans

Fortunately, there’s so little of import going on in the world that Mark Hyman has the time to devote two minutes of our local news broadcasts to the burning issue of college mascots.

Hyman bemoans the NCAA decision to not allow the University of North Dakota to use its current nickname, the Fighting Sioux, as part of its general moratorium on racially insensitive nicknames.

As one might expect, this has Hyman all in a lather, particularly since other schools using Native American nicknames (Florida State, Utah, Central Michigan University) have been given a reprieve from the NCAA.

Yes, this certainly sounds like a case of NCAA arbitrariness, and it would hardly be the first time it’s occurred.

But here’s what Hyman fails to mention. The schools who’ve been given permission to keep their nicknames all had one thing in common:
the had received the formal, unequivocal blessing of the tribes themselves to use these names, while North Dakota hasn’t. Hyman claims they have, but this isn’t true. Several tribal organizations have formally protested the use of the Fighting Sioux nickname. Hence, the NCAA is sticking to its guns.

Nor is the controversy a case of recent political correctness run amok.
The nickname has been the subject of controversy for more than thirty years, particularly given the large Sioux population in the state and on campus.

Sure, college mascots is a trivial issue, and there are more important things to get worked up over, even in the area of Native American issues specifically.

But precisely *because* it’s a trivial issue, why should North Dakota, Mark Hyman, or anyone else not simply concede, act like decent human beings, and change the nickname so that it doesn’t offend the very people they claim to be “honoring?” It doesn’t do any real damage to the university, and it’s treating people with respect.

One last point that Hyman glosses over is the fact that the nicknames at issue are Native American. He points out that there are lots of nicknames that refer to groups of people. Should these all be done away with?

What Hyman forgets is that almost none of the other nicknames he mentions refer to ethnic groups that have been almost wiped out. If any ethnicity has the right to be a bit more sensitive about the appropriation of their identity for entertainment purposes, it’s Native Americans.

But Hyman doesn’t acknowledge this, lumping in “Fighting Sioux” with nicknames such as Cowboys, Texans, Oilers, Vikings, Saxons, Saints, Railsplitters, Poets, and Engineers.

None of these groups has the same tragic history as the Native American peoples. Of course, the obvious exception is “the Engineers.” After all, who can forget that heart-rending memoir, Bury My Slide-Rule at Wounded Knee?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.28

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Bad Citizen in Chief

You might remember the Intercollegiate Study Institute. They’re a particular favorite of Mark Hyman and the folks at “The Point.” You might remember that about a year ago, they did a series in which they sung the praises of the ISI’s criticisms of higher education while never mentioning the organization’s clearly stated conservative agenda.

Hyman returns to them again, this time touting a recent study by the ISI purportedly showing that America’s colleges and universities are doing little, if anything, to improve students’ understanding of civics.

The study asked thousands of college students questions the ISI claimed tested their basic knowledge of American history and politics. The results were dismal, with students getting barely over half the questions right.

Sounds bad, but there are an number of problems with the study. First, we don’t know what those questions actually asked, because the ISI hasn’t released them. Given ISI’s stated right-wing agenda, it’s possible that questions were frame in a politically biased way, with answers that weren’t Right not considered right.

Also, Hyman claims the students were randomly selected. They weren’t. Apparently at one campus, students were bribed with the possibility of winning an iPod to participate. Reportedly, a student simply filled out the survey randomly so that he could be entered in the drawing.

The ISI also doesn’t say how many students from various schools were selected. While claiming the ability to rank schools on the basis of the results, it may very well be that some schools had hundreds of students taking the survey, while only a handful took it at other schools, thereby making the results invalid, at least in terms of comparisons.

Plenty has already been pointed out about the suspect motivations of ISI and the glaring errors in methodology, errors that Hyman glosses over or actually misrepresents. Even officials at the university that placed first in the ISI study dismissed the survey as bogus.

You’ll get no argument from me that college students should know more about history and civics than they do. It’s just another case for a strong liberal arts education, something near and dear to my own heart.

But let’s not confuse the ability to answer a multiple choice quiz with the ability to be a good citizen. After all, which is more important in being an informed voter: knowing which Amendment to the Constitution enfranchised women to vote, or having the critical thinking skills to detect propaganda techniques in political ads?

