Joel Achenbach put himself in a no-win situation today by appearing on the Hugh Hewitt show. Joel wrote a blog post about the death of Zarqawi that some have taken to be defeatist, anti-military and so forth. James Lileks defended it as merely snarky.
Whatever the intent of the post, showing up on Hugh’s show turned out to be a poor idea. Hugh went through his normal line of questions that he uses to set up the frame of mind of his guests. “Do you think Iraq is better off?” “Is this a just cause?” and so forth. Joel got the deer-in-the-headlights look and floundered on them all. Hugh also gave him a full 60 seconds to praise the military and Joel fumbled that one, too.
What Joel missed was that this was a marketing opportunity that cut all kinds of ways. I don’t think he should ever have taken the invitation. If you read the comments on his blog, you can see that much of his audience is anti-war liberals. Had he sung the praises of the war and the military he would have been subjected to their wrath. If he had taken the anti-war side he would have had to engage in a debate with Hugh, who was clearly more prepared. It seemed as if he understood his peril as soon as the questions started coming and he chose to try a middle path and counter with questions of his own.
This, too, was a bad move. Hugh was able to label him as a humorist without political or military knowledge who stumbled into the fast lane by posting political commentary, implying that he should never have written the post in the first place. Joel classified himself that way, saying he was the wrong person to ask such questions.
There was nothing to be gained by going on the air with Hugh. He wasn’t going to rehabilitate his image with Hugh’s listeners without enraging much of his fan base. I think he got goaded on to coming on the show after being stung by on-air criticism. He didn’t realize how temporary such events are and how this would have died down to a whisper in a week or two. Joel just isn’t a big enough target to keep whacking. Instead, Joel took the bait, came on the air and played the piñata.
Sometimes you need to retreat after a loss and not stick around to get beaten again.
Additional thoughts: As a postscript on the subject, Joel missed his chance to market himself as a humorist, too. It isn't very comical to go on the air and get defensive with the host. He could have taken the interview any number of funny directions. Hugh has a great sense of humor and probably would have gone right along with him.
Update: Hugh was nice enough to link to this. Thanks, Hugh! I invite visitors from his site to have a look around. We do posts on charity, politics, comedy, business, cats and more! We are also the headquarters of the Feline Theocracy.
Technorati tags: achenbach hewitt zarqawi