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Graphic by Holly Kern

CNN's Crossfire, on Monday, November 25, included a segment on cockfighting. HSUS's Wayne Pacelle was in the hot seat. Pacelle was warned by James Carville, right from the start, not to expect any humane treatment on the show. Indeed, the debate was heated. But Pacelle held his ground beautifully and in good humor.

 What I particularly liked about the show was the connection the hosts kept making between the cruelty of cockfighting and the eating of other birds.
Their attempt was to weaken Pacelle's argument but the effect was to widen the conversation and thus include the horrors of factory farming, perhaps giving viewers some food for thought about their food for Thanksgiving.

 Carville opened with:  "Earlier this month, the citizens of Oklahoma voted to ban cock fighting, in some cases making it a felony punishable by two years in prison and fines up to $25,000. But it isn't a dead issue just yet. The chicken breeders went to court and won temporary restraining orders, allowing cock fighting to continue. What is so terrible about a few dead birds? After all, Americans are going to be gathered around millions of dead birds in just a few days."

 Novak immediately lets us know that he saw a cockfight in Puerto Rico a couple of years ago and he "enjoyed in tremendously." Pacelle smiled and replied, "That's Unfortunate." When asked about his objections he said, "Well, it is certainly not my idea of fun, Bob. It is two roosters that are bred for aggressive characteristics, pumped up with stimulants, and they have knives or ice pick-like devices called gaffs that are affixed to their legs, and they're placed in this pit where they can't escape, and they're forced to fight to injury or death, all for amusement and illegal gambling."

 He also let us know that the majority of states banned cock fighting in the 19th century and that "Forty-eight out of 50, 96 percent of states" have banned it and that "voters do it by overwhelming margins."

 When asked if he was against killing animals for food Pacelle replied,
 "We're certainly against industrial farming where animals are packed in small cages or crates and forced to live miserable lives."

 Pacelle does acknowledge that he is against eating birds - that argument is not pursued by either side.

 There is a delightful exchange with James Carville who says that he is "kind of on the fence" on this issue. Pacelle challenges,  " How can you be on the fence on this issue?"
 Carville admits that is seems cruel but says he doesn't intend to be upset about his Thanksgiving dinner or his chicken and sausage jambalaya.

 Pacelle then makes an excellent point:
 "If you take the attitude that if one form of animal use is acceptable, then you can't criticize anything else, we will be left with everything.
You'll be left with cruelty to animals, you will be left with dog fighting.
Can't we independently assess these issues and make a judgment? Now, on the factory farming issue, you know, it is terrible. The old days when chickens used to scratch in the backyard and have some access to freedom of movement, that was one thing. Now they're all raised in industrial farms...."

 Note: I don't think any form of "use," unless it is unquestionably mutually beneficial (such as, for example, the adoption of companion animals off death row for the pleasure of their company) is acceptable. But those of us who do not envision all forms of use ending tomorrow, who want to help ease suffering while fighting for an ideal, might find the above argument "useful" in arguing against specific abuses with those who do use/abuse animals.

 Novak suggests that there is no way of knowing that chickens suffer on factory farms. Pacelle asks him if he accepts the fact that they are animals. Still in good humor, Pacelle continues,  "Of course they have a nervous system. Do you dispute that? This is the anti-science view here?"

 Novak, who has already said he enjoys watching cockfighting and thinks bull fighting is "one of the great sports of the world," now responds to Pacelle's point about dog fighting and pitbulls "being bred for the specific purpose of injuring and maiming each other for human amusement" by saying there is nothing wrong with it - "they're animals!"

 Then we have this great little exchange:
 PACELLE: "Animals matter. We have 50 anti-cruelty statutes in this country."

 NOVAK: "That's the problem with this country."

 PACELLE: "Well, I don't think so."

 CARVILLE: "What's the problem with this country? Anti-cruelty statutes?"

 NOVAK: "Too many -- that's right."

 PACELLE: "This is incredible. This is mind boggling."

 Pacelle mentions the fact that most serial killers got started by torturing animals.

 The debate ended with another rather funny exchange:
 NOVAK: "What do you think of the people who are going to eat their turkey on Thanksgiving Day? Do you think that's animal cruelty -- I mean, you know how they kill those turkeys?"

 PACELLE: "It is not a malicious act, Bob. Except for perhaps in your case, you might enjoy maliciously killing one of these turkeys for food."

 NOVAK: "That's right. I really hate turkeys."

 PACELLE: "Yeah, apparently you do."

 NOVAK: "I eat them too."

 PACELLE: "Most people do it because that's what's put in front of them. But most people should think about these issues and, you know...."

 And then there were pleasant thank-yous and good-byes.

 Yes, Novak stood for everything abhorrent, but let us remember that this is his job. If he had not been challenging Pacelle it would not have been Crossfire. His going so far over the top made the debate entertaining. You may well want to take issue with some of his stances but I urge you to do so in a polite manner - most of us can learn much from Pacelle's good natured media savvy.
 

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