Even if the ISI study were a masterpiece of the survey-writer’s art, it only tests basic fact regurgitation. And while I’m all for being up on names, dates, and other such things, an ability to do this shouldn’t be confused with higher order mental skills involving synthesizing information, making comparisons, and reasoning through arguments.

To put it another way, Ken Jennings is a bright guy, but he ain’t no Einstein. There’s a world of difference between cleaning up on Jeopardy and coming up with the theory of relativity. The analogy is a stretch, admittedly, but you get my point: mastering trivia isn’t the same thing as mastering thinking.

Moreover, to the extent college students are uninformed about basic civics, can we really blame colleges and universities? Michael Berube has a clever post on his blog pointing out that the blame might lie elsewhere. To give you a hint of what he’s getting at, try answering these seemingly obvious civics questions—at least obvious before January of 2001:

True or false: American citizens have a right to not have the government spy on their private conversations.

True or false: In American jurisprudence, defendants are guaranteed a right to a lawyer, a speedy trial, and to see the evidence against them.

True or false: Congress has the sole power to declare war.

True or false: A Constitutionally mandated role of the Congress is to serve as a check on the Executive branch.

True or false: Identifying an undercover intelligence agent of the United States is a crime.

True or false: All Americans, regardless of race, creed, color, or county of residence in the state of Florida, have a Constitutionally guaranteed right to have their vote counted.

True or false: The role of the president is to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

True or false: The United States government does not engage in torture.

Should it surprise us that young people who have become politically aware in the last five years might not be up to speed on basic civics?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.88

The Truth Is DOA at "The Point"

Mark Hyman gives us yet another diatribe on how easy it is to be an undocumented immigrant in the United States. Too bad his facts are all wrong.

This time around, Hyman complains that the Massachusetts state healthcare system (MassHealth) has taken the draconian measure of forcing citizens to prove their identity before receiving benefits, while immigrants, including those in the country illegally, can simply ask for treatment and receive it.

I firmly believe that a compassionate society should provide
emergency medical services particularly for life-threatening injuries or illness
to everyone including non-citizens. MassHealth does just that. . .

However . . . illegal and legal aliens do not have to provide any
official documentation other than a signed statement that they fall within the
income guidelines to qualify for MassHealth coverage. . . .

What kind of thinking is behind a government program that requires U.S.
citizens to prove themselves but allows illegal aliens to be taken at their
word? See! There are benefits to breaking the law.

Those damn Massachusetts liberals coddling illegals while sticking it to honest citizens! How dare they?

Well, as a matter of fact, the reason they took this step is because of a law passed by the Republican Congress, largely along party lines, that is forcing them to do this. As part of the euphemistically titled Federal Deficit Reduction Act, state healthcare providers
must make citizens prove their identity before receiving the treatment they’re due.

Since this is a federal law, it applies across the country,
including in states like Florida (who’s the governor there, by the way?).

Moreover, Hyman is simply dishonest when he suggests that undocumented immigrants get the same treatment as legal citizens. MassHealth stipulates that they are eligible for emergency treatment. That’s it. In other words, it gives undocumented immigrants exactly what Hyman himself claims “a compassionate society” should provide.

Even legal immigrants are restricted as far as exactly what sorts of benefits they receive.

As shocked as you might be to hear this, Hyman is cynically taking an idiotic federal law passed by the GOP and blaming a famously blue state for following it, then fabricating evidence to engage in some good ol’ down home xenophobia.

As usual, Hyman’s argument and ethics are DOA.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.59

Hyman Serves Up Another Lemon

Mark Hyman revisits the issue of privatizing education in his recent editorial in which he compares failing schools to cars that turn out to be “lemons.”

The metaphor itself is wrongheaded for a number of reasons. First, education is not a product, like cars, toilet paper, or widgets. It’s a communal act of preparing children, all of them, for the future. That’s why those of us who don’t have kids also pay into the education system: it’s serving the good of the nation, not just the individual students and their families.

Having said that, Hyman compounds the inapt metaphor with the fallacy of a false dichotomy, suggesting that the choice is between funding public schools that are failing and allowing parents to use public money to send their child to private school.

The unconstitutionality of that aside, it’s ignoring the far more sensible alternative of allowing greater choice with in public schools. Such choice would truly allow all students to participate. Voucher systems, as we’ve pointed out here a number of times, essentially amount to a tax break for those wealthy enough to pay tuition at private schools.

