Yet another reflection on the Chicago Tribune:
I think columnist Eric Zorn may finally be getting the attention from his employer he deserves. His non-daily columns have appeared on the Metro page for years, and on Sundays he had been given a break-out space called “Change of Subject” where he could expound on mutliple topics — though this section usually appeared on page 2 of the local news section. This last Sunday, I noted for the first time that “Change of Subject” was slotted in the front section, a page ahead of the complete op-ed page.
This is a big deal to me, since I believe Zorn is one of the most articulate, thoughtful and engaged commentators I’ve followed. He doesn’t make lazy assertations, and can never be accused of hiding in an ivory tower to sling arrows of philosophy at his enemies. He invovles his readership directly, running a very active supplementary Web page at the Tribune site. Sure he’s an unapologetic left-leaner, and this helps me relate, but I believe Zorn does a credit to all political discourse as someone who thinks before he writes, backs up his opinions with facts and foundations, and mea culpas when proven off base.
I wanted Zorn to have the page 2 spot vacated by Mike Royko upon that columnist’s death in 1997, but that went to another Trib employee I had never heard of, John Kass. Turns out Kass lives up to Royko’s legend as a bareknuckle (journalistic) brawler, maintaining the gritty street cred of this prominent spot in the paper. That’s not Zorn’s way. He doesn’t lob taunts at City Hall and give deprecating nicknames to the shifty public officials that Chicago is famous for; instead Zorn fights with reflection, analysis, forethought, and a proletarian activism that wins him loyal readership.
In 1999 he dared his readers to join him on a one-year challenge: Learn something new, undertake some daunting task, and take the year to get it done. He called it the For Once In Our Lives Society — FOOLS. He was training for a marathon himself and, realizing that misery loves company (and that company keeps you honest and on track), he opened up his challenge to readers who wanted to be part of the challenge. Not just other runners, but anyone who had a hankering to improve something in their lives, and needed group support to get it done. The group buttressed each other on Zorn’s site, as they worked toward their various goals.
Mine (since yes, I was an official FOOL that year) was to master the Flash and Illustrator programs, as I was surrounded in my office by titans of art and design who could help me. I got pretty far down my road, too — I designed an animation and took classes — but fell apart as chaos in my office deprived me of my mentors. I learned a great deal but I let my hurdles get in my way, and I ultimately failed. Many others didn’t; more than 100 first-time marathoners finished that year’s LaSalle Bank Marathon with Zorn.
You can see what I mean, though: Zorn doesn’t just spew opinion; he reflects. He’s a thinker. And he’s damn eloquent. Here’s a treat from this Sunday’s “Change of Subject” — which I hope got a better readership for its superior placement. In discussing the comments of Rev. Wilfredo De Jesus, who is handpicked by an outgoing alderman to be his own replacement on the council. De Jesus has apparently gotten some critical blowback from his and his church’s anti-gay sentiments. De Jesus told a Tribune reporter: “Isn’t it ironic that you’re asking me to be tolerant and you’re intolerant to my beliefs. How is that?” Zorn rebuts:
The answer: It’s not ironic in the least. But you can say so because the left, in large part, has embraced a narrow definition of tolerance — a live-and-let-live attitude toward those who are different from oneself — that belies the fact that all decent people are intolerant of a good many things.
Murder, to name on obvious example. Pedophilia. Bigotry.
Tolerance of such acts is a vice. It’s sensible — not hypocritical or ironic — for a person to be intolerant of the intolerable, no matter where one comes down on the idea of equal rights for gays and lesbians.
And it’s sophomoric at best, disingenuous at worst, to trot out the old “your intolerance of my intolerance is a form of intolerance” argument that turns the whole notion of tolerance into a circular absurdity that can justify anything.
I hope to be that eloquent some day.