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Ann Telnaes: Garry Trudeau is wrong

A great piece by Washington Post cartoonist Ann Telnaes regarding recent comments made by Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau about the terror attack on the French publication Charlie Hebdo.

Ann writes:

Unfortunately, whether he meant it or not, some of Trudeau?s words sounded like the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists had it coming. This is a dangerous suggestion to even float out there when it comes to cartoons when there are extremists who would rather shoot than take the thought and time to write a letter to the editor. I would rather err on the side of unrestricted speech. I would rather criticize and ridicule cartoons that are racist, or homophobic, or what I find personally offensive rather than inadvertently give people the wrong idea that certain types of speech go so over the line that violent actions against cartoonists can be understood or justified. There are many people and groups whose actions and opinions I find hateful and intolerant (the Westboro Baptist Church?s funeral protests, Terry Jones?s Koran burnings, Jerry Falwell blaming ?pagans, the abortionists, the feminists, the gays and the lesbians? for Sept. 11 to name a few) but I just shake my head and get to work at my drawing board.

Also worth reading: NYTimes Op-Ed columnist Ross Douthat and The Atlantic senior editor David Frum on Garry’s speech.

Community Comments

#1 Bob Krieger
April/21/2015
@ 12:25 pm

Sorry Ann but, all due respect, I disagree. And, Alan, I also disagree that Douthat’s and Frum’s columns are worth the read. They’re both misrepresent what Trudeau said. The crux of his comments, as I read them, was it’s our job to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable and that there are limits on free speech. I’ve read it a few times now and nowhere in there does he say murder is a reasonable response to a needlessly offensive cartoon. He also never suggests, as Douthat and Frum ascribe to him, that the murderers are underdogs. Isn’t he just saying there’s a certain responsibility that comes with the job?

When I draw a cartoon I want to offend a specific individual or group. If I offend innocent folks collaterally I have likely done a crappy job. That’s what I got out of Trudeau’s speech.

#2 Paul Fell
April/21/2015
@ 3:44 pm

Bob:

If you are drawing a cartoon to, as you say, offend an individual or group, you’re way off base. That pretty much like just throwing tomatoes and not much more. Your cartoons should be attacking policies or laws or social mores you disagree with. They should not be personal attacks.

I’m not going to draw a cartoon making fun of a public figure for who he is, I’m going to draw the cartoon making fun of what he DOES.

#3 jeff Darcy
April/21/2015
@ 4:28 pm

I need to get my ears checked. Because nothing Trudeau said “sounded like Charlie Hebdo cartoonists had it coming” to me.

As much attention should be given to the shoppers who were targeted in the kosher grocery store who never drew any anti- muslim, anti-semitic or anti-catholic hate speech cartoons, as those who were targeted in the Hebdo offices.

Even the founding fathers, like James Madison, cautioned that with free speech comes with responsibility.

#4 Mike Lester
April/21/2015
@ 5:06 pm

” Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila?the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died. ” -Gary Trudeau

Try substituting the word “duh?” for “voila” and I think it’s pretty clear Mr. Trudeau is defending the cause and effect that took place. The cause being Charlie Hebdo’s exercise of free speech and murder as effect.

A real head scratcher is how speech is illegal (in France) but only after it incites violence.

#5 Joel Tieg
April/21/2015
@ 5:59 pm

Trudeau’s speech was in English. Why does Telnaes feel the need to tell us what Trudeau’s words “sounded like”? Are we illiterate or perhaps just ignorant? Telnaes’s words need the translation. What in the crap is she talking about? The same goes for Douthat and Frum.

#6 Bob Krieger
April/21/2015
@ 6:51 pm

Paul,

What I wrote was shorthand for drawing toons to offend an individual or group because of their actions. I assumed, given the context, that was understood. My apologies for not being clear.

Mike,Trudeau suggesting the cartoonists may have violated France’s hate speech laws is hardly defending their murders. I mean… “duh”.

#7 Mike Peterson
April/22/2015
@ 3:25 am

I’m often puzzled by the cries of “blame the victim” when someone points out the results of behavior they feel was unwise.

In the case of the Danish cartoonists, the results of their deliberate attempt to offend Muslims were unexpected and came about because their deliberately offensive cartoons were mixed in with some even more offensive pieces and conflated into an overwrought response based on misunderstanding.