Public school choice allows everyone to participate in choice (letting that wonderful invisible hand truly do its thing) and does not break our covenant with the next generation.

To put it another way, Hyman advocates a system in which some people could keep their children from riding in a car that was a lemon but didn’t do anything to keep their neighbors’ children from being driven off in a dangerously unsafe car. Is that the sort of morality we want in America?

How about we focus on actually fixing the car so that everyone gets where they’re supposed to go?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.13

Friday, October 13, 2006

Hyman "U-Boats" George Soros

There are many things that can be said about Mark Hyman’s commentary in which he participates in the “U-Boating” of George Soros: the appalling claim that he somehow collaborated with the Nazis when he was a child during World War II.

There are many things indeed, from the fact that he does so in defending a book by David Horowitz and Richard Poe that Media Matters for America revealed to be full of unsubstantiated charges and doctored quotes (a charge that Horowitz has claimed for a month or two he would systematically refute, but hasn’t) to the fact that lying about political opponents is something that Hyman has done before.

Then there’s the obvious fact that Hyman doesn’t argue the merits of any actual political position (or lack thereof) in the piece, but relies on attacking the actions of a 14-year-old boy 60 years ago.

But I just want to focus on one thing to avoid it getting lost in anything else: Hyman commits slander in this editorial.

Not slander as in saying something unkind about someone else. Not slander as in only telling a half truth that distorts reality. I mean actual, legal slander.

Hyman charges not only that Soros collaborated with the Nazis but that “he did identify wealthy Jews in hiding so that Nazi officials could confiscate their belongings.”

To my knowledge, even seasoned Soros haters haven’t alleged this. To support his claims, Hyman excerpts part of an interview Soros did with “Sixty Minutes,” in which he describes how his Jewish father hid him from the Nazis, and saved his life, by getting a Hungarian bureaucrat in the occupational government to pass off Soros as his own son. This bureaucrat’s job included serving eviction notices to Jews. When asked if he felt guilty about participating in this, Soros says no, because he was only a child and was not actually participating in the actions. He was simply playing the part of this bureaucrat’s adopted son.

Hyman says Soros “admits” he didn’t participate directly in the confiscations (an odd word choice in this context), but that (and I realize I’m repeating this) “he did identify wealthy Jews in hiding so that Nazi officials could confiscate their belongings.”

Let that sink in for a moment.

There is nothing in Soros’s statements that even comes close to stating this. And notice what Hyman is accusing him of: he paints a picture of the 14-year-old Soros skipping around town happily pointing out Anne Frank (or her Hungarian equivalent) to the Gestapo so they could be shipped off to Auschwitz and gassed. He’s accusing Soros of actively participating in the genocide of his own people.

Perhaps Hyman will say that he simply claimed Soros "identified Jews in hiding" meaning that Soros helped the man protecting him identify homes which could safely be confiscated, since their owners were in hiding. The problem is that this isn't at all what Hyman's words suggest, and even if they did, he would still be accusing the adolescent Soros of actively participating in revealing identities of Jews in hiding (as he himself was), something that is tantamount to physically turning them in.

There are no words to describe how despicable this is. This is a new low, even for Hyman. It is, in the legal and dictionary definition of the term, slander.

One can only hope that Soros will take notice and sue the pants off of Sinclair and Hyman for this. True, Hyman is in insignificant gnat in Soros’s universe, but perhaps Soros will nail him to the wall on behalf of the rest of us who’ve been attacked maliciously and falsely by Hyman.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hyman's Bunk

In setting up an attack on George Soros, Hyman defends the source of his upcoming attack, a book by David Horowitz and Richard Poe titled The Shadow Party, by attacking one organization that has criticized the book: Media Matters for America.

In interest of full disclosure, while I have never been paid anything by Media Matters, I have written for their Sinclair Watch site, received a spirited defense from them when Hyman attacked me on air, and Media Matters president David Brock was kind enough to send me an autographed copy of his latest book, The Republican Noise Machine, as a gift.

Such are my ties to Media Matters. Now, on to the debunking.

Hyman makes three charges about Media Matters. First, he says they are “seemingly incapable of writing anything that doesn't contain the words lie, smear or slander. Quite ironic considering that its president confessed in his political memoirs that he intentionally lied in multiple articles he wrote for publication.”

