We speak with Mark Hyman, Vice President for Corporate Relations at Sinclair Broadcast Group, which created an uproar last week when plans surfaced it ordered its 62 TV stations to pre-empt regular prime-time programming in favor of airing what many call an anti-Kerry film. Before working for Sinclair, Hyman served as an officer in Naval Intelligence and did work for the Central Intelligence Agency. [includes rush transcript]
The Sinclair Broadcasting Group created an uproar last week when plans surfaced it ordered its 62 TV stations to pre-empt regular prime-time programming in favor of airing the film "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal." The documentary was produced by Carlton Sherwood, a former Washington Times reporter who used to work for Department of Homeland Security director Tom Ridge while he was governor of Pennsylvania.
In response, 18 Democratic Senators urged the Federal Communications Commission to investigate Sinclair"s decision to air what they view as an unpaid 90-minute attack ad against Kerry. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps released a statement calling Sinclair’s decision to air the program a "abuse of public trust." And some groups complied databases of all of Sinclai"r advertisers so individuals could contact these companies and directly threaten to boycott their businesses if they did not pull their ads.
Well last Friday, I had a chance to speak with the Vice President for Corporate Relations for Sinclair, Mark Hyman. He joined me on the air in Canada while I was guest-hosting a radio show for CBC, Canada"s national public broadcaster.
- Mark Hyman, Vice President for Corporate Relations for Sinclair Broadcast Group.
AMY GOODMAN: I began by asking Sinclair’s Mark Hyman why he decided to air the documentary two weeks before the election.
MARK HYMAN: Well, I want to make certain I set the record straight. We probably all remember that telephone game we played in primary school where someone starts a story at one end of the class and it ends up being changed at the end, except in this particular instance, this all came about, at least the controversy, if you will, based on a very deeply flawed article that appeared in The Los Angeles Times. I think their adage must be, "We want to get the story first, instead of getting it right." Which sadly, kind of started a lot of the brouhaha, as we’ve made it clear on many, many, many, many, many media outlets here in the last several days. We have not finalized plans for this. What we want to do is investigate specific allegations that arose in this particular documentary. We don’t know what we’re going to — what the finished product is going to look like. What we do know is that we wanted Senator John Kerry to be a part of it. That’s why we quietly had invited him probably close to two weeks ago now to participate in this process, because we wanted to examine what certainly were new revelations, new claims made by people who previously had not come forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Your argument, when you told ABC affiliates not to air _Nightline_’s program when they named the soldiers who died in Iraq was that it was too partisan. What is your response to those who are saying that what you’re doing right now. to say the least, is partisan?
MARK HYMAN: Well, obviously, that’s an absurd comment. If you recall the Nightline issue it was George Stephanopoulos on April 25 who made the announcement that Ted Koppel was going to do the tribute to coincide with President Bush’s "Mission Accomplished" speech. He didn’t say it was a memorial to recognize the fallen men. It was meant to embarrass the president, which is fine. When we first heard that comment, we called ABC News and we said, "We’d like you to clarify what the intention is, because if you want to run a commentary, fine, just say it’s a commentary. We’re okay with that. If you want to tell people it’s news, well then, we have concerns, because Stephanopoulos just told us the day before, told America, that it wasn’t a newsworthy event." We further told ABC, "Look, if you want to run it on the anniversary of the war, that makes absolute sense."
AMY GOODMAN: And do you consider —
MARK HYMAN: [inaudible] thought. Or we said, "If you want to run it on Memorial Day, we will support this and we will definitely promote it, but to try to run it during the second night of the television sweeps rating period, and as Stephanopoulos mentioned it was meant to coincide with the 'Mission Accomplished' statement, that does not sound correct to us. Call it a commentary, we’re okay with it, but don’t call it news."
AMY GOODMAN: Do you not consider the deaths of 700 U.S. soldiers news?
