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CSotD: Come sit in the editor’s chair

Rob Rogers offers a response to the “Cancel Culture” kerfuffle, but in these times, it’s really hard to tell a joke without reflecting something real.

Donald Trump has begun issuing position papers and people on social media argue that nobody should post or share them because it gives him the attention he craves.

There’s some logic in the proposition, but stopping liberals from posting, and criticizing, Trump’s opinions won’t stop conservatives from posting them and cheering.

Just as closing your eyes won’t make a bear disappear from the path in front of you, while shouting at him might.

As far as political cartooning goes, both Pilate’s question — “What is truth?” — and Moynihan’s rule — that you are entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts — need to be in play.

Clay Jones has a Facebook page for political cartoons, and he’s lately begun adding his own commentary to ones he posts. People have commented, asking him to not feature cartoons based on false premises, even with the denunciations he adds.

Which sounds a lot like “Cancel Culture” to me.

When I started blogging about cartoons 11 years ago, my mission was to highlight good work and avoid snark, there being at the time several websites that purposely posted cartoons only to mock them.

I still think snark and mockery are for 12-year-olds, but that well-chosen criticism is not only valid but necessary.

The key being “well-chosen.”

So today I offer this challenge: Take a look as some political cartoons, imagining that you are a newspaper editor and must choose a cartoon for tomorrow’s editorial page.

Your first step is to decide whether, and how, Pilate’s question and Moynihan’s dictum have truly been challenged.

Example:

Mike Peters (KFS) drew this comparison of the iconic Alfred Eisenstaedt photo of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day with the current joy over having found a vaccine.

As a newspaper editor, I’d have passed over it for a couple of reasons.

One is that V-J Day was the end of the war and having a vaccine isn’t the end of the pandemic, which Peters seems to acknowledge by having everyone in the background still wearing masks.

Too bad the photo wasn’t taken on V-E Day, when there was still some war to be fought.

But the second critique is that, while we might joyously hug strangers these days, we don’t plant that kind of smacker on them.

The question is, which potential objection might cause you, the newspaper editor, to give it a pass? “Both” is an acceptable answer, but I think you have to ask yourself the question.

Or would you have joined in his celebration and green-lighted it?

Which is also acceptable.

 

This Gary Varvel (Creators) cartoon poses a different issue.

The MAGA fellow is simply wrong: Gas prices are up, but not because of anything Joe Biden has done.

But Varvel only presents the moment.

Knowing his general stance on things, I’m reasonably sure he sides with the MAGAt. But this cartoon might just as easily have appeared in the New Yorker as “Ain’t it the truth?” droll commentary.

My own editorial stance is that lack of clarity is a killer objection.

That’s why I didn’t like Barry Blitt‘s 2008 New Yorker cover depicting Barack and Michelle Obama as terrorists: His intention was to spoof foolish prejudices, but I doubted how many people seeing the cover would pick up on the sarcasm.

It’s a dangerous tool: People “share” Andy Borowitz and Onion pieces without realizing they are satire and Swift’s “Modest Proposal” drew fire from people who thought he was serious.

As a newspaper editor, you have to decide whether a cartoon has the degree of clarity that a diverse readership will understand, whether they agree with it or not.

That’s simply pragmatic: You want the message to get through.

 

A different issue is where fact and opinion diverge. As Moynihan said, it’s perfectly fair to disagree, but your disagreement should be based on facts.

This Bob Gorrell (Creators) piece relies on two things that simply aren’t true: First, Biden is not advocating open borders, and, second, he is requiring covid testing and quarantining of the immigrants and refugees who do show up.

 

This Antonio Branco (Creators) cartoon is more challenging, because it relies on a conspiracy theory, basically a rumor based on opinions.

The theory is that the Democrats nominated Biden knowing he was senile and failing, so that, when he died, Kamala Harris would become president. (For extra credit, explain why that is scary.)