There are multiple brief points to make here. First, why does using the words lie, smear, or slander suggest Media Matters is somehow suspect themselves? Given that their mission is to debunk right wing spin and attacks, it’s not surprising they would use these words. After all, they certainly apply to a fair number of what comes from right wing inhabitants of the Prattle-sphere.

Second, a quick search of the Media Matters site found that in fact, they rarely use these words anyway. The words do pop up frequently in their articles, but my overview revealed that most instances came from right wing pundits who were quoted on the site. Unlike most conservative groups, Media Matters routinely publishes the transcripts of the interviews, articles, and media appearances of the people it criticizes. In short, you’re far more likely to read a transcript of O’Reilly claiming he’s been “smeared” by Media Matters than to see that word used in the actual text of a MMFA article. As I know from having written for them, the editors at MMFA are quite studious when it comes to maintaining an even and level tone in their text, even when critiquing the shrillest of right wingers.

Lastly, David Brock has admitted to being less than honest in some of his work early in his career. What Hyman doesn’t tell you is that this occurred when he had been hired to do hit pieces on Hillary Clinton, Anita Hill, and other prominent liberals. What his memoirs (and his most recent book) expose is the utter lack of concern for truth that exists in many right wing media circles. That Brock has admitted and forsaken his past roles in creating right wing propaganda shouldn’t be held against him. And as any reader of MMFA knows, their stories are meticulously sourced and almost always include transcripts of the original remarks made by those they criticize.

The second charge Hyman makes is that MMFA receives George Soros money. But even Hyman admits that MMFA is not directly funded by Soros. MMFA does have ties to other prominent liberal and progressive groups, such as Moveon.org and the Center for American Progress, from whom it received some early support. But while these groups have received money from Soros, the claim that MMFA’s defense of Soros is some sort of quid pro quo is tortured, to say the least, and in terms of logic, says nothing about the validity of MMFA’s criticisms of The Shadow Party.

Thirdly, Hyman claims that in early 2005, Media Matters falsely said that the Staples office supply chain removed advertising from local Sinclair station broadcasts in part as a result of requests by viewers and customers angered by Sinclair’s overt political propagandizing. According to Hyman, MMFA was “humiliated” and was sent “running for cover” when Staples issued a press release saying it wasn’t pulling advertising.

The problem with Hyman’s claim is that he’s simply wrong.
Staples did pull advertising from local Sinclair stations. And as MMFA pointed out, Staples itself vetted the very press release Hyman claims was “false.” Staples executives also spoke on the record to various media outlets confirming not only the decision to pull advertising, but that it was motivated in part by concerns of viewers.

Hyman hangs his hat on a subsequent press release that claimed that while it *had* pulled advertising from local Sinclair broadcasts, it hadn’t pulled ads from Sinclair stations altogether (e.g., ads running during network programming) and that it hadn’t pulled ads because of politics.

But in the context of the documented facts of the case, it's clear this statement is simply a way for Staples to cover its flanks, defending itself from the charge of making a purely political decision in response to a particular interest group. But no one claimed it was. MMFA simply noted that when its customers expressed their concerns, Staples made a business decision that running ads on overtly political newscasts was not a good move.

And once again, what does this have to do with MMFA’s critique of “The Shadow Party?” Not a whole lot.

Tomorrow: Hyman joins Lyndon LaRouche in “U-Boating” George Soros.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.45

This Evening's Special: Red Herring a la Hyman

There’s not much that needs be said about Mark Hyman’s recent editorial advocating greater transparency in Senate campaign financing. Commenting on the antiquated (i.e., un-computerized) system of processing reports of contributions, Hyman advocates for electronic filing of such reports.

Here, here. Not only is it a good idea, but it’s a good idea that most Senators favor as well. Reportedly, there are a few die-hard old timers who are anonymously blocking measures to create an electronic filing system, but most Senators are on record as supporting it, including both Senators McCain and Feingold.

Why is that relevant? It’s not particularly, except for the fact that Hyman throws in a red herring by linking the absence of an electronic filing system to the (altogether, now) “infamous” McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation.

There’s no link between the two, save for the fact that, as Hyman lamely offers, “the Senate, which championed McCain-Feingold, exempted itself from electronic reporting.”

