This morning on CNN, Sinclair Broadcasting’s Mark Hyman went on the air to defend his company’s decision to force its 62 stations to pre-empt their regular programming in favor of a movie attacking John Kerry’s military service record in Vietnam. Here’s a portion of what Hyman said to CNN’s Bill Hemmer:

… the accusations coming from Terry McAuliffe and others, is it because there are some elements of this that may reflect poorly on John Kerry? That it’s somehow an in-kind contribution of George Bush?

If you use that logic and reasoning, that means every car bomb in Iraq would be an in-kind contribution to John Kerry. Weak job performance ratings that came out last month would have been an in-kind contribution to John Kerry. And that’s just nonsense.

This is news. I can’t change the fact that these people decided to come forward today. The networks had this opportunity over a month ago to speak with these people. They chose to suppress them. They chose to ignore them. They are acting like Holocaust deniers, pretending these men don’t exist.

Putting aside Hyman’s vile comparison of the networks to “Holocaust deniers,” it’s worth addressing his argument. Hyman is claiming that there’s some sort of equivalence between a film that presents a loaded point of view — like the anti-Kerry film at issue, or Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” — and a news report about a real world event. The problem with this logic, of course, is that it confuses agitprop with actual news. Job performance ratings, to use Hyman’s example, are not partisan. A car bombing in Iraq — that’s not partisan either. Coverage of the latest violence in Iraq isn’t the same as airing “Fahrenheit 9/11” in prime-time. Hyman doesn’t seem to understand that we should bring a different level of skepticism to a partisan documentary than to a car bomb.

The interview also demonstrated that much of what passes for news analysis, particularly on cable television, is just as shallow as Hyman’s argument. Hemmer didn’t bother with the larger issue at stake during his interview with Hyman. Instead, he asked if there was a “bias at Sinclair against John Kerry” — an obvious question with an obvious answer, Hyman’s denial notwithstanding. If CNN is going to invite people like Hyman onto the air in a misguided attempt at balance, it needs to engage his argument, not let it pass without comment.

The Swift Boat veterans showed us what happens when a torpid media gives airtime to partisans without checking out their stories. CNN apparently still hasn’t learned that its credibility depends upon showing viewers the difference between news and spin.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.