The Hannity and Colmesification of Cartoonists
When I watch Fox News I see that every opinion, and every person who has an opinion, is classified as either a liberal or a conservative. It is a simple way to view the world as good vs. bad. Pick your side and the other side is bad; we’re the good guys. Each side comes with a complete set of views on every topic. I can order my opinions from liberal list A or conservative list B, but I can’t order a la carte, because that would be too complicated for TV – and, sadly, it would also be too complicated for newspapers.
I’m a political cartoonist. In the black-and-white world of editorial page editors, I’m classified by some editors as a conservative cartoonist but most tag me as a liberal cartoonist. I can’t have a variety of views; that would be too complicated for editors. I’m classified for a complete set of worldviews based on a few cartoons an editor happens to read first. Newspaper editorial pages have been “Hannity and Colmesified.”
Unlike TV pundits, most editorial cartoonists don’t conform closely to list A and list B. Liberal readers bash me for being conservative when I draw cartoons supportive of the troops in Iraq, while editors call me liberal when I bash President Bush for busting the budget. My cartoons are syndicated to close to 900 newspapers, so if editors assigned the cartoonist labels randomly according to the last cartoons the editors saw, it wouldn’t make much difference (I took statistics in high school). Unfortunately, it is not a random process.
I run a syndicate that distributes the work of about 50 editorial cartoonists to newspapers across the country. There are about 1,500 daily newspapers and 5,000 non-daily or weekly newspapers. The largest, most visible, urban papers tend to be liberal leaning (a fact that conservatives complain about loudly) but the vast majority of newspapers are small suburban or rural, conservative papers. The conservative editors from these papers complain to us all the time that they want more conservative cartoonists (not conservative cartoons, they want conservative cartoonists). Most editors quickly classify cartoonists as liberal and undesirable after glancing at a few cartoons, and the editors don’t bother even looking at further cartoons from liberal cartoonists.
We thought we would try a little experiment. We started labeling our cartoons “liberal” or “conservative.” The first thing we noticed was that 80% of the cartoons could not be labeled, such as cartoons about Katie Couric, Barry Bonds, March Madness and the death of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic. There was no discerning liberal from conservative cartoons when Anna Nicole Smith went to the Supreme Court, when high oil company profits were disclosed, when Muslims around the world were rioting about Danish Muhammad cartoons, when Hamas won the Palestinian election, when North Korea and Iran bluster about nuclear weapons, when a new study tells Americans that they are too fat and when we all suffer preparing our income taxes. The recent immigration debate defies classification as President Bush and Senate Republicans support legalizing the illegal/undocumented people who are already here. When Cynthia McKinney slugged a policeman all of the cartoonists pounced on her equally. The cartoonists are also in lock-step when they ridicule Saddam’s courtroom antics. Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham had no conservative defenders. What is most noteworthy about our survey is that cartoonists agree about most issues in the news.
About 8 out of 100 political cartoons are conservative and 12 out of 100 can be classified as liberal.
We thought that our bright red and blue labels on the cartoons would force editors to recognize that our cartoons are not overwhelmingly liberal, but they just can’t believe their lying eyes. Although editors don’t argue with the labels on each cartoon (they like the labels), they continue to speak in generalities about the liberal cartoonists rather than liberal cartoons – “Hannity and Colmesification,” where the pundit must be labeled without much regard for what he has to say.
Conservatives prefer cartoons that reinforce their preconceived worldview, and cartoons that deviate are annoying and are noticed; conservative cartoons are reassuring and less noticeable. Cartoons that bash President Bush are annoying to conservative editors; the most common complaints we get are that too many cartoons criticize the president – even when those cartoons are conservative, such as bashing the president for overspending, or bipartisan, bashing the president for FEMA’s poor response to Hurricane Katrina. The other big complaint is that there are too many cartoons about Iraq – in fact there are fewer cartoons about Iraq now that the story is old. I had an interesting call from a New York Times reporter recently who wanted me to confirm that there are more cartoons about Iraq now as criticism of the president grows. Of course, the Times has no cartoonist and runs a pitiful weekly editorial cartoon round-up that they call “Laugh Lines,” so it is no surprise that the Times would be oblivious to what goes on with cartoons in other papers.
It is our role as cartoonists to bash the people in power; we may be perceived as liberal just because the president and Congress are Republican now. During the orgy of Clinton-Lewinsky cartoons we could have been called conservatives – but we weren’t… that was before editors were Hannity and Colmesified.
Daryl Cagle is the political cartoonist for MSNBC.com. He is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society and his cartoons are syndicated to over eight hundred newspapers, including the paper you are reading. His book, “The Best Political Cartoons of the Year, 2005 Edition,” is available in bookstores now
Since the worldwide furor began over the Danish caricatures of Muhammad, the talk among political cartoonists has been about new and unwelcome attention that the fuss has brought to their profession. Editors now view editorial cartoonists as potential problems and gossip is circulating among American cartoonists about their cartoons that are being killed by timid editors and publishers who would have printed the same cartoons a couple of months ago.
I asked a number of the world’s top, syndicated political cartoonists what they think about the ‘toon turmoil and how they see it affecting political cartoonists.