There are other mistaken assertions in Hyman’s argument, such as the claim that McCain-Feingold “placed free speech restrictions on third party interests” (it neither restricted speech nor hampered third party spending, as the number of 527 groups shows). He also wrongly claims that such third party groups “often hold incumbents accountable for their votes.”
As we’ve noted in the past, incumbents make out like bandits when it comes to raking in third party dough; after all, with the re-election rate as high as it is in Congress, it only makes sense to bet on incumbents in the form of giving money to their campaigns.

Why does Hyman bend over backwards to advocate for the rights of third parties to donate to political campaigns without restriction? Perhaps it’s because Sinclair Broadcasting has its very own PAC which gives money almost solely to Republican candidates. It might also have something to do with the fact that Hyman was in bed with the most infamous 527 of them all, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth [sic], a group that collaborated with the organization producing the propaganda hit piece on John Kerry that Sinclair planned to run, and did run large parts of, despite an outcry from the public.

In any case, Hyman manages to mangle the truth, even when defending a common-sense idea that just about everybody agrees with.

But that’s our Mark: snatching dishonesty from the jaws of reality.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.27

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Cherry Picking Bigotry

Mark Hyman makes a spirited attack on bigotry in a recent commentary. Too bad he gets the facts wrong and shoots himself in the foot in the process.

Specifically, Hyman takes to task Adam Howard, a columnist for The Nation, who recently wrote
a short piece hypothesizing that some recent African American candidates put up for election by the GOP were chosen primarily to help siphon off Democratic votes, not because of any newfound concern over minority issues.

Hyman claims Howard is a bigot who thinks that “all blacks should think, believe, live, act and vote the exact same way” and that “Howard's bigoted position is that blacks who have any opinion contrary to the very narrow views he believes all blacks should adhere to he calls ‘stooges.’” (Don’t spend a lot of time trying to scan that last sentence of Hyman’s; it’s not grammatical).

But Hyman makes an elementary mistake in reading comprehension. Howard’s reference to “stooges” is aimed specifically at three prominent black candidates running for office (as in “The Three Stooges”).

And why does he call these particular candidates “stooges”? Not because they have different points of views on issues than most African Americans, but because they’ve taken specific stands that objectively hurt the African American community.

Lynn Swann, a political novice, advocates cuts in food stamps and welfare. The infamous Ken Blackwell helped disenfranchise thousands of African American voters.

The most interesting case for us, however, is Maryland Senate candidate and current Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele, who recently said he had no problem with Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich going to an all-white country club.

This is particularly interesting because Mark Hyman used to work with Ehrlich when the governor was a representative in Congress. And, as we know, Sinclair Broadcasting has had a quid pro quo relationship with Ehrlich that’s violated ethical lines a number of times.

Of course, Hyman fails to disclose his relationship with Ehrlich, or that between Sinclair and the governor. But should we be surprised that he comes to the rabid defense of Ehrlich’s underling when he’s criticized?

Hyman’s right about one thing: bigots can be of any color. But perhaps Hyman should look at the overt bigotry of his former boss’s appearance at an all-white country club and the lieutenant governor’s vocal support of this appearance before he decides to do some creative misreading of an a column in The Nation to come up with an example of liberal bigotry. Of course, if he’s *really* interested in stopping bigotry, he should begin by looking in the mirror.

Oh, and one more thing: in a delicious bit of unintentional humor, Hyman manages to commit the very sin he accuses others of when he offers up this gem:

Most black Americans are probably fed-up with the tired old liberal
stereotype that all blacks should think, believe, live, act and vote the exact
same way. [emphasis added]


And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.55

Friday, October 06, 2006

Hyman's Sexual and Poltical Double Standards

Hyman’s recent editorials have been fairly bland and pointless commentaries on the dangers of sexual predators. His takes on the specific cases he mentions are unremarkable, save a swipe at a teacher’s union for defending a science teacher who was fired for having used his school computer to view pornographic websites twice.

So I was simply going to respond by remarking on the interesting juxtaposition of Hyman’s sudden interest in sexual predators with the suddenly infamous case or Republican Representative Mark Foley.

But yesterday
Hyman addressed the Foley issue directly (well, sort of), and his take on it is worth a brief examination.

On the good side, Hyman says, “Anyone who knew of the sexually explicit messages that surfaced this week and did nothing should step down.”

