Monday, April 26, 2004

Blogging with Eric Zorn: Dead fetuses, dead military personnel, fairness, pictures, the right question and carrying ideas to their logical conclusion.

Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune columnist and a leader in the blogger movement [] and I have been having a dialogue on our respective blogs during the last week. Zorn started it with an April 20 entry that included photos of the flag draped coffins returning from Iraq and the war dead comprising a photo of President Bush. And, he described the photo of the coffins as a photo that President Bush does not want “you to see.”

I responded on this blog [April 21, below] by asking if Eric Zorn is as fair and balanced as he claims and as I think him to be, why didn’t he include some photos of dead, aborted fetuses and describe them as “the photos pro-choicers don’t want you to see,” or photos of, say, hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, which could comprise a picture of John Kerry [who has said he would not have removed Saddam, unless he could have internationalized the effort] and describe the photo as a photo that Presidential Candidate Kerry does not want you to see. Indeed, given Kerry’s recent flap with Catholic bishops, perhaps Zorn could have described the photos of dead fetuses as the photos that Senator John Kerry does not want you [or perhaps Cardinal George or the Archbishop from Washington, DC] to see.

I intended to raise with Eric Zorn issues of journalistic fairness, a trait that Eric prides himself on, as well as the issue of how best to decide complex public policy issues.

Zorn, in his April 22 entry in his blog, graciously acknowledges the “larger point…about the use of powerful images in political or social debate,” that I raised. Zorn says his bias is toward posting and publication. I wouldn’t necessarily never print such pictures in print or electronic publications, but my bias is toward more of a rational than emotional decision-making process.

But, fair is fair, and this issue of fairness, is the point Zorn blew right by. Zorn has discussed abortion from time to time. If his bias is toward publishing pictures to help everyone decide, let’s see those dead fetuses. It is not the way I would try to reach a rational decision on how the abortion issue should be handled. But, since Zorn thinks his readers can handle it and should be asked to handle it, bring the pictures on. And, no, let’s not say, well, the fetuses are a little graphic, but having President Bush’s cheek made up of dead soldiers is well, not too much, for the readers to handle. I don’t think that response is terribly consistent.

Moreover, if Senator Kerry’s apparent unwillingness to support military action in March, 2003 or to pay for it in October, 2003 (notwithstanding his Yes vote in October, 2002), would have been likely to result in a repetition of mass killings, say 300,000 Iraqis, by a Saddam left to his own devices, well then, imbed those 300,000 deaths on Kerry’s gentle, perhaps Botoxed, cheek, and Zorn should proudly print that photo. Zorn should say—nothing inflammatory about 300,000 deaths morphed into Senator Kerry’s face; indeed, it is just tautological, as Zorn said about the American dead military morphed into President Bush’s face. I mean, fair is fair.

Now, those kinds of pictures are not the ones I would put on my site to reach rational decisions about abortion or war, but they are the paths Eric Zorn went down, so Zorn should trot out the pictures of dead fetuses and 300,000 Iraqi deaths morphed into John Kerry’s face. As we say at the University of Chicago, I am just carrying Zorn’s ideas [implicit and explicit] to their logical conclusion. A pursuit-- Zorn conceded on my show just last month—that is something he loves to do—that is, carry ideas out to their logical conclusion. As the deceased Richard Weaver, previously a Professor in the English Department at the University of Chicago, said and titled a book long ago—“Ideas Have Consequences.” And these are the consequences of Zorn’s ideas. I don’t mean to be harsh, boys and girls, but ideas are not to be trifled with.

Finally, Zorn asks each reader to look at the images of coffins and Iraqi dead morphed into Bush’s face so that “you can decide if you would give your life or your child’s life for the cause we are fighting for in Iraq.”

But, that is the wrong question to ask. Should we also decide whether we will have a local policy in favor of apprehending bank robbers by asking if you are willing to risk your daughters’ lives to stop the bank theft. Same with fires? Will we only have a fire department that risks lives to put out fires if you are willing to put your children into a lottery to become firemen [or firewomen].

We have, last time I looked, in the United States, a free society. The Government, constitutionally, does not have the power to coerce me, or my kids, or anybody else, to join the military or the police or the fire department. However, if my kids, others or I voluntarily choose to join such government activities, and society, through its elected representatives, chooses to take such police, fire, or military action, and to tax all of us collectively to finance such activities, then we proceed. If not, we don’t. Those are the right questions to ask in a representative democracy, i.e., do I, as a citizen, think the cause in Iraq is worth X lives and Y dollars? Indeed, a somewhat wordy way of saying it, but that, of course, is no doubt a good part of the referendum or election we will be having on November 2, 2004—a somewhat more relevant and scientific click poll, hanging chads and all, than that offered by my good friend and fellow blogger, Eric Zorn.

Jeff Berkowitz, the Host and Producer of “Public Affairs,” can be reached at