Bob Englehart, The Hartford Courant, Connecticut:
“European newspaper cartoonists have always enjoyed more freedom of expression than we cartoonists in America. All you have to do is check them out on the Internet, and that’s the real chill, the fatal chill. The newspaper business in America is caught in a downward spiral of declining circulation. The cartoon controversy shows why. Most all American papers declined to run the Danish cartoons, thus again proving that newspapers are becoming irrelevant to the news/information process. You, the curious informed public, need to have a computer and Internet service to learn what all the fuss is about. … Editors have decided for you that you can’t handle it. … Young people see right through this. They’ll look at the cartoons on the Internet (as I had to do) and make up their own minds, without the help of newspapers.”
Sandy Huffaker, Nationally Syndicated:
”When a chain buys a newspaper, that paper loses courage. The money guys take over for the journalists, leading to the firing of reporters, investigative reporters and cartoonists – those people who might upset advertisers. It seems like one letter-to-the-editor can cow an editor already afraid for his job. No better example of this is the Muhammad cartoons. Only a handful of our papers had the guts to run them, so no one had any idea how offensive they were or weren’t (they were quite tame). I never thought I’d see the day that France, who had a number of papers run the cartoons, had more courage than we did. It is a sad day for democracy.”
Mike Lester, The Rome News-Tribune, Georgia:
”Methinks the temptation for timidity in the opinions of editors and cartoonists has never seen greater justification. For cartoonists, the previous desire to appear in major papers and newsstand glossies seems to have been replaced with the desire to maintain their current height. I’m not sure who the last brave editor will be, but he/she’s out there. I once drew a cartoon of Jesus turning regular into decaf and was deluged with mail from Christians requesting t-shirt reprints. It would appear that, even though the West has been watching ‘Skating with Celebrities’ and smoking Sudafed we’ve somehow developed a sense of irony leaving the Dark Aged Islamo-fascists still working on indoor plumbing and a sense of humor.”
Rainer Hachfeld, Neues Deutschland, Germany:
“Editors are and were always timid, particularly in the USA. Nothing will change in the behavior of editors. On the other hand, I hate the ridiculous self-pity of cartoonists which is shown in many cartoons about the so-called Muhammad cartoon controversy.”
Monte Wolverton, Nationally Syndicated:
”It’s understandable that editors wish to avoid offending readers and advertisers. At a time when economic safety nets are unraveling, what editor — or cartoonist in their right mind — wants to endanger their career, mortgage, retirement, savings and health insurance, much less provoke riots and evoke death-fatwas? The recent unrest will only reinforce that cautious mindset. But public discourse is not for the cautious, faint-hearted or easily offended. It is best served when issues are confronted boldly and head-on. Cartoonists facilitate that process by offering provocative metaphors to prime the pump of productive argument. Reasonable people understand how this works, but extremists and religious fundamentalists don’t.”
Yaakov Kirschen, The Jerusalem Post, Israel:
“Timid editors do indeed avoid ‘hard-hitting’ cartoons. Timid editors are also partially responsible for falling newspaper sales, because when newspapers choose to be ‘safe’ rather than exciting, provocative and thought-provoking they lose their appeal. And nothing is more exciting, provocative, and thought-provoking than a good political cartoon.”
Pat Bagley, The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah:
“The Muhammad brouhaha has probably strengthened my hand when it comes to arguing for printing a cartoon that the editors might find a little too edgy, especially those dealing with religion. The episode has opened the door on why religion is somehow exempt from criticism. Wasn’t that the whole point of The Enlightenment; that folks could speak back to religious authority?”
Mike Lane, Baltimore, Nationally Syndicated:
“Newspaper people I’ve known, editors included, were generally divided unevenly into two groups: pro and anti-cartoon. So why should we expect editors to even consider (printing) foreign cartoons of an inflammatory nature when many could not care less about comparatively benign, domestic cartoons, is a mystery to me. And if the Muslims are going to get worked up over cartoons of a guy who’s been dead for 1500 years when we’ve been drawing images of Jesus who preceded Muhammad by 600 or so years, I say, OK, it’s your way, not mine. So let’s have a separation of church/temple/mosque and the Fourth Estate. If we’re going to get exercised about what pictures our free press doesn’t print, I say it be over the photos of our dead and maimed young people returning from Iraq.”
Petar Pismetrovic, Kleine Zeitung, Austria:
“I have no idea why anyone needed such cartoons. I think the goal of cartoons is not to insult but to criticize, ape or comment on politics, society, etc. As if there weren’t enough sinners walking the earth (politicians, military leaders, etc.) that saints and religious idols needed to be attacked in cartoons. My only wish is that cartoons stop being misused by extremist organizations and elements, and that they are appreciated for what they should be: critical comment and a good joke.”
Olle Johansson, Norra Vasterbotten, Sweden:
“The upside to the incident with the Danish Muhammad cartoons is that I believe many editors will open their eyes to the immense power that is within the political cartoon. The downside is that at the same time many of them may unfortunately choose a more careful approach especially when it comes to international cartoons concerning people and/or cultures they don’t fully understand. But I choose to believe that this will strengthen the cartoon as journalistic instrument. And it has certainly brought back the nerve to this form of art.”
