A nationally distributed conversation on matters ranging from policy and politics, to personal responses and involvement to last year’s Oct. 27 attack, began last week.
“Dial it Down with Dan & Drew,” a bimonthly podcast recorded in front of a live studio audience, recorded its first episode on Sept. 17 at the Carnegie Library in Homestead. The Tuesday evening program began with co-hosts Dan Berkowitz and Drew Goldstein describing their immediate reactions to the murder of congregants from Dor Hadash, New Light and Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, and pivoted to a larger conversation with guest panelists on topics including remembrances from Oct. 27, justifications for votes cast in the 2016 presidential election and thoughts on the upcoming 2020 presidential contest.
“Dial it Down” is an outgrowth of earlier efforts to harmonize dialogue and storytelling, explained its co-hosts.
In the days after Oct. 27, Berkowitz and Goldstein found themselves at political opposites but united in a sense of loss. While Pittsburgh’s Jewish community debated the value of a possible visit by President Donald Trump, Berkowitz and Goldstein decided to invite 13 additional community members to co-author and sign a letter seeking to restore civility in national discourse. The message was sent to the president, Congress, locally elected officials and national Jewish organizations.
Berkowitz and Goldstein were inspired by the act of bringing together a diverse body for the greater good, and sought to re-create the experience by demonstrating their own example of civil discourse.
In the months leading up to their Sept. 17 debut, Berkowitz and Goldstein partnered with Michael Sorg, a producer at Sidekick Media Services in Pittsburgh, to develop a website and social media presence explaining “Dial it Down’s” intentions. Sorg is also working with the co-hosts to produce the podcast.
“One thing I love being a part of is being able to help distribute and widen important discussions like they’re having,” said Sorg. “I think it’s important to get it out there, grow it, continue the discussion. That’s why I have been involved in things like podcasting for about 14 years.”
Being able to gather a group of people with competing views and engage in civil discourse is one of “the only ways we’re going to move forward and not backwards,” said Becca Ackner, a signer of Berkowitz and Goldstein’s original letter and a “Dial it Down” panelist.
Participating in the Sept. 17 program was “a great exercise in restraint, and also community, and community outside your normal comfort zone community.”
At points during the podcast taping, such as when Berkowitz said that he had voted for Trump in 2016 or that some of the president’s policies were moving the country in a better direction, Ackner took issue with the co-host’s claims.
That ability to talk to someone about their beliefs provides a greater benefit than simply retorting to digital rebuke or silence, she explained.
“It’s so much easier to just tweet instead of actually having a conversation. Conversations make people uncomfortable, confrontation makes people uncomfortable, but if you’re willing to stick it out and get to some sort of end of the conversation you’re going to be better for it. Or at the very least you’re going to go home and you’re going to lie in bed and you’re going to go over and over and over some of the things that Dan said. That’s what I’m going to do,” said Ackner. The process may “make me angry. It may make me frustrated, but I really respect him as a person, and it helps me get out of my own way with things that I believe, but also could use a little different perspective on.”
Getting onstage and hosting a dialogue with those opposed to one another was a learning experience not only in camaraderie but in production, explained Berkowitz. “We’re building the plane as we fly it. Every episode we’re going to learn about technical things and conversations, and hopefully as we build we will get tighter and make it better,” he said.
“This is our brainchild that we started almost 11 months ago,” echoed Goldstein. “The idea to put this on took a lot of sweat, blood, tears and we’re pretty happy about how it turned out.”
Audience member Brooke Franco, of Munhall, described an evolution of attitude experienced during the evening. Whereas the panelists’ personal connections to the Oct. 27 attack was emotionally stirring, “the conversation got too political,” said Franco. “The whole time they were talking I was remembering what happened in Tucson.”
Franco splits her time between Munhall and Tucson, and said her feelings regarding Oct. 27 are very much spurred by remembrances of the January 2011 supermarket attack in Casas Adobes, Arizona, when U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others were shot.
“These shootings bring about larger issues. We have to learn about anger,” said Franco.
The benefit of civil discourse as public remedy was evident that evening, explained Goldstein.
“Dial it Down” presents a space for people “to share how they’re feeling, and not worry about having to protect their own opinions,” noted the co-host. When people “come together and they’re able to just kind of share a legitimate perspective, that’s when the magic happens.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.