Ranting Under the Radar

Last night, a Campaign Desk reader watching the local news on the Fox affiliate in Rochester, New York, nearly fell off his chair. That was when the program ended with a one-minute “Point of View” commentary by Mark Hyman, entitled “Patriot For Life.” Here’s a section of the commentary, which calls into question John Kerry’s patriotism:

Kerry revealed in his 1971 Senate testimony that he met with two Communist groups in France while the war was still underway: Communist North Vietnam and the Communist Viet Cong. Two groups fighting and killing American servicemen and that eventually overthrew a democratic South Vietnam.

Hyman skates perilously close to accusing Kerry of treason for meeting with the above groups, who were “killing American servicemen” “while the war was still underway.” In doing so, he distorts the record: According to Kerry’s Senate testimony, he met with the groups in Paris, where they were convened for peace talks with representatives of the U.S. government. And he did so after his service had ended, as a representative of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Hyman’s not lying here, exactly; what he’s doing is taking a grain of truth and spinning from it an outlandish scenario of insinuation.

Later in the same editorial, he asserts that “In two decades in Congress Kerry firmly established himself as weak on national security and our servicemen and women,” — while presenting no evidence whatever to back up that hotly disputed claim.

Before you dismiss Hyman as a minor player plying his trade in an obscure Rust Belt city, you should know a little more about him. Hyman is the Vice President for Corporate Relations for Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group, “the nation’s largest operators of television stations.” A recent flap with Ted Koppel of “Nightline” notwithstanding, Sinclair often flies under the radar, despite having become the “Clear Channel of local news”: It is affiliated with 62 television stations in 39 markets, and its content reaches almost a quarter of U.S. households. Hyman’s commentaries are recorded in Baltimore and then piped to ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and WB affiliates, all owned by Sinclair, under orders to run them untouched.

A little digging finds that this latest commentary is in fact no more vitriolic than many of Hyman’s past efforts. But while media watchdogs regularly rail against national news outlets, they too often ignore the Mark Hymans of this world and his ilk, whose often-unsupported, frothing-at-the-mouth rants are pumped to local news consumers all over the country. Perhaps it’s time that the rest of us, like our alert Rochester viewer, started paying attention.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.