Riber Hansson, Svenska Dagbladet, Sweden:
”In Swedish children’s books you can find ‘the world’s strongest girl,’ Pippi Longstocking. She used to say: ‘If you are very, very strong you have to be very, very kind.’ A political cartoonist, supported by (a free press), will be very, very strong. You can immediately see the dilemma for an artist trying to follow Pippi’s advice; the political satirist’s basic tool is not exactly kindness … My personal policy as an editorial cartoonist is to (strike only at) power. Belief belongs to the private sphere, and I try to avoid religious subjects for that reason. I can’t guess what my reaction would have been if my courage as a cartoonist had been challenged, as it was with the Danish cartoonists by editors asking (them to) dare draw the Prophet Mohammad. Self-censorship is an emotive and provoking term for a political cartoonist, maybe for all artists. I hope I would have had the courage to say “no.” The political cartoon needs to be free, without any editorial finger over the cartoonists shoulder, pointing out the subject (matter).”
Patrick Chappatte, The International Herald-Tribune, Geneva:
“I’m bothered by the fact that in the Danish approach, Muhammad was not merely a cartoon character, but he was the very purpose of the cartoons. The idea was to represent him because he’s a forbidden figure. On the other side, those images have been misused by extremists to stir up anger and misunderstanding (by) the same extremists who take delight in anti-Semitic caricatures. The aim of political cartooning is not – should not be – in itself to hurt; it is to make a point. It can be a political, or a moral point. It can be funny or serious. In the process, it can hurt your feelings, your political beliefs or your religious principles – but this is a collateral damage. Muhammad is not a subject. Violent radical Islamists are a subject. Humiliation of the Palestinian people is a subject”.
Stephane Peray, The Nation, Thailand:
”I see several reactions in the newspapers that I regularly work with. … Emotions are running high and you have the feeling that the readers are not even taking time to understand the cartoon that they have already burst into some kind of irrational anger ( or is it fear? ) … So in this kind of atmosphere, I can understand editors not taking risks … the biggest hypocrisy is to keep defending ‘Freedom of Press’ like it was the latest highest value the West has invented when in reality – the Power of Money is higher than the ‘Freedom of the Press,’ so how can we really defend it as ‘value?’”
Vince O’Farrell, The Illawarra Mercury, Australia:
“… to deliberately antagonize the Muslim community especially in the context of broader world events was an irresponsible exercise in abuse of freedom of the press. The response from the rampaging fanatical zealots was just as stupid and pathetic. Who’d want to be the head of the Islamic Public Relations Bureau? Now there’s a 24/7 job. In almost 30 years of newspaper cartooning I could probably count the number of times I’ve had a definite ‘NO’ from an editor to a cartoon on one hand. … As newspaper publishing the world over is increasingly driven by the bottom line, cartoonists in general will have to expect that those ‘hard-hitting’ cartoons, especially the ones that go after the corporate juggernauts etc. will more and more be assigned to the waste paper or ‘too hard basket.’”
Note to editors:
This column is a great opportunity to show a round-up of cartoons about the Muhammad cartoons, with comments by each of the cartoonists. Cartoons by all of the cartoonists in this column are available on our download site at caglecartoons.com or you can contact cartoonist Brian Fairrington at [email protected] or (800) 983 7054 and Brian will help you find appropriate cartoons and e-mail the cartoons to you.
Crowds fill the streets in the Middle East, demanding the execution of the Danish cartoonists who drew caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Bounties for the murder of the cartoonists have been offered by Muslim extremists and have been trumpeted in the press as the poor cartoonists live in hiding, under 24-hour police protection.
Why did the Danish cartoonists draw the cartoons? To test the limits of press freedom? To show disrespect for Islam? Because a Danish author couldn’t find an illustrator for his book about Muhammad? No, the Danish cartoonists drew “caricatures” of Muhammad because a Danish newspaper, the Jyllands-Posten, hired them and paid them $73 each, along with the promise that the cartoonists would get their names and photos in the local newspaper.
The cartoonists knew they were being hired to draw provocative cartoons accompanying an article about the limits on press freedom, but they had no idea that they would be the tiny spark that lit a huge bomb in the Muslim world. (If they had known, they certainly wouldn’t have done the drawings in exchange for getting their photos in the newspaper.)
Some of the cartoonists even made fun of the assignment they were given; one of the offending cartoons shows a man looking at a police line-up who asks, “How can I identify Muhammad if I don’t know what he looks like?” Another offending cartoon shows a turban-wearing cartoonist holding his drawing of a stick-figure Muhammad while an orange, labeled “PR Stunt,” drops into his turban. (Dropping an orange refers to a Danish idiom and expresses the cartoonist’s disdain for his assignment.)
As condemnation rains down on the Danish cartoonists an important distinction is lost –the difference between cartoonists who are illustrators and political cartoonists.
I’m a political cartoonist; I draw cartoons that convey my opinions. Anyone who sees my cartoons will know what I think on a wide range of issues. Political cartoonists are journalists, just like columnists we decