Long-time readers have seen this 28-year-old Jack Ohman cartoon before; it’s one of my favorites.
It’s relevant today because, after a great deal of hemming and hawing and attempts to justify a truly bad decision, NYTimes Editorial Page Editor James Bennet has resigned.
Or jumped or was pushed, after the NYTimes was lambasted for having given Tom Cotton (Nazi-AR) a platform to declare that the solution to demonstrations in the street is martial law.
Which, upon review, the Times had decided was a failure of the editing process and certainly something they needed to consider possibly fixing sometime perhaps maybe in the future.
Which, I noted in a quick meme last week, was the same thing they said a year ago, when they published a cartoon of dubious taste and decided that, instead of hiring someone who actually understood the medium, they’d simply stop carrying editorial cartoons entirely.
Deja vu indeed, and Patrick Chappatte, a victim of that earlier decision, has republished his remarks of the time on his blog this morning, with links to the French and Spanish versions as well as to his Ted Talk on the topic and his book, which I recommend, and some other stuff, too. Well worth the click.
I’m sure he and other cartoonists share a feeling of waiting to see what’s next and, specifically, to see if interim editorial page editor Katie Kingsbury will prove any more welcoming to graphic commentary.
Though, as an interim slated to serve until the elections, she probably won’t be empowered to make that momentous a decision, as obvious as it seems to everyone outside the Times building.
Getting back to Jack Ohman’s cartoon, it has been my experience that the type of person who ascends to the Big Chair In The Newsroom simply does not “get” cartoons.
They aren’t the well-rounded entrepreneurs who used to found, fundraise and publish newspapers back in the days when multi-faceted people like John Clum ran feisty little papers like the Tombstone Epitaph.
Instead, they are humorless functionaries, good at spotting grammatical errors and attending budget meetings, who run individual links in chain newspapers that are more like a Rite Aid than old Pop Jones’s drugstore-and-soda-fountain.
But here’s the thing: I don’t understand modern dance. While I enjoy classical ballet, people leapin’ about in leotards leaves me cold.
As an editor, it didn’t mean I refused to have my paper cover dance recitals. It simply meant that I wouldn’t write the story myself.
I realized that (A) readers like that stuff and (B) almost anyone in the world could to a better job of covering it than I would.
I do not believe that shows any particular insight on my part, and I don’t understand killing cartoons simply because you don’t understand them.
And then there’s this
I also subscribe to the odd belief that political cartoonists should be journalists.
Signe Wilkinson offers this quiet rebuttal to the frantic notion that “defund the police” means not having any law enforcement at all.
Granted, it’s a foolish slogan, because it lends itself so well to being misinterpreted, whether by accident or on purpose. It’s like putting a “Kick Me” sign on your own back.
But the ethical mandate of journalism is to give voice to the voiceless, and this is a case where responsible reporters should be curious and want to dig deeper into a slogan that obviously cannot possibly mean what it appears to say.
And responsible reporters at the Guardian and at the Washington Post, for instance, have done just that, discovering that the intent is to divert large portions of militaristic spending into social programs that would strengthen the bonds between police and their communities.
It’s nothing new — Dick Gregory proposed it back in 1968, when he ran a write-in campaign for the presidency:
In the wake of the current debacle, the Minneapolis City Council has voted to disband their police department and form a more comprehensive public safety program that would, of course, include law enforcement.
Details to follow.
Steve Breen notes that other attempts to reform and improve law enforcement have frequently been thwarted by strong unions that turn the “Thin Blue Line” into a stone wall.
I believe in unions and I’m sorry that so many workers today don’t have the protection of a union. But a good union should encourage and even enforce basic ethics, as well as protecting its members from unfair actions.
The notion of “a few rotten apples” is too often an excuse for allowing a level of corruption.
That’s absurd. As Chris Rock noted,
Ya know, American Airlines can’t be like, ‘Most of our pilots like to land. We just got a few bad apples that like to crash into mountains. Please bear with us.’
The term comes from the saying, “One rotten apple spoils the barrel,” meaning that corruption spreads and you have to get rid of that one bad apple before the rest are contaminated.
However, that brings into question this blog’s policy of saluting good cartooning without singling out bad work.
Is it fair to criticize police for failing to come down on their colleagues who fail to live up to ethical standards without being equally hard on cartoonists who flout the principles of their profession?
There are standards, after all.
Hemingway, who cut his teeth as a reporter, famously said that a good writer needs a built-in bullshit detector.
I’d also refer to another author who worked as a reporter and say that a good journalist must have the insatiable curiosity of the Elephant’s Child, even if it does mean being kicked and booted about by those who preferred you didn’t ask so many questions.
If the bizarre call to “defund the police” does not make you insatiably curious, you are no journalist.
And, whether the explanation is laziness, incompetence or deliberate dishonesty, drawing a cartoon that attacks — or, for that matter, promotes — a concept that you haven’t bothered to examine is malpractice.
Do your job.
Here: Scratch the Earworm