CSotD: Remembering why this matters

As noted earlier, a highlight of the AAEC Convention this year was a chance to tour the Billy Ireland’s “Front Line: Editorial Cartoonists and the First Amendment” exhibit with its two curators, Lucy Shelton Caswell and Ann Telnaes.

Sharing a few samples of the exhibit today not only allows me to show you more than I could have within the Day Two roundup, but lets me get out to the airport in time for my flight home.

I’m skipping the 19th (and 18th) Century classics, as well as the acclaimed and well-known panels from more modern times in favor of some you may not have seen.

These suffer a bit from being taken at angles and so forth; I’ve done a little brightening and lightening, but they look better in person and the exhibit is open until October 20. There’s also a book and if I find out how it can be purchased by mail, I’ll let you know.

With those disclaimers, on with the show:


Paul Combs‘ 2017 piece from the Bryan Times, a little paper here in Ohio, struck me on several levels including visual appeal and his undeserved obscurity. The paper is mostly behind a paywall, but the part that sticks out suggests a real throwback: A small paper that is connected to its community and gives a damn.

Also it made me chuckle, which, in hard times, is a benefit.


John Fischetti’s 1971 cartoon seems back in date today, what with whistleblowers and other unauthorized revelations. While the political world was arguing over whether the newspapers had the right to publish stolen government documents — specifically the Pentagon Papers — Fischetti suggests that truth is a positive payback, however late and insufficient, for those who died in the war.

If you’re just joining us, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the newspapers had the right to publish the papers, but, as that linked Wikipedia article notes, with nine separate somewhat troubled opinions, of which they quote this snippet from Justice Hugo Black:

Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.

Makes you wonder how the current court would rule.

More history: That ruling didn’t prevent Daniel Ellsburg, who had leaked the report, from facing legal charges. However, the outrageous conduct of the White House plumbers in assaulting his personal rights caused the court to throw up its hands and dismiss charges.


In this 1976 cartoon, John Lane commented on another leak a few years later, when CBS reporter Daniel Schorr handed over a secret report on CIA abuses to the Village Voice. Congress fumed but didn’t prove such a Big Bad Wolf after all.

To quote the Arab proverb: The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.


Another case in which the principle and the individual involved were separate was Falwell v Hustler, which was the subject of an editorial cartooning conference in 2018 that I covered starting here 

In that case, the Supreme Court was unanimous in protecting Hustler’s right to parody a Campari ad in a way that grossly insulted Moral Majority Leader Jerry Falwell, but Henry Payne’s cartoon illustrates the reluctance with which Free Speech advocates made common cause with the pornographer, Larry Flynt.

We were told on the tour, as we stopped by the case of Falwell v Hustler cartoons, that the decision to file an amicus brief was not arrived at easily by the AAEC and sparked a passionate debate. It was finally resolved on the principle that “If he can’t do it, we won’t be able to do it.”

Hence Payne’s cartoon.


A more nuanced First Amendment case is memorialized here by Wiley Miller, back in his pre-Non Sequitur days as a political cartoonist for the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. In 1978, police seized photographs of a demonstration from the offices of the Stanford Daily, which protested the move on both First and Fourth Amendment grounds.

This time, the Court was not on the side of the press and ruled the search and seizure legal, hence Miller’s (well-placed, IMHO) fear that it opened the press to random searches by authorities.

I would add that it also reinforced the very dangerous concept that journalists are a branch of law enforcement, which not only makes people reluctant to tell reporters anything sensitive but can put journalists in more danger of being assaulted or even killed as suspected informants.

Personally, I think journalists should be prepared to go to jail to protect their sources and the confidentiality of the material they collect. The time I faced a subpoena for my notes, I was fortunate to have the support of both my publisher and the paper’s owner, but that’s not guaranteed in a world where litigation costs money and reporters are expendable.

Congress later passed legislation to make it harder for the police to go after reporters’ notes and unpublished photographs, but different states have different shield laws to protect newsgathering.


Dana Summers notes the oddity that arose in 1978, when there was a sudden uprising of support for yet another “Don’t burn the flag” law, which, as the Contract With America morphed into Tea Parties and thence into Trumpism, feels like an early way to divide us against one another.

And, yes, I wrote about that, too, though in a different iteration of the same dumb idea, and more about the absurdity of the original concept than, as Summers puts it, the ridiculously misplaced priorities of the whole thing.

Nice thing about burning-the-flag laws is that, if you aren’t satisfied with how you responded to one idiotic proposal, another one will come around again.

Supported by people who view it as only one of many assertions of rights you shouldn’t be permitted to have.


Kirk Anderson offered this 1990 commentary on people who don’t want their children exposed to information on sex and sexuality, and where that’s apt to end up.

It must be nice for him to look back on this and see so much statistical information on teen pregnancy and how it varies by location and availability of sensible sex ed and family planning services.

Wait’ll that mom finds out that her fellow conservatives’ reverence for life ends in the delivery room.


But to be fair, and to repeat something heard throughout the weekend at AAEC panels, rightwingers aren’t the only ones threatening free expression, and this 1990 commentary shows that Signe Wilkinson knew it nearly two decades ago, well before social media began to pressure news organizations to toe the (party) line.

(Historic note: Her use of film is metaphorical. It makes a better visual, but TV people had shifted to video by 1990.)


Citizens United inspired this 2010 commentary from Mike Jenkins of Public Citizen News, and, as with the Paul Combs cartoon that led this off, it’s a nice sign of good cartooning work in small, unexpected places.


Presumably the good citizens of Indiana who read the Indianapolis Business Journal don’t need help identifying the fellow with the cap of white hair in this 2015 Shane Johnson cartoon, even though you can’t make out his face.

Since then, the Hoosiers have shared him with the rest of the nation, which someone suggested the other day should give liberals pause about pushing Trump out of office, much as the prospects of President Agnew protected Nixon until it didn’t.


We’ll close with a 2017 piece by Chip Bok, which seems to sum up the level of civil discourse in which we find ourselves.

Though it’s more than worth pointing out that those who brand the media as the “enemy of the people” have a pretty consistent track record for dictatorship and fascism.

Name-calling doesn’t help, but, then, this is no time for Stephen Dedalus’s self-protective weapons of “silence, exile and cunning.”

Better, now, to turn to Eldridge Cleaver’s well-known, usually paraphrased quotation:

There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution,
or you’re going to be part of the problem.

2 thoughts on “CSotD: Remembering why this matters

  1. You’ve provided an excellent few days of coverage of CXC and particularly AAEC’s piece of it–which is especially important because I haven’t seen anyone else doing it, and what happens to editorial cartooning matters. Thanks.

  2. Thanks for a neat roundup of, as you say, stuff I don’t get to see where I am.

    One thing: You could have referred to Flynt as a principal up there. If you had already rejected the idea, nemmind.

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