Firefighter groups call Andy Marlette cartoon unfair

Andy Marlette's cartoon

The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and local fire fighters are calling foul to a recent cartoon by Andy Marlette depicting firefighters hosing down two African-Americans with a caption that reads, “Don’t worry, since they laid off all the journalists in Alabama we can get away with this kind of stuff again!” The cartoon is based on a famous photo by Charles Moore during the 1960s documenting the Birmingham fire department hosing down civil rights protesters.

Civil Rights Photo by Charles Moore

The IAFF released a statement stating:

We rely on the sound, unbiased work of real reporters and editors to bring us the news, but on June 16, Andy Marlette and the Pensacola News Journal violated that standard by printing a senseless, confusing and bigoted illustration that should never have reached print. Mr. Marlette and the News Journal owe fire fighters and readers an unequivocal apology.

“At a time when we need more trained, qualified journalists to cover and report the really important stories on local, regional, national and international events so the citizens of this country aren’t left to rely on biased bloggers and propagandists, editors of a newspaper in a major city must remain smart and professional. Sadly, the editors at the News Journal have proven they are neither.

In response to the controversy, the Pensacola News Journal defended the cartoon and their decision to run it:

In the context of the mass layoffs of Alabama’s journalists, the cartoon is a dark comment on the fact that the most sinister things happen – in fact have always happened – when nobody is there to show and tell about them. The News Journal has a long history of inviting and publishing viewpoints from people who take strong exception to editorials and editorial cartoons. We believe that to be the mission of our Opinions section.

They also welcomed those offended to write letters to the editor.

Andy is also defending his cartoon by stating the message is greater than firefighters.

Four hundred laid off from three Alabama newspapers: That’s the news that inspired Saturday’s editorial cartoon.

It’s a depiction of a scene from the Birmingham Campaign of the Civil Rights Movement in 1963, when young black protesters were blasted with fire hoses under the orders of Birmingham, Ala., city official Eugene “Bull” Connor.

It is one of the most iconic and most horrifying images in Alabama history.

And the only reason the world ever saw that terrible image was because journalists were there to capture it. Because journalists captured it, a world outside the South saw what was happening, joined in protest and changed life as we know it.

Thus, in the context of the mass layoffs of Alabama’s journalists, the cartoon is a dark comment on the fact that the most sinister things happen – in fact have always happened – when nobody is there to show and tell about them.

The cartoon is about the staggering loss of journalists – those who show and tell – in Alabama, and ultimately, everywhere. It is about the danger of this loss and what happens to a society without its watchdogs. It is about what Birmingham could have been today had journalists not been on the scene in 1963.

It is simply not about firefighters.

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7 thoughts on “Firefighter groups call Andy Marlette cartoon unfair

  1. it’s one of those cartoons that fail because it turns into a mixed message [see Monkey Gunned Down That Wrote Stimulus Bill cartoon]

  2. The message of the cartoon is perfectly clear and valid. Sadly in our dominant culture most perception is uncertain and defensive. Any assertion that firefighters as a group are entirely virtuous and in some way seperate and different than the local population is dangerous and absurd.

    Any art succeeds when it evokes emotion, and political cartoons most of all should scream at oppression and injustice.

  3. I’d have to go with Jim on this. Only folks inside the media for a long, long time would have a chance to “get” the reference, essentially making it an insider message and leaving it wide open for misinterpretation. Hindsight might suggest that when the wrong interpretation has a massively higher probability of happening than the intended one, that perhaps it should not be used. Granted that the average age of folks reading the paper anymore is 80 years old, so I could be wrong on that !

    That being said, when the context is put with the cartoon, the offended parties should now back-off and realize their point is made as well as the point of the cartoon being clarified. IMHO

  4. A political cartoon fails when people get upset over a point the cartoon isn’t making.

    I think this cartoon shouldn’t have used the firefighter analogy because it’s outdated, and basically swiped a group that didn’t have anything to do with the issue the cartoon is on.

    Plus, firefighters get mad very easily. I’ve gotten a lot of hate mail from them in the past. Of course those cartoons were actually on issues that involved the fire department.

  5. Who remembers corny old crap like the civil rights movement? Better to forget all that than confuse people with totaly relavent and on point cartoons. This cartoon that caused a furor and TV coverage is obviously a failure, because they always have stories with updates on TV about clear, ho-hum cartoons. Don’t they?

  6. Let’s assume you had to be 10 years old to remember news events. That would mean you’d have to have been born in 1953 to remember the use of firehoses. Which would make you on the cusp of turning 60.

    It’s not just an issue of newspapers playing to the older crowd. It’s a matter of making a point that most readers can get. It’s a good concept — a great concept — but the wrong symbol.

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