Absolutely right. But Hyman hedges a bit by limiting his call for resignations to those who knew of the specific IM messages that were released this week. It’s becoming increasingly clear, however, that House
Speaker Dennis Hastert knew of Foley’s “problem” with Congressional pages long ago. So did the Republican House member who helped oversee the page program, although he studiously avoided letting his Democratic counterpart know this.

It will be interesting to see if Hyman publicly calls for Dennis Hastert’s resignation (as many conservatives already have), or hides behind the fig leaf of Hastert’s possible ignorance of the specific emails in question as a way of defending him.

More interesting yet is the rest of Hyman’s editorial. Although the Foley affair is the inspiration for the editorial, Hyman spends twice as many words discussing previous sex scandals involving Democrat Barney Frank and Democrat Gerry Studds. Hyman titles his editorial “Congressional Sexcapades,” lumping the Foley matter in with previous sexual embarrassments involving Democrats.

A few things to keep in mind: The Barney Frank and Gerry Studds matters both involved partners of legal age. (Although Studds had an affair with a Congressional page in 1973, the young man was above the legal age of consent at the time.) Foley’s explicit emails were to a minor.

Moreover, there’s no evidence that Democrats tried to cover up either episode for fear of political embarrassment, and in so doing, put children at risk. This is exactly what appears to have happened with the current Republican leadership and Foley, an act all the more heinous given Foley’s position as chairman of the committee for missing and exploited children.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about Hyman’s editorial, however, is his statement that, “For their part, Democrats must walk a fine line to avoid engaging in gay bashing.”


How is condemning Foley’s actions and aggressively investigating a cover-up of his tendency to sexually harass minors running the risk of gay bashing?

It’s not, at least if one recognizes that pedophilia and homosexuality are not linked any more closely than pedophilia and heterosexuality.

No one is saying that Foley’s actions are particularly reprehensible because he was engaging in explicit sexual talk with a boy rather than a girl. The issue is the age of the person involved, as well as the power relationship.

But by suggesting that condemning Foley’s actions could be construed as “gay bashing,” Hyman reveals the extent to which homosexuality and pedophilia are connected in his own fetid imagination.

To underscore this point, it’s no accident that while Hyman makes much of the Congressional rebuke Gerry Studds received in 1983 for his affair with a male page ten years earlier, he ignores the matter of Republican Dan Crane who was rebuked at the same time for an affair with a 17-year-old female Congressional page in 1980.

There are two double standards here: the one in which Democratic sexual scandals are somehow sleazier than Republican ones, and the one in which homosexual sexual affairs are more scandalous than heterosexual ones.

Sexual misconduct is an equal-opportunity sin. I don’t think Foley being a Republican has anything to do with his actions. There shouldn’t be anything partisan about it.

However, how political parties react to this conduct by their members does, by definition, involve partisan issues. Hyman make much of the fact that Frank and Studds were reelected to Congress several times after their affairs were made public (insinuating that somehow Democrats don’t really care about tawdry sexual behavior, while Republicans do).

But what are we to make of the revelations that Republican leaders knew about Foley’s predatory behavior toward children for a long time, yet did nothing about it and didn’t warn their Democratic colleagues about it, thereby putting more children at risk?

Abramoff, DeLay, Duke Cunningham, the Foley coverup . . . how can anyone who claims to care about morals and values support a party whose leaders whose corruption stinks to Heaven?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.70

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


You don’t need to be a particularly big fan of Bill Clinton to acknowledge the obvious: he was far more deeply concerned about international terrorism than George W. Bush.

Yet, Mark Hyman is unable to do this. Commenting on the Clinton interview on FOX News in which the former president embarrassed an unprepared Chris Wallace, Hyman claims Clinton “ignored” or “labeled as criminal acts” numerous acts of terrorism.

The “ignored” part is balderdash. As for criminal acts, yes, he labeled terrorist attacks criminal acts because that’s what they were. He also made unprecedented steps to creating a comprehensive national policy to stop terrorism and actually tried to kill bin Laden (over the protests of the Republicans).

A book could be written (and in fact has been, by Richard Clark) detailing the ways Clinton dealt with the issue of terrorism generally and al Qaeda specifically, and comparing it to the sorry Bush record, but here are just a handful of relevant comparisons and contrasts:

When the Clinton received a PDB saying al Qaeda was planning on hijacking American airplanes in 1998, meetings were held, security levels were raised, and arrests were made.
When the Bush got a PDB saying that al Qaeda was planning on hijacking American airplanes in the summer of 2001, he did exactly nothing.

