Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Eric Zorn/Jeff Berkowitz, Round 3—Crystallizing the Issues: The War, Morphings, Fair and Balanced, Fetuses, Kerry, Chomsky, Moyers, Rush, Bush and Hillary

I keep telling Chicago Tribune columnist and blogger Eric Zorn one thing and he keeps responding to another [See my April 26, Blogging with Eric Zorn entry, below, and Zorn’s entry of April 27 on his site [www.]. Eric Zorn is way too smart to be unable to comprehend my point. It reminds me of what I told him about his criticism of school vouchers on my show—he must be making those arguments just to drive me crazy. He couldn’t really believe them. And, I didn’t mean it as a sign of disrespect or condescension. Zorn, unlike many liberals [and conservatives] is quite willing to depart from the party line when he thinks logic so dictates. That is true, I believe, on “concealed carry,” as Zorn appreciates the potential defensive uses of guns and the deterrent effect of concealed carry on the offensive use by others. That is true, on campaign financing, as Zorn realizes that the way to go is with full and immediate disclosure, not spending or contribution limits. And, that was true on the Iraq War, when Zorn thought there were WMD in Iraq.

Moreover, Zorn’s rhubarb patch demonstrates his willingness to use his web site’s scarce resources to promote debate by both sides, rather than simply trying to promote his own views. Perhaps not to the same extent as his patch, but his web log seems to reflect a desire to present a variety of views, not simply those that are liberal or his own.

Finally, he has chided me for describing my program, “Public Affairs,” as fair and balanced because I make no attempt to hide my own preferences generally, if not exclusively, for such things as the free market, low government spending and low taxes (other things equal, of course). I have responded that I make no pretense to be the Switzerland of television, but if someone watches not just one episode of my program, but, say, views it weekly for at least a month or two, they will get a balanced set of views, if not from me, at least from the dialogue between my guests and me.

That is, my program, unlike that of Bill Moyers, Rush Limbaugh, Shawn Hannity or Al Franken, is not intended to elect or provide support for Republicans or Democrats, but to crystallize state and national issues through my discussions with Rs and Ds, and to challenge the intellectual vulnerabilities of both Ds and Rs, and, above all, to be tough, but fair, in the treatment of my guests, and internally consistent in the presentation of my views. As a host, I try to be provocative and I try to challenge guest ideas vigorously, while still giving guests a fair opportunity to speak and articulate their views.

So, although Eric Zorn certainly gets to express his views on his blog and to choose which other views he wishes to present to his readers, I thought he might make a greater effort to achieve fairness and consistency in the views he presents and references, and in the context of the instant discussion, with respect to the Iraq War and President Bush.

1. Zorn declines my invitation to morph the 300,000 Iraqi dead at the hands of Saddam into Senator John Kerry’s cheek or the 1.2 to 1.5 million, or so, fetuses the country has seen aborted, annually, for most of the last three decades, into, say, a Pro- choice office holder’s cheek. Zorn does this even as he seems to applaud the morphing of the 700 American military dead into Bush’s cheek. He defends his inconsistent treatment by saying he is just showing yearbook photos of the 700 military dead, and he states that he doesn’t mind using the abstract numbers I prefer for analysis and argument to pictures and emotion, so long as we use pictures to remind us what is behind the numbers.

2. Zorn’s objection to including on his site pictures of the fetuses is a little unclear but he seems to imply they have to be “gory,” and he doesn’t want blood, guts and gore. But why would a fetus have to be gory? Why couldn’t it be the equivalent of a yearbook photo of our sons and daughters, albeit younger, before they were aborted? Why would the 300,000 dead Iraqis have to be gory? I will settle for the equivalent of yearbook photos. [And, mind you, I have not taken a Pro-life or Pro-choice position on abortion on my show—I simply believe in trying to be consistent, as outlined above.]

3. Zorn says I am “churlish,” for requesting that Zorn present the opposing point of view. I don’t think “churlish,” fits here. Am I being boorish? Uncivil? Ungracious? I don’t think so. If Eric Zorn can’t find the equivalent Kerry or Pro-choice morphings on the Internet, he can just tell his gentle readers he would include them if someone forwards such items to him. That would make the point of balance. How is that for being accommodating and easy to work with? Indeed, almost the opposite of “churlish.”

4. Zorn says he “doesn’t mind,” my reformulation of his click-poll to ask, “Do I, as a citizen, think the cause in Iraq is worth X lives and Y dollars,” so long as we remind ourselves that X is not an abstraction but our sons and daughters.” Fair enough, I will stipulate to that. Now that wasn’t so hard, was it? What do you know-- Common ground for Zorn and Berkowitz. Churlish? Really, now.

5. Zorn argues that those who signed up for military service did so with the tacit understanding that they would only be put in harm’s way “if their country’s safety and freedom was at stake and all peaceful alternatives had been exhausted.” Although Eric Zorn apparently thought, in March, 2003, that those conditions were met, the failure to find WMD in Iraq, so far, apparently means to him that the pact with the military was violated. But, if President Bush, in consulting with his advisers and experts, concluded prior to March, 2003 [along with much of the world] that Iraq had WMD, would Zorn still argue that Bush broke the pact? Does Zorn really argue that Bush took the nation to War in “bad faith?” Apparently a number of contemporary historians and analysts, including Bob Woodward and former Iraq Chief Weapons Inspector, David Kay, disagree. Putting such linguistics/foreign policy luminaries as Noam Chomsky aside, what is the basis for Zorn’s “bad faith,” argument?

Moreover, given that we went to war in Iraq, even as ardent and articulate an opponent of doing so [as early as the spring of 2002]—Democratic U. S. Senate Candidate Barack Obama--- now argues that we should fund the war, win the peace, and not “cut and run.” Indeed, even Eric Zorn’s friend, our beloved Nancy Skinner, said doing her U. S. Senate primary run that she was not a “cut and run,” Democrat, notwithstanding General Borling’s assertions to the contrary.

6. Finally, and I do mean finally, Zorn worries that his son, when he is 18 in 2008 [old enough to vote for Hillary] might be compelled, via a draft, to go over to “what Eric is almost certain will still be a violent and unstable Iraq.” Well, Eric, the good news is that our country will not return to a draft. Too many citizens and their elected representatives now understand that a draft is inconsistent with the free society we, as a country, believe in and fight for. On the other hand, as you know, your son might choose to volunteer for the military and you are likely to have little to say about it, either way. But, knowing you, I am reasonably certain you will be proud of his decision, whatever it is, if the decision is sincere and thoughtful, notwithstanding your natural concern for his personal safety.

Jeff Berkowitz, host and producer of “Public Affairs,” can be reached at