MARK HYMAN: Absolutely, it’s news. But this wasn’t a surprise to anyone. We know each and every day that people are dying in all of those. We reported those each and every day. So, the question was, why did Ted Koppel pick out the anniversary of the president’s "Mission Accomplished" speech as the one day to announce this, when he could have done it five weeks earlier on the anniversary of the start of the war. He could do it a month following on Memorial Day, which certainly is the sort of the period in our country that we say we always recognize our people. Of course, Koppel dismissed Memorial Day as a weekend of keg parties and picnics. As a veteran, I kind of take exception to that characterization, but that’s his view.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about the man who produced "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal," Carlton Sherwood, the former Washington Times reporter, Bush administration official, close friend to Homeland Security Secretary —
MARK HYMAN: Okay, stop. Stop, Amy. Amy, no, stop.
AMY GOODMAN: No, let me —
MARK HYMAN: No, no, you gotta be fair on this, okay?
AMY GOODMAN: I want to let Canadians know who Carlton Sherwood is, and then you can respond. Sherwood claims not to be a political activist. He directed Homeland Security Director, Tom Ridge’s TV and radio operations when Ridge was the governor of Pennsylvania. And he quote, "recently has been tapped to create and manage a new federal website called firstresponder.gov which is a key Bush administration public outreach program. Can you talk about the fact — how you respond to him being the producer of this program that you are telling all of the affiliates, all of your Sinclair Broadcasting outlets to air?
MARK HYMAN: Now, I thought I just made it clear a moment ago to your listeners. We didn’t say we were running the documentary. You said it, The Los Angeles Times said it. The interesting thing is we are complaining about a product that hasn’t even been produced. It’s like someone complaining about a referee’s call in a game that has not yet been played. Kind of ironic. Maybe you watched The Minority Report movie too many times. But let’s set the record straight here, and I want your listeners to understand this. This is the same kind of shoddy cheap-shot journalism that people embark on. Carlton Sherwood, so your listeners know, 33 year journalist, he won a Pulitzer in writing for Ganette at the Philadelphia Inquirer. He’s won a Peabody in television, the two highest awards both in print and television journalism, as well as Emmys. Nobody in the mainstream press in America mentioned that. They mentioned that he worked for The Washington Times, 11 month stint, the shortest stop in his 33-year career, distinguished career, at major news outlets, including CNN, Philadelphia Inquirer, and everyone sort of forgets that he’s perhaps one of the most decorated journalists in America. They try to cheap shot it and make him look like he is something he is not. They also refer to him as a Bush administration official because he once worked for Tom Ridge when he was the governor of Pennsylvania. Follow this logic, because now since Tom Ridge went to work for the Bush administration they call him a Bush administration official. Here’s the logic: Carlton Sherwood worked for Tom Ridge when he was a governor. Tom Ridge knows Fred Thompson, former senator who also starred in No Way Out with Kevin Costner, who also starred in JFK with Kevin Bacon. There we go, we’ve just connected Carlton Sherwood with Kevin Bacon. The point I’m trying to make is cheap shot journalism can try to shoot the messenger all they want, you are welcome to do that. But let’s get back to the heart of the issue, this particular documentary, there were claims made by 13 American P.O.W.s , including two Medal of Honor winners. Their claims are very simple. They said John Kerry’s 1971 testimony that he called an act of conscience didn’t hurt anyone, and they’re saying, "Not true. My communist captors walked into my cell and said, 'John Kerry, this Navy lieutenant, called you a war criminal. You're guilty of war atrocities. Sign this confession or we will hurt you.’" They, as they had been doing for years, refused to sign a false confession. They were tortured. Those are the claims we wanted to investigate. These men ended 31 years of self-imposed silence because they want to respond to Kerry’s claims that his 1971 testimony didn’t hurt anyone. They’re saying it did.
AMY GOODMAN: Mark Hyman, are you saying — let me just clarify something. Are you saying that you might not run this, that you haven’t made your final decision?
MARK HYMAN: We have never made a public statement about any of this. What we have been doing, quietly, quietly, was we found claims inside this documentary — this is how it came to our attention — of 13 American P.O.W.s who made some very strong allegations that they specifically were tortured using John Kerry’s 1971 testimony.
AMY GOODMAN: We also —
MARK HYMAN: We never announced anything. The L.A. Times — the L.A. Times never spoke to our company.
AMY GOODMAN: So at this point, you’re not requiring your 62 Sinclair Broadcasting affiliates to run this documentary.
MARK HYMAN: What we told them, we’re going to run a 60-minute program. We gave them a general time frame and a window. If John Kerry was to respond to us and say, "You know, folks, we’ll respond to you and we’ll participate and I’ll spend two hours with you," guess what, we’re no longer doing a 60-minute program, maybe we’re doing a two-hour program, maybe we’re doing two one-hour programs over two nights, because we think it’s a valid issue. These men just came forward, although I have to tell you, we weren’t the first they approached. They went to ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS first, who all dismissed them and said, "We don’t care about your claims."
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you a question. Do you think your past, you were talking about being a veteran, you worked for the C.I.A. and naval intelligence, informs what you do now both in your commentaries as well as pushing this project forward, if you actually do in fact run this documentary?
MARK HYMAN: Correction. I have — I have — probably a stretch, I wouldn’t say exactly I worked for the C.I.A.
AMY GOODMAN: I was just reading your resume.
MARK HYMAN: I worked as a naval reservist, so I wasn’t a full-time employee. I just want to make sure that was clear.
AMY GOODMAN: But you worked for the C.I.A. and won commendations there.
MARK HYMAN: Oh, fine. Okay, I just — I don’t want to overstate it. That’s all. All of the folks at C.I.A. will hate me then, I guess. In what respect? I mean, you know, news is what news is, and one of the advantages that I have, at least, is I have had the opportunity to travel to some pretty spooky places around the world and be in some uncomfortable situations. So, that’s certainly gives me perhaps a little more sense of what’s going on in third world countries that maybe the average American hasn’t had — hasn’t had personal exposure to. But the bottom line is, for people to try to — I mean, if people want to demonize me, they’re welcome to do that. My personal view on this is that if demonizing me is what makes critics feel good, I’m okay with that, because the worst that could happen to me, the worst day I could suffer through all of this, would be by far the best day any of those P.O.W.s ever had. I mean, remember they suffered 84 years collectively of horrific abuse and unspeakable torture, and these guys, the few that have been active politically, actually campaigned against George Bush in 2000 when they supported John McCain or they were active in 1992 supporting Ross Perot, a supporter of P.O.W.-M.I.A. causes against Bush’s father in 1992. So these are not Bush partisans. These are guys who have a track record of not supporting the Bushes. They just said, "Look, we don’t question John Kerry’s service. He did what he did. We are fine with that. It’s just for him to say his testimony didn’t hurt anyone, it hurt me because people hurt me seriously and physically when they beat me up, and broke my bones, because I refused to sign a confession that he said in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I was guilty of committing these atrocities." Those are valid claims.
AMY GOODMAN: Mark Hyman, if the Bush administration were to win, would Sinclair Broadcasting do a little better? It’s reached a pretty much all-time low in its — the stock trading at now $7 with the Bush administration’s F.C.C. chair, Michael Powell, son of Colin Powell, pushing very hard for deregulation that would allow Sinclair Broadcasting to get more media outlets.
MARK HYMAN: Amy, that’s quite a Machiavellian view you have. But just think about it. If we really wanted to do this for some sort of nefarious reasons, we would just — we could just put that documentary on without any announcement, and just run it, or we could just run John Kerry’s entire testimony from 1971.
AMY GOODMAN: No, if you could just answer that question. In a more deregulated environment —
MARK HYMAN: That’s absurd, Amy. No, I am answering the question. You have got this conspiracy theory going on, and that’s just not reality.
AMY GOODMAN: Would it help the company?
MARK HYMAN: Would what help the company?
AMY GOODMAN: If the Bush administration, if President Bush were to win again, pushing harder for deregulation, which is what he is known for with Michael Powell chair of the F.C.C.
MARK HYMAN: I’m not aware of the White House pushing for deregulation on the media front on anything. In fact, if you can point to one example, I’d welcome —- I don’t remember -—
AMY GOODMAN: It’s well known that Michael Powell, and he has said it himself, is pushing much harder for deregulation. But we are going to have to wrap —
MARK HYMAN: The F.C.C. is an independent agency. Yes, he was appointed by the president just like their other members appointed by Bill Clinton on the same commission.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us.
MARK HYMAN: Amy, thank you very much. Always a pleasure. Give me a call, whenever.
AMY GOODMAN: Mark Hyman, the Vice President for Corporate Relations for Sinclair Broadcasting, this broadcast on "The Current," the CBC morning show last Friday. Brought it you today here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org.