The Clinton administration created the first ever to create an anti-terrorism task force.
The Bush administration never held a meeting on terrorism until after 9/11.

According to Richard Clark, when Clinton was told about possible al Qaeda plots, he ramped up efforts to take out bin Laden.
When Bush was told in the summer of 2001 that there were ominous signs of an imminent al Qaeda attack, he told the CIA agent briefing him, “
Okay, you’ve covered your ass, now.”

After the “Black Hawk Down” incident in 1993, Republicans immediately wanted to cut and run from Somalia, a country to which bin Laden had actual ties.
In 2006, Republicans accuse even combat veterans of wanting to cut and run when they have the temerity to suggest we might want to disengage from Iraq, a country that bin Laden never set foot in and which had no ties to al Qaeda.

In the 1990s, conservatives attacked Clinton for being “obsessed” with bin Laden and for “wagging the dog” when he tried to kill him.
In 2006, these same conservatives claim Clinton didn’t care about terrorism and did nothing to go after bin Laden.

Clinton worked closely with Richard Clark, the leading expert on terrorism, on plans to take out bin Laden and to stop al Qaeda.
Bush demoted Clark.

When Bush took office,
Richard Clark wrote a memo to Condi Rice telling her about the danger posed by al Qaeda and presented her with a plan for dealing with the threat.
Rice ignored the memo, claimed not to have received a plan,
blew off CIA warnings in July of 2001 of a possible al Qaeda attack, and called the PDB warning of an imminent al Qaeda attack “a historic document.”

Clinton actively planned to kill bin Laden to the point of being charged with obsession.
Bush cut and run from Tora Bora, letting bin Laden get away *after* the 9/11 attacks and saying bin Laden was wanted “dead or alive.” He subsequently said that he “doesn’t think about him that much.”

But the most damning words, both for the Bush administration and for Hyman, come from Richard Clark (whom Hyman cites in his own editorial), a man who served both Clinton and Bush. I apologize for the lengthy quotations, but they’re worth it.

From Clark’s sworn testimony for the 9/11 Commission:

At the senior policy levels in the Clinton Administration, there was an acute
understanding of the terrorist threat, particularly al Qida. That understanding
resulted in a vigorous program to counter al Qida including lethal covert
action, but it did not include a willingness to resume bombing of Afghanistan.
Events in the Balkans, Iraq, the Peace Process, and domestic politics occurring
at the same time as the anti-terrorism effort played a role.
The Bush
Administration saw terrorism policy as important but not urgent, prior to 9-11.
The difficulty in obtaining the first Cabinet level (Principals) policy meeting
on terrorism and the limited Principals' involvement sent unfortunate signals to
the bureaucracy about the Administration's attitude toward the al Qida

And from an interview with The Guardian:

JB: Condoleezza Rice wrote today in response to your book - that the Bush
administration did have a strategy for eliminating al-Qaida and that the
administration worked on it in the spring and summer of 2001? Is that true?
RC: We developed that strategy in the last several
months of the Clinton administration and it was basically an update on that
strategy. We briefed Condi on that strategy. The point is that it was done
before they came to office and she never held a meeting on it. It was done
before she asked for it.
JB: What about the claim
that the administration did work hard on the issue?
RC: Its not true. I asked - on January 24 in writing
to Condi - urgently for a meeting on cabinet level - the principal's committee -
to review the plan and I was told I can't have that. It had to go to the
deputies. They had a principals meeting on September 4. Contrast that with the
principal's meeting on Iraq, on February 1. So what was urgent for them was
Iraq. Al-Qaida was not important to them.
Contrast December '99 with June
and July and August 2001. In December '99 we get similar kinds of evidence that
al-Qaida was planning a similar kind of attack. President Clinton asks the
national security advisor to hold daily meetings with attorney-general, the CIA,
FBI. They go back to their departments from the White House and shake the
departments out to the field offices to find out everything they can find. It
becomes the number one priority of those agencies. When the head of the FBI and
CIA have to go to the White House every day, things happen and by the way, we
prevented the attack. Contrast that with June, July, August 2001 when the
president is being briefed virtually every day in his morning intelligence
briefing that something is about to happen, and he never chairs a meeting and he
never asks Condi rice to chair a meeting about what we're doing about stopping
the attacks. She didn't hold one meeting during all those three months. Now, it
turns out that buried in the FBI and CIA, there was information about two of
these al-Qaida terrorists who turned out to be hijackers [Khalid Almidhar and
Nawaf Alhazmi]. We didn't know that. The leadership of the FBI didn't know that,
but if the leadership had to report on a daily basis to the White House, he
would have shaken the trees and he would have found out those two guys were
there. We would have put their pictures on the front page of every newspaper and
we probably would have caught them. Now would that have stopped 9/11? I don't
know. It would have stopped those two guys, and knowing the FBI the way they can
take a thread and pull on it, they would probably have found others.

