This could have been a short day for me, because Jen Sorensen has said everything I have on my mind.
Instead, I’ll elaborate.
One challenge in critiquing editorial cartoons gone wrong is trying to determine if the cartoonist is genuinely mistaken or deliberately lying, but I like to think that deliberate lies come from farther upstream, from Russian troll farms and a handful of genuinely perverse political operatives in this country.
But there are sins both of commission and omission, and among the latter is failure to check a good story before you pass it along. Political cartooning is a branch of journalism, which requires that you confirm things before reporting them, but that doesn’t always happen.
It’s easy to get into a silo where all you hear are voices from one end of the spectrum, and if you don’t pop your head up and look around, you’re apt to pass along things that simply aren’t true, or that are incomplete to the point of being misleading.
This Bob Englehart cartoon is a case of jumping to conclusions. A deeper look into the (proposed) acquisition of US Steel by Nippon Steel reveals that part of the negotiations includes a pledge by the Japanese company to honor existing union agreements.
I don’t know if that was being reported at the time Englehart drew the cartoon, and I only found it in a single sentence in one fairly long article about the topic. Furthermore, The United Steel Workers put out a press release condemning the move and questioning Nippon’s willingness to honor its obligations to them.
It could be argued that, since he put the question in the mouth of the unions, Englehart wasn’t in error, and that, given that the deal has not been confirmed, it’s still an open issue.
Then again, Nippon Steel has offices in Houston and Chicago. What kind of response he’d have gotten about ongoing negotiations is uncertain, however, and I’m not going to score this as an error.
In the newsroom, we had “corrections” for false information, and “clarifications” for things that might be misleading. The former was a black mark against the reporter, the latter simply a slight embarrassment. I’m not sure Englehart’s piece even falls in that latter category, though a finicky editor might disagree.
By contrast, Dave Whamond has two problems here, one of which is somewhat inconsequential: The widespread mockery of Trump for holding up a Bible upside-down was unwarranted. There were bookmarking ribbons sticking out the bottom because that’s how Bibles and Missals are bound.
The photo on the left, from CNN, doesn’t show any text on the cover, but the earlier shot on the right, from the New Yorker, shows the text on the binding, the attachment of the ribbons at the top and a slight bit of wear on the top hinge, which can be seen at the top in the first photo.
He wasn’t holding it upside-down. It’s not consequential, but it’s also not true.
The larger error is that, while Trump has defended his use of “vermin” and “poisoned blood” by saying he never read “Mein Kampf,” his ex-wife told a Vanity Fair writer in 1990 that he kept a copy of Hitler’s speeches next to their bed and read it often, and the writer confirmed that he was given the book by a friend. The article was recently dug up and reported several places, including here.
But as Jen Sorensen suggests, the truth hasn’t got a chance if people don’t doublecheck their facts. And while holding up a Bible one way or the other doesn’t matter, a presidential candidate who quotes Hitler does.
I purposely criticized two cartoonists whose work and whose opinions I tend to agree with, but there’s plenty of dubious work at the other end of the spectrum, and Steve Kelley (Creators) often takes cheap shots at Biden and other liberal targets.
In this case, he repeats the foolish-but-popular nonsense about Biden liking ice cream, which several conservative cartoonists use to show … well, something or other.
As has been noted here several times, it’s a stupid insult because every president, with four possible unconfirmed exceptions, has been on record as enjoying ice cream.
What’s more consequential in Kelley’s cartoon is that he bases the entire piece on the completely undocumented rightwing notion that Biden is intellectually failing, which falls under the middle-school category of “I know you are, but what am I?”
After all, who was it that said George Washington attacked British airports and downplayed the Covid pandemic with quackery in place of science?
Biden has a hesitant manner of speaking because of a stammer, but he doesn’t make an incoherent, comical hash of the English language.
Honesty matters, in the White House and on the editorial pages.
Juxtaposition of the Day
Scott Stantis is not off-base in that a lot of voters wish they were not having to choose between Biden and Trump, though Nikki Haley has a lot of ground to catch up if she wants the nomination and it’s very late in the game for any Democrat to challenge the incumbent.
Still, a lot of cartoonists are playing the Will Rogers Game, in which you trash all politicians without giving any reason beyond “They’re all the same!” It’s an easy way to get laughs, but it’s also an easy way to spread cheap cynicism and suppress voter turnout.
But as Pat Bagley points out, it’s not just cartoonists and pundits who echo Republican talking points, and newspapers are full of supposedly neutral articles about Old Joe Biden, who, as the cartoon points out, is in excellent physical shape, particularly compared to a man only three-and-a-half years younger but who is overweight and seems to live on junk food.
Any difference between 80 and 77 has more to do with French fries than birthday candles.
The other thing you’ll find in newspapers is columns in which the writer urges the media to stop the horserace coverage and, instead, write about policy proposals and other things that actually matter in what will be a crucial election.
You’ll find those columns hidden among all the stories editors assign about the latest premature poll and the interviews with people in outlandish campaign gear.
Now here’s the latest presidential campaign coverage: