Letters to the Editor - All ears February 19 2004

Your article left out one of the most important facts about Mr. Boortz (Rant, “All mouth, no brain,” Feb. 12). He never claims any of his show to be fact and tells listeners to never believe anything he says unless the listeners can verify it for themselves to be true.

So don’t casually listen and then blame the host. Blame the listeners who will believe whatever is told them to be true.

I also thought your argument could have worked a bit better without the swipes at conservative talkers. It let the reader know immediately where you stood on the issue.

-- Tony McCarthy, Atlanta

Let me start by saying that I, too, find Neal Boortz’s blather to be overblown, and he is completely full of himself. However, that’s what talk show hosts are supposed to be like, or else you end up with Ludlow Porch. When Al Franken saves your world and gets his own radio show, he’ll act the same way, only with full-body tackles. So you might as well get over that.

I listen to Boortz quite a bit, although I find myself in agreement with his opinions only about half the time. Generally, I find that he gets his facts straight. And while I hate to stereotype, I have to admit that this is a gray zone that baffles liberals — the difference between opinion and fact.

You can disagree with Boortz’s politics all you want, and had you spent some time challenging his politics (as you almost did regarding Boortz’s opinion of John Kerry’s view on the war on terrorism — y’see that wasn’t a fact, that was his opinion), you might have written an interesting column.

However, you chose to concentrate your editorial on a very tiny factoid regarding MoveOn.org (apparently, a favorite site of yours), focusing on a rather minor point regarding the link between Communists and MoveOn.org, and then spent half your column defending the website. To bolster your case, you introduce two statements of fact attributed to Boortz and then call him, in essence, a liar, because you have chosen to not believe these facts.

However, the truth of the matter is that you didn’t listen to him long enough, probably because you didn’t like what he was saying. Just because you don’t like a fact doesn’t make it a lie. Learn that, Ken, and you’ll become a much better writer.

-- Jerry Sumrell, Atlanta

I’m curious as to what the educational background of Mr. Ken Edelstein is, because it certainly is not economics. The concept that the size of a deficit is calculated by dividing your expenditures by your income is not a difficult one. Yet, Mr. Edelstein seems to think that only the dollar amount matters. Let me simplify for him. If I make $20,000 a year and have a deficit of $2,000, that’s a 10 percent deficit. I have a problem. Now, if I make $200,000 a year, but have a deficit of $3,000, according to Mr. Edelstein, I have a bigger problem. But even the shrub in his back yard can see he is wrong since I have only a 1.5 percent deficit.

-- Matt Gunnin, Atlanta

I enjoyed your column in which you discussed Neal Boortz’s inaccuracies and distortions.

You criticized Mr. Boortz for claiming that “average profit” of a Fortune 500 company is “4 or 5 or 6 percent.” I must inform you that this is essentially correct. The Feb. 23 edition of Business Week reports on the 2003 sales and profits of 900 major corporations in all sectors. Page 63 shows total sales of $7.05 trillion and profits of $459 billion. That’s “average profit” of 6.5 percent, which is an improvement from the 2002 level of 4 percent.

Perhaps the misunderstanding is that Mr. Boortz is referring to net income after taxes, which is the true “bottom line” for a corporation. There are other concepts of “profit” such as gross profit (sales minus costs) and operating profit (sales minus costs minus expenses) that are substantially higher, but these other measurements are just intermediate steps in calculating a corporation’s ultimate profitability.

-- Glenn Maggiola, Roswell

Editor’s note: Tony McCarthy raises an interesting point when he says we should “blame the listeners” for believing Boortz. Another way of putting it: People who actually believe a fool like Boortz are more foolish than the fool himself. And, yes, Boortz does try to have it both ways. He calls people who disagree with his errors “stupid,” then occasionally throws in the caveat that we shouldn’t believe him. But just because an ignorant man admits he’s ignorant, that doesn’t mean he’s no longer an ignorant man. And it doesn’t mean he’s right to call better-informed people ignorant.

Yes, Jerry Sumrell, we should expect Boortz to be “overblown.” But the article mainly was about Boortz’s errors. I didn’t simply choose not to “like” his error about MoveOn.org. I followed up on my doubt about what he said with research; his claim clearly and demonstrably was untrue. As Tony McCarthy implies, demagogues such as Boortz depend on their followers’ inability to separate fact from fiction.

Matt Gunnin demonstrates wishful thinking among true believers. No matter how you cut it, Bush’s $500 billion deficits are larger than Carter’s $60 billion deficits. Boortz misled his listeners when he said the opposite. Among the most favorable comparisons would be as a percentage of gross domestic product: Under Bush, deficits have risen to around 4.5 percent of GDP; under Carter, they averaged 2.6 percent.

Glenn Maggiola makes an excellent point. Boortz was off — just not way off — on Fortune 500 profits. In terms of net profit, the average S&P 500 firm — a closer sampling than Business Week’s 900 companies — earned 7.7 percent in 2003, according to Robinson-Humphrey brokers. (The outdated 2002 figures are unusually low because we were pulling out of a recession.) As Glenn notes, there are other ways to think about “profit,” including those that account for stock appreciation. Almost all those methods produce higher percentages.

But thanks, Glenn. Unlike Cox Radio’s lord of errors, we appreciate the opportunity to clarify facts and correct errors.

-- Ken Edelstein