Oh, and one more contrast:

Clinton was honest enough to say that he failed to get bin Laden.
Bush can’t think of anything he’d do differently.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.76

Monday, October 02, 2006

Hyman Kills More Brain Cells

Mark Hyman does his part to enrich the public discourse by offering us an editorial about the social benefits of bar hopping.

Thanks a bunch, Mark.

Trumpeting findings by researchers in a study funded by the libertarian think tank Reason, Hyman announces that people who drink in public create greater social networks and end up making more money at their jobs as a result. (The study runs counter to a Harvard study that suggests “social capital” is linked with less drinking, not more.)

As a number of people have pointed out, there’s an inherent post hoc ergo prompter hoc fallacy going on here, in which it’s assumed that a correlation between public drinking and higher income is somehow causal. It could easily be that a third variable is causing both the increased drinking and the higher income (e.g., extrovert personality traits). Or, the causal relationship might be the other way around: people who make more money are more likely to hit bars and clubs.

Who knows?

More importantly, who cares?

I sympathize with the idea that tee-totaling is a somewhat overrated quality, but some of the suggestions of the study are dopey, such as that college campuses should rethink attitudes about curtailing drinking because it actually might help their students’ earning potential in the long run if they learn the wonders of “social networking” over a pint.

Yes, I’m sure Chad, Kyle, and the rest of the brethren of Tau Beta Alpha fraternity will be socially crippled if they aren’t encouraged to do body shots of Jagermeister off of tawny co-ed midriffs at Chugz ‘n’ Brewz.

Be that as it may, it’s more than a little ironic that a public figure so snugly in bed with cultural conservatives is talking up the benefits of tipping back a few. And given the very real problem of binge drinking (we just had a student die of alcohol poisoning at the university where I teach), I’d think that issues of statistical validity aside, there might be better ways to spend two minutes of public airtime.

What’s next? An editorial about how infamous whoremongers run a disproportionate number of media conglomerates?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.26

Hyman Causes an Intellectual Flabbalanche

In a recent editorial, Mark Hyman bemoans the efforts of “activists” to hold food companies responsible for the ill effects of their products on the national waistline.

Hyman sets up the issue in terms of a conflict between those who blame companies for America’s obesity and those who champion “personal responsibility.”

But that’s a classic example of a false dilemma. One can be all for personal accountability when it comes to food choices and still be for sensible regulations on the food industry, particularly those corporations (such as the fast food industry) that, like Big Tobacco, create products that harm their customers when that product is used as directed. (Morgan Spurlock, in his film Supersize Me, dramatically shows that if one ate at McDonald’s at each meal—exactly what the company would love for its customers to do—you can end up seriously ill in less than a month.)

In fact, it’s sometimes necessary to have regulations in order for customers to practice personal responsibility.

Hyman mocks the push for “requirements that all restaurant menus include nutritional information.” But how else are customers to make an informed decision unless they have the facts about the food in front of them? When we buy food at the store, the packaging has nutritional information on it. Why not at restaurants?

Again, Spurlock’s movie is a good example of the problem. Even at McDonald’s, which claims to have nutritional information available, it’s often difficult or impossible for customers to actually find it. Often, the employees themselves don’t even know where it is.

Demanding personal accountability but opposing giving individuals the tools they need to make informed decisions is hypocritical. Accountability is a two-way street.

Advocates of “personal responsibility” often bridle at the suggestion that we should hold corporations responsible as well. In Hyman’s case, I guess that’s not surprising. Sinclair has been serving up the journalistic version of fast food for several years now, increasing the intellectual flab of its audience.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.27

Cost of the War in Iraq
(JavaScript Error)
To see more details, click here.