CSotD: Spin Cycle

We’ll begin with a reminder from Non Sequitur that not everything said for laughs should be taken at face value, or as a deliberate, or even accidental, insult.

The topic of “political correctness” came up repeatedly at last weeks’ conference, particularly in connection with social media.


Prime example was the cartoon that caused the NYTimes to clutch its pearls and stop running cartoons entirely. The issue cartoonists raised was not whether the cartoon was antisemitic, but, rather, that there was no discussion of whether or not it was.

People who felt it was antisimetic simply declared it so and nobody said, “Wait, let’s take a look.” There was universal agreement that Portuguese artist António Moreira Antunes should have put an Israeli flag, not a mogen david, on Netanyahu’s collar and skipped entirely the yarmulke on Trump’s head.

But, while a single editor selected the cartoon, the page passed through nearly two dozen hands before it was published and nobody said, “Wait a minute.” Surely somebody could explain why it wasn’t flagged, or might engage in a debate about where criticism of a nation becomes criticism of a religious group.

Or even said, “This is the International edition. The game is played rougher overseas.”

For the record, I wouldn’t have run it, and I strongly disagree with Netanyahu’s policies.

But to immediately concede the critics’ announcement that it was “antisemitic” is irresponsible. You ran it: Own it, or at least explain why you didn’t pull it before it ran.

However, here’s the larger point:

At our panel on cartooning in the age of Trump, I asked Nick Anderson, who is the head cartoonist at Counterpoint, how you handle a political cartoon based not on “spin” but on an actual lie.

He chuckled and responded that “a lie is a cartoon you disagree with,” which, within the vagueness of the question, was a good answer, though, if I’d had a specific cartoon in mind, I might have pressed him further.

The line between “spin” and “falsehood” is the line between “politics” and “propaganda,” and it’s worth exploring.


For example, Clay Bennett is not the only cartoonist to merge Trump’s dubious ethics with the release of the new Joker movie. As in the disclaimer in Wiley’s cartoon, above, it is hyperbole. Bennett isn’t saying the President is an actual supervillain.

Just, y’know, a regular villain.

I’d put this in the category of comforting the afflicted rather than trying to convert any Trump fans. But it’s still spin.



In this panel, Gary Varvel seems to be leveling an accusation at Adam Schiff, and it’s not as clearly a matter of spin and hyperbole: He appears to have some specific thing in mind that Schiff has done which was far worse than withholding foreign aid to obtain partisan political cooperation.

The specifics of his whataboutism would likely be clearer if I listened to talk radio or read Breibart, but this still qualifies as spin: You could defend it with a different Jesus quote about none of us being qualified to hurl the first stone.


Mike Thompson‘s whataboutism is more precisely targeted: It does indeed seem ridiculous for anyone allied with the Trump Family White House to criticize somebody else over nepotism and profiteering from parental connections.

Note that he doesn’t accuse the Trump Kids of anything illegal; he simply contrasts the acceptance of their roles with the outrage over Hunter Biden being offered a directorship because of who his father is.

So it’s sharp, but it’s still spin.


Meanwhile, Scott Stantis offers a spin we’ll be seeing a lot of: Purposely drawing on the worst possible example of a failing communist economy and presenting it as if it were a reasonable depiction of socialism.

We learned the distinction between “socialism” and “communism” in 12th grade econ, but maybe that was only a required course in New York State.

Still, it’s not asking much of a high school graduate to know the difference between the Soviet Union or Venezuela, and Sweden or Canada.

But, yes, swapping “communism” and “socialism” is spin, and whether the cartoonist knows the difference is between him and his conscience.

Whether voters know the difference will be decided in November 2020.

Meanwhile, spin happens.



Here’s where things begin to become dicey:  Dana Summers declares that Joe Biden committed a crime.

Even couched within an obvious cartoonish setting — donkeys don’t talk, they don’t wear robes and they have no hands — he has made an accusation based on a fact not in evidence.

The argument in favor of the cartoon is that the “fact” is as metaphorical as the donkey, but Summers is on thin ice.


If I were a syndicate editor, I might have asked Bob Gorrell to rework this.

The whistleblower did not approach Schiff, but, rather, someone on the staff of the intelligence committee, and apparently did not disclose the matter of their report but asked about procedure.

According to that NYTimes article, Schiff’s staff has responded that

the committee received the complaint the night before releasing it publicly last week and noted that that came three weeks after the administration was legally mandated to turn it over to Congress. The director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, acting on the advice of his top lawyer and the Justice Department, had blocked Mr. Atkinson from turning over the complaint sooner.

So there was, indeed, a violation of the law, but it involved the Justice Department failing to turn the whistleblower’s report over to Congress.

This doesn’t make Gorrell a “liar,” but he should have dug deeper before accusing anyone of an actual crime, particularly since that was the entire point of his cartoon.

Spin is central to the craft of the political cartoonist, but in these fraught times, if you’re going to dance on the edge of truth, you’d better have a good sense of balance and know where you stand.


Particularly when dealing with a President who thinks Adam Schiff committed “treason” by spinning his phone call precisely in the same satirical fashion as Matt Davies.

2 thoughts on “CSotD: Spin Cycle

  1. I found the uproar over the Times cartoon fascinating, because if you looked hard at what it was saying, it was calling to task the leaders, not the Jewish religion. The yarmulke? I’d keep it there, because it underscores Trump’s blind allegiance, to the point where he probably would say he was Jewish if it meant staying in Bibi’s good graces. And as a side note, the six pointed star *is* on the Israeli flag.

    But it’s the ridiculousness of the whole thing: a blindly allegiant man being led around by a yappy, essentially powerless little dachshund. I think maybe the only change I would have requested is that the artist rescale the dog down to something a bit more realistic so the point would be more obvious, but that’s a style thing, I guess.

    Bottom line: the cartoon is fine as presented. The fact that people need the concepts behind it spoon fed (like the signs cartoon at the top) definitely isnt.

  2. Long, long ago, in journalism school, we were taught that there are no “true facts” – either they are facts or they aren’t. The analogy was “being sort of pregnant.”

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