CSotD: The Spin Cycle

This Robert Cenedella poster seems like a kind of Grinchy way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, but stick with me here, because the topic today is spin, lies and professionalism.

I’m seeing a lot of political cartoons based on the idea that the Apollo landing united a fractured nation, which it did.

For about half an hour.

And even during that half hour, there was grumbling over reports that Nixon had ordered the First Step postponed to make sure it happened in Prime Time.

Which, if true, could mean that our kind and thoughtful president wanted more people to be able to enjoy that historic moment.

Or it could mean that the son of a bitch wanted to milk it for all the political advantage he could.

A year later, I was driving East and picked up a hitchhiker, a 30-something black guy in a suit who claimed to be going to NYC to pick up an inheritance but needed a little handout in the meantime which I knew was bullshit but found entertaining. I’d have fed him anyway.

About 30 miles later, I picked up another hitchhiker, a young Potawotami activist coming back from the occupation of Alcatraz, and that Apollo poster in the back of my car sparked an interesting conversation.

The conman couldn’t believe we weren’t full of national pride over the landing, and I said that I was very impressed with NASA and found it thrilling but not a source of patriotic pride because I’d have been blown away if it had been done by the Canadians or the British or whoever.

And the Potawotami shrugged it off, explaining that his people’s holy men had walked on the Moon thousands of years earlier, which touched off a whole other topic of astral projection and I think our conman was happy enough to get out of the car when we hit his stop.

I don’t think he was used to being the straightest person in a three-way conversation.

Anyway, the Moon Landing was very, very cool, but, while everyone may have stopped quarreling while it was actually happening, it didn’t stop the war, it didn’t resolve the Alcatraz situation and you could still get the shit beaten out of you if you had long hair or too much melanin.

And Nixon’s plumbers got him re-elected a few years later.

So let’s not oversell its impact on the national psyche.

Even for the moment, it’s not like it pushed everything else off the Front Page.

Paul Berge has a selection of political cartoons about the landing, and you’ll see that most cartoonists balanced the hip-hip-hooray with a few less starry-eyed observations.


So flash-forward a half century to the present day and let’s continue to talk about spin and lies and professionalism, starting with this Mike Luckovich cartoon.

First of all, it’s within “free expression” for him to suggest that Republicans are repeating things that aren’t true until people begin to believe them, but there’s a useful stream of claims coming from that elephant.

And what Luckovich points out as propaganda, others put forth as truth.

“Democrats are socialists” is nonsensical spin, because it plays on decades of preaching against “socialism” by people who still resent FDR’s institution of Social Security, never mind Medicare, which came along later.

When I say it’s “nonsense,” I mean that, if they went beyond the buzzword and openly advocated ending Social Security and Medicare, they wouldn’t pick up a lot of votes.

“Hate America” is pure spin with no factual backup, but it’s just political puffery and requires none.

But “open borders” is a goddam lie. A few Democrats have suggested reducing unauthorized border crossings to a misdemeanor, but that doesn’t mean the person wouldn’t be deported. It just means coming over to pick lettuce shouldn’t put a felony on your record.

The professionalism element is that you should have enough pride in your work to know, for instance, that nobody is advocating open borders, that “socialism” and “communism” are two different things, and that nobody who opposes socialism should be praising a leader who embraces Putin.

And, for instance, you should have read the Mueller Report for yourself.

If you’re content to illustrate someone else’s unexamined opinions and spin, you’re just a hack illustrator, not a real cartoonist.

Which works both ways, though left-wing cartoonists seem not to actually repeat deliberate lies so much as simply not know how the system works.

The impact of their incompetence is much the same, however.


When Michael Ramirez depicts AOC as a joker playing the race card, that’s reasonable spin.

It might be better if he drew a more complete cartoon, showing how her citing of racial discrimination sidetracks the conversation, or noting that there is no racial discrimination, or documenting, for instance, times that white people have been told to go back where they came from.

Still, she has cited race as a problem in our society, and claimed that she and her allies are being singled out for their race. He is free to insist otherwise.

It’s spin and it’s opinion and we’ll see who agrees in November, 2020.


Ed Hall, by contrast, uses research to contrast wildly disparate quotes from Lindsey Graham on the topic of Donald Trump, suggesting a pretzel rather than the more familiar pair of flip-flops.

And I prefer the idea of “twisting” because it suggests a greater, more dishonest effort than simply “changing his opinion.”

And, because it is clear in its references, using actual quotes, it’s a more powerful accusation than a simple picture of him as a pretzel.

So what?

Ann Landers has that old rule, “Is it true? Is it fair? Is it necessary?”

Political cartoons are necessary. They are part of the regular dialogue a free society should have.

And “fair” is subjective. It’s unfair to be dishonest, but a cartoon that plays “on the one hand, on the other” is pointless. Spin is assumed.

However, even with spin, “true” should be a point of professional pride, personal integrity and patriotic loyalty.

We’ll come back to this.

4 thoughts on “CSotD: The Spin Cycle

  1. Is Lukovich claiming, though, that Democrats want “open borders”? Or is he illustrating the “repeat the Big Lie” tactic of the elephant _claiming_ that Democrats want “open borders”? There’s hackery here, but I think Lukovich is depicting it, not practicing it.

  2. Then I am confused by the second half (approximately) of the Luckovich part of this installment in which you talk about the hackery of cartoonists.

  3. It’s not that complex. Luckovich mocks the same thing I criticize, which is passing on uncorroborated claims.

    A cartoonist who seriously contends, for instance, that Democrats advocate open borders has not taken the time or made the effort to find out if that’s true. They’re simply illustrating the claims of talk show hosts or rightwing politicians.

    Any form of journalism requires that you know your sources and that you doublecheck their claims, particularly when they are partisan. Getting a second source is Journalism 101, and you should be smart enough to know that Breibart not a valid second source for a claim made by Alex Jones, for instance.

    Editorial cartoonists are journalists and should be held to the same standards. Spin is expected, lying is unacceptable, and passing on someone else’s lies is the same as inventing your own.

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