There is no evidence to support either the theory or the death’s-doorstep premise (though it’s kind of funny to draw a sippy cup when Trump was the one who needed two hands to take a drink).

As an editor, you could simply reject it for general toxicity, but that assumes the rest of your editorial page is not equally extreme.

 

Christian Adams (Evening Standard) declares that Biden’s victory in passing the relief bill lifts him above the senility and incompetence that was a Republican smear in the first place.

Is he saying it’s a refutation of those smears, or that Biden succeeded despite his actual decrepitude?

Which returns us to the clarity objection, but it’s your call.

Now consider this

Juxtaposition of the Day

(Matt Davies – AMS)

 

(Nick Anderson – Counterpoint)

The settings are identical but the premises are different.

Both artists suggest that the Democrats have moved to save the drowning man, but, while Davies says the GOP held back out of pragmatism, Anderson accuses them of engaging in foolish distractions during a crisis. Both consider it hard-hearted.

It is more a case for Pontius Pilate than for Daniel Patrick Moynihan: What is truth?

There have been several cartoons like Anderson’s, criticizing the “Cancel Culture” gambit as a distraction from more serious matters, but is that fact or opinion?

Similarly, several liberal cartoonists have contrasted the GOP’s willingness to run up deficits under Trump, or for defense spending, with their reluctance to spend money to help citizens, but where do facts and opinions cross in those decisions?

Hey, don’t look at me: You’re the editor.

 

Community Comments

#1 Fred King
March/11/2021
@ 9:28 am

Regarding the kiss: not only can a man no longer kiss a random stranger, he probably hasn’t been vaccinated. And nurses have been through enough over the last year, and you’re right, this isn’t over.

Juxtaposition: I’d take Davies more seriously if Republicans had objected to the tax cuts and first relief bill on the grounds that they would increase the deficit. Nor did they worry about Reagan’s deficit spending, Bush I’s deficit spending, or Bush II’s deficit spending. Somehow it’s only deficit spending by Democrats that is the problem. However, if I were an editor I’d double check my assertions to make sure they’re accurate.

#2 Kathleen Donnelly
March/11/2021
@ 1:02 pm

I hate Eisenstadt’s photo. If you look closely, the sailor isn’t embracing the nurse, he’s immobilizing her. If they hadn’t been in that crowd, his next step would have been to knock her legs from under her: once she was on the ground he’d be on top of her. She’s not relaxing into his grip, she’s straining to find some way to get out of it.
He’s good at this. He’s done it before, and probably he continued to do it.

#3 Bill Williamson
March/11/2021
@ 1:19 pm

Thanks, Mike, that commentary told me a lot about how to be more discerning when seeing editorial cartoons. Congratulations to everyone for surviving a year of the pandemic with humour intact.

#4 Mary Ella
March/11/2021
@ 1:52 pm

As an aside, Gary Varvel recently got booted from a smaller media company that runs a bunch of newspapers in Indiana (the quote was that his work “veers too often into the extreme”.) As one would expect, he wrote a whiny statement about it in his newsletter in which he quotes both the Bible and Rush Limbaugh in the same breath.

#5 Clay Jones
March/11/2021
@ 2:05 pm

Gary Varvel has a newsletter? Oh, I wanna read that.

Recently, the Facebook page Drawing Fire was flagged for posting a Varvel cartoon based on a lie. We even acknowledged it in a note above the cartoon that the facts weren’t there. Unfortunately, the note contained sarcasm which is probably undetected by Facebook.

#6 Mike Peterson
March/11/2021
@ 4:04 pm

One of the resources that I read but didn’t draw on this morning was an interview with the nurse — actually a dental assistant — in the photo. She didn’t feel put upon or assaulted. It was an odd moment of exuberance in a time when things were different anyway, hence my saying that what happened then wouldn’t be acceptable today. Which I felt, but her discussion confirmed.

https://memory.loc.gov/diglib/vhp/story/loc.natlib.afc2001001.42863/transcript?ID=sr0001

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