CSotD: Graphic Journalism (or not)

I usually add a short video at the end of each post, but today I’ll be adding a long one — an hour and 10 minutes — because Ann Telnaes and Kal Kallaugher, with the help of David Folkenflik, held an extraordinary discussion of political cartooning as journalism as part of the  Santa Fe Council on International Relations’ “Journalism Under Fire” conference.

You should watch it, because it matters, to which I would add that declaring something the most interesting and important of the year means more on December 5 than it would have in March.

But first, let’s take on that critical topic in terms of recent cartoons by other artists.

Kal noted that a cartoon can have the same basis as a column in the paper, but will catch readers’ attention in a few seconds, while they might not take the time to read the column.

Thus we should hold political cartoonists to the same journalistic standards that we expect from columnists.

And, while, to quote Hamlet, “it is a custom more honor’d in the breach than the observance,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s rule ought still to apply, that you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.


Rick McKee (Counterpoint) can, for instance, illustrate and declare his opinion that Biden’s hairline fracture, “will only reinforce the notion that his advanced age makes him too frail for the job,” even though it’s only reinforcing a notion planted by Biden opponents.

And even though others may feel that the fact that he was out running around with his dog should only reinforce the notion that Biden is, in fact, pretty fit and lively.


By contrast, Dana Summers (Tribune) conflates the unbridled toxins of hostile social media trolls with the coverage of actual journalists, in order to promote the idea that there is hypocrisy in the fact that most commercial media covered a minor injury as an amusing feature rather than a national crisis.

It’s an opinion, certainly, but it’s an opinion based on an objectively dishonest and irrelevant comparison.

That’s not journalism.



But the real tests of journalistic standards seem to be hitting in the area of judging the fairness of the election, and there’s no doubt that John Cole (Times-Tribune) unleashes a funny-but-harsh opinion with this piece, punning on the Trump team’s promise to “Release the Kraken.”

It would be nothing but an insult — a low level of discourse, certainly — except that he specifies who he means, rather than accusing all Trump loyalists of lunacy, and he adds a collection of the foolish, disproven and irrelevant charges they’ve advanced.

When you undergird an insult with that much documentation, it becomes a valid opinion.


Compare that to Jack Ohman (WPWG)‘s commentary on the Georgia elections, which is almost pure ridicule, or would be if he wasn’t tying in the strong Q-anon connection to the effort, which doesn’t truly include Bigfoot and Elvis but does, indeed, bring in JFK Jr and Pizzagate.

A strong opinion augmented with a great deal of poetic license that would be obvious if the true parts weren’t, in themselves, so absurd.

Which is his point. He demands the audience pay attention, but it’s fair commentary.


By comparison, Gary Varvel (Creators) accuses the media of deliberately ignoring evidence, throwing in a visual wisecrack about liberals who wear masks to avoid the coronavirus.

It would be a stronger accusation if, like Cole, he had offered examples of the evidence that the mainstream media is ignoring.

It may be a valid opinion to say that mainstream media (which never seems to include Fox or other conservative outlets) are not trying to verify claims of fraud, but it’s pretty tenuous when every bit of evidence advanced so far seems to have fallen apart under scrutiny, and when judges are dismissing lawsuits at a 1-26 pace and with strong language.

Bottom line is that you have to have evidence before you can accuse anyone of ignoring it.


Steve Kelley (Creators) offers an opinion that strains logic, playing upon the small number of miscounts and other minor issues in the election and declaring them evidence of much larger and more significant fraud.

Journalists must deal with facts, and labeling the lady “voter fraud” takes Kelley off target, since some of the actual, intentional fraud has come from the GOP side of the ledger, making the issue non-partisan.

And, again, a vague claim that something happened puts your opposition under no obligation to prove a negative.


I particularly like Pat Byrnes (Cagle)‘s commentary, because he adds to Barr’s actual quote to suggest that, if there had been significant fraud, Barr — one of Trump’s most loyal employees — certainly would have found it and brought it to light.

It’s a fake quote, but the way he sets it aside with an asterisk, and the fact that there’d be no cartoon without it, makes that clear.

It’s opinion, but it’s fair commentary.


Christopher Weyant (Boston Globe) also stretches the facts to make his point, though the depiction of Trump is, like Ohman’s array of absurdities, so silly as to send up a flag that this isn’t a literal quote.

There is a point at which readers have an obligation to be somewhat well-informed, and I don’t think you have to be terribly up on things to recognize this as valid, sarcastic opinion rather than reportage.


“Valid,” btw, doesn’t mean you have to agree. Michael Ramirez (Counterpoint) offers an opinion based on the assumption that he and his readers feel Biden’s victory is a bad thing for the country.

To take him literally might be to say “This is a very minor thing which will be resolved in a couple of weeks,” but I think we can dismiss that interpretation.

His intention is to rally the faithful and I doubt he expects to convert anyone. It’s valid commentary.


Finally, Steve Sack (Star Tribune) also rallies the faithful, but from the other end of the spectrum, with an obituary for the administration backed up, if not by “proof,” by enough examples of failure to back up his opinion.

Now go listen to the whole issue being explained better:


One thought on “CSotD: Graphic Journalism (or not)

  1. Or does Ramirez’s cartoon suggest that Biden’s boot is there to help Uncle Sam heal and recover ? (And if that interpretation pisses Ramirez off…”it is what it is…”)

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