However, Charlie Hebdo had already been attacked once for deliberately offending Muslims and responded by doing it again. A brave gesture perhaps, but a risky one.

The discussion of whether it is good satire to mock a large group in order to target a small percentage within that group is worth having, and we can talk about how many Muslims are violent, how many Jews are miserly, how many Mexicans enjoy sleeping under cacti and how many black people are reluctant to find jobs (surely there are some within each group), and whether it is good artistry to mock those larger groups in order to target those subgroups (surely the principle of free speech allows it, but “good” is debatable).

In the meantime, when someone — cartoonist, base jumper or race car driver — willingly takes a risk that goes bad, it is not “blaming the victims” to say, “Wow. I hope it was worth it.”

#8 Mark Juhl
April/22/2015
@ 6:52 am

“In the meantime, when someone ? cartoonist, base jumper or race car driver ? willingly takes a risk that goes bad, it is not ?blaming the victims? to say, ?Wow. I hope it was worth it.?

Okay, on one level I agree, but if we follow that line of thinking then you would have to include a woman who goes to a bar dressed to attract attention who ends up getting raped.

“Wow. I hope it was worth it.”?

I doubt you would say or think it in that case. Yet sadly a woman takes that risk all the time.

The difference in any case between the examples you gave and the cartoonists is free speech. This site chronicles cartoonists abroad who are locked up for their political work. If they live in a country where that’s a danger then we couldn’t consider them victims either because they knew they risk, right?

#9 Bob Krieger
April/22/2015
@ 1:44 pm

Wow. I’d be very interested to see how Ann responds to the woman who walks into the bar analogy. I think there is a major difference between dressing to feel good about one’s self and risking death by jumping off a building or speeding in a race car. Or drawing a cartoon intended to offend a religious minority. Again… nobody says the punishment for a provocative, offensive cartoon should be death. Not even Trudeau.

#10 Jason Yungbluth
April/22/2015
@ 2:33 pm

I wrote my own editorial on Garry’s comments here: http://www.whatisdeepfried.com/2015/04/21/oh-garry-shut-up/, but the salient point is this: no one was interested in drawing cartoons of Mohammed before Islamic fundamentalists started telling the world that they couldn’t. If a some Muslims find those drawings offensive, the responsibility is theirs to get the jihadists under control. In another time you’d have seen Mohammed cartoons plastered on billboards. All things considered, Muslims are really getting the velvet glove treatment.

#11 Mark Juhl
April/22/2015
@ 3:34 pm

Bob

A woman who dresses to attract male attention isn’t taking a risk?
My analogy isn’t criticizing the woman, it’s taking the idea that someone who does something that might put them at risk can’t be a victim. When you lump a cartoonist who is killed for their work and a base jumper who dies into the same category then you would have to also lump in that woman in the bar.

#12 Mike Peterson
April/23/2015
@ 4:21 am

Mark, your analogy — however hot-button it is — is off target anyway.

You would be better off with “going to a frat party and getting totally drunk,” but even that is imperfect because frat parties are not intrinsically dangerous and getting that drunk is not often done intentionally.

To clarify my point further: While the Danish insults were intentional, they were not made in the face of actual threats. They were simply a childish, pointless response to a situation where someone wanted to do a kids biography of the Prophet but couldn’t find a Muslim illustrator because of potential trouble.

I still find their response to have been less of an attempt to address the actual situation and more an opportunity to deliberately insult an immigrant group they didn’t like.

However, they did not anticipate the response, and that response (if you trace the actual history) was actually based on some misunderstanding by extremists in another part of the world. So while I don’t admire what they did, I don’t blame them for what happened.

That’s the drunk girl at the frat party analogy — You can, in retrospect, question the judgement involved, but the risk was unanticipated and I don’t blame her, either.

The contrast with Charlie Hebdo — what changes it from being killed by a drunk driver while crossing the street into leaping off a cliff and not deploying your parachute properly — is that they had already been threatened and even firebombed for earlier cartoons and accepted that as a challenge to be answered with more mockery.

They not only knew the risk, but took it purposefully.

They spit in the face of some violent people and the violent people responded with violence. It doesn’t excuse murder, but I think it allows a reasonable person to say “I hope it was worth it.”

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