Getting To The Point

Conservative commentator Mark Hyman has always gone his own way, seeking positive stories in Iraq, and this week, bringing his own spin to the GOP convention in New York.

Election 2004

The Republican Convention

August 31, 2004|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - For the briefest of moments yesterday, Mark Hyman looked forlorn as he futilely made calls on a cell phone in a vacant hotel banquet room.

The conservative television editorialist for Sinclair Broadcast Group had just wrapped up a sit-down interview with Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. But he hasn't been able to secure time with Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine. And, during a weekend of major protests against this week's Republican National Convention, Hyman hadn't received even a single response to his telephone calls to the chief anti-war coalition.

He shook his head, and then shrugged. The senator and the protesters may know little about Sinclair and less about Hyman. But the joke is on them. If Sinclair's ratings figures are to be believed, roughly 1.8 million American adults watch Hyman every day. That puts him in the company of far-better known pundits, such as the right-of-center populist Bill O'Reilly or the conservative Sean Hannity on the Fox News Channel - and far more than Joe Scarborough on MSNBC.

In fact, that audience would make Hyman, based at Sinclair's Baltimore County headquarters, one of the most widely watched conservative television commentators in the country.

"My commentaries are my own alone," Hyman says. "I say exactly what I believe." This week, the deeply tanned former U.S. Navy intelligence officer - now a captain in the Naval Reserves - is contributing taped editorials for Sinclair from the Republican National Convention. Hyman, 46, resembles many of the delegates here. He has close-cropped, salt-and-pepper hair and was wearing a dark, pinstriped, three-button suit and an American flag pin with a Secret Service emblem on his lapel.

Hyman did much the same thing from Boston during the Democratic National Convention, contributing five editorials to his station's broadcasts. But there was one difference - each pummeled John Kerry or his Democratic allies for perceived shortcomings. Hyman's unlikely to criticize President Bush very hard, if at all - but then, as Sinclair's chief commentator, his strong point of view is his calling card.

"I'm pretty conservative, but I'm a pragmatic guy," Hyman says.

Hyman's daily editorials, called "The Point" last several minutes, unlike the hourlong shows of O'Reilly or Hannity (shared with Alan Colmes). "The Point" appears every night on most of the television stations owned or operated by Sinclair - the largest collection of stations in the country. Saturdays are usually reserved for viewers' letters.

Exact comparisons are tricky because of the way in which Sinclair gets ratings from Nielsen Media Research. The O'Reilly Factor, the top-rated show on all cable news, attracts about 2.5 million viewers nightly - over the age of 2. Hyman, according to aggregated Nielsen ratings estimates from February, draws about 1.8 million over the age of 18, although that figure includes rebroadcasts.

But his reach occurs well out of the national media spotlight. Sinclair, after all, has no stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington or any of the country's other top 10 markets. Instead, the company has built up an empire of lesser stations in small to mid-sized regions; the largest market in which it has a presence is Minneapolis, followed by Sacramento, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Baltimore - where Sinclair owns WBFF-TV, a Fox affiliate, and controls WNUV-TV, a WB affiliate. Smaller cities like Asheville, N.C., Flint, Mich., Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Charleston, S.C., are amply represented.

Different approach

"He's interesting and fun to watch, somewhat refreshing in his approach to things - in the sense that not all original thoughts originate in Washington. I like that," says John Bilotta, a media relations consultant with government clients who befriended Hyman when he was a foreign correspondent for United Press International in London in the late 1980s.

This year, Hyman traveled to Iraq to find "good news stories" that he said were overlooked and undertold by a media that is intent on showing the invasion and occupation in a bad light. Along with Sinclair's corporate leadership, Hyman made national waves earlier this year by condemning Ted Koppel of ABC News for reading a roster of U.S. service members who died in Iraq on Nightline.

It was, Hyman said, a blatant anti-war gesture by the network. And Sinclair pulled the program from the seven ABC affiliates it owns and runs. The move was denounced by many newspaper editorials - and by a number of lawmakers, including Arizona Sen. John S. McCain, a Republican who supports the war. McCain called Sinclair's stance "unpatriotic." Joe Conason, a liberal columnist for the New York Observer, dismissed Hyman as "a dull facsimile of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity."

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