Monday, December 04, 2006

And That's The Counterpoint

And so “The Point” is done, going out with a whimper rather than a bang.

Hyman’s last commentary took one last Parthian shot at John Kerry, repeating the canard that in Vietnam, Kerry shot a “wounded soldier fleeing the field of battle” (stop hating the troops, Mark!). We also have a mention of the many “major awards” garnered by “The Point,” (no mention of the fact that the awards the segment won were “pay-for-praise” awards in which virtually anyone who submits the required paperwork and meets a minimal standard of quality gets an award).

I’d love to provide a link to the commentary, but almost as soon as Hyman delivered his final “Point,” the website took everything connected with “The Point” segment down.

Ultimately, what Hyman said in his last final bit of blathering isn’t as important as the fact that he’s off the air. While one shouldn’t make too much of this one small victory, it’s important to acknowledge the symbolic importance of Hyman’s ignominious departure.

The communication theorist Jurgen Habermas writes that the role of the public sphere in a democracy is, ideally, to be an open forum where people engage in rational discourse that acknowledges differences and attempts to forge consensus. Part of this public sphere is the media, whose main purpose is to scrutinize those in power and report accurately the facts necessary for an informed public discussion of the issues of the day.

As Habermas has noted, the situation today is far from this ideal, particularly in regard to the media, who increasingly operate to protect the private interests of their owners rather than acting as a public corrective on private interests of those in power.

I have a hard time imagining a better example of this degeneration of the public sphere than Sinclair Broadcasting and Mark Hyman. Sinclair’s tactics involve gutting local news organizations and replacing them with pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all “news” to maximize corporate profits. In the process, they strip away an important part of the public sphere in the communities in which they set up shop.

It would be bad enough if Sinclair simply took away from the public sphere in this way in pursuit of economic interests, but they distort the public sphere through their unashamed lobbying for their own narrow political interests (which are, of course, connected to an extent with their economic interests).

We have the owners of Sinclair giving tens of thousands of dollars almost exclusively to Republican candidates. They’ve created their own corporate PAC, which also gives money almost exclusively to Republican candidates. We know that Sinclair executives have used their journalistic resources to support candidates of their choice in elections. We also know they’ve given illegal “gifts in kind” to candidates they support (in the form of free helicopter rides). And they’ve engaged in quid pro quo relationships with the now-lame duck governor of Maryland.

We know that they’ve made major decisions on what to cover and how based on the political interests of the owners. Sinclair refused to provide its viewers with network programming when that programming was deemed (inexplicably) to be politically biased (i.e., the refusal to air ABC’s “The Fallen”). Yet, they chose to air large chunks of a propaganda film that attacked a candidate with whom they disagreed and labeled it “news” in an attempt to influence an election (i.e., the Stolen Honor fiasco).

And then, of course, we have Hyman himself, whose personal soapbox, “The Point,” often took up more broadcast time than the lead story on the news had. That would be bad enough, but Sinclair forced its stations to carry Hyman, regardless of the local community’s desires and needs. Rather than free and open discourse, “The Point” gave us a closed, monopolistic, and self-interested monologue.

Rationality? You didn’t find it on “The Point,” which regularly engaged in ad hominem attacks, deck stacking, appeals to fear, and a nearly endless number of other stock propaganda techniques.

Acknowledging differences and forging consensus? Again, “The Point” did the opposite. Hyman regularly dehumanized and smeared any who disagreed with him, saying that they weren’t simply mistaken or wrong, but were bad people who hated their country and fellow citizens. He wasn’t even above suggesting that people he considered antagonists were criminals or traitors.

All this would be bad enough, but it was all done not simply through the media, but through the publicly owned airwaves—airwaves owned by the people of the United States as a means of creating a thoroughly public sphere. Sinclair and Hyman appropriated these airwaves to advance their own private economic and political agenda, and did so in a way that demonstrably impoverished the public sphere.

The disappearance of “The Point” is only a small move back toward a more humane, civil, and productive public sphere. There is still much to be done in terms of rehabilitating this crucial part of our social existence, including making mainstream journalism more accountable to the truth than to its corporate interests, holding public officials to higher standards in their own public discourse, keeping alternative forms of media (such as the Internet) truly free and open to all, reinstating the fairness doctrine for broadcast media, and turning back the tide of media consolidation and conglomeration.

But we’ll take our victories where we can get them, and this is a welcome and wonderful first step, no matter how small it might be.

In closing, I just want to thank all of you out there who’ve read and contributed to this blog. It’s been a wonderfully affirming and exciting experience to have this little hobbyhorse of mine become something that has brought me in contact with so many thoughtful, insightful people.

Thanks in particular to those of you who’ve left comments and emailed me—you’ve kept me honest and kept me motivated. Special thanks to my friends at Iowans for Better Local Television (IBLTV) in Iowa City for their early and continued support, and their tireless efforts to make real changes on a local level. Thanks also to regular commentators and readers, some of whom I know in real life, and some of whom I know only via this blog. Special shout outs to Todd and John H. in Iowa City (buckle down!), Bradley, Hyman’s Turtle, and that tireless poster, “Anonymous.” And Mike B., I think I’ll miss you most of all! We busted Hyman!

Some of you have asked about the future of this blog. For now, it will go on sabbatical, ready to swing back into action if/when Sinclair-related news comes up or Hyman reappears. In the meantime, I’ll likely start up a blog that casts at least a slightly wider net but which has essentially the same purpose: being a watchdog keeping an eye on certain aspects of public discourse. I doubt I’ll start that before the end of the year, but probably not long after that, I’ll be getting the itch to take up my mouse and keyboard and blog anew.

If you want to reach me directly, you can email me at If you like, I’ll send you an email whenever I get my next blog up and running. I’d love to have you stop by. Also, please let me know if you have any tips or info related to Sinclair or Mark Hyman. Let us be ever vigilant!

Thanks again everyone!

And that’s been The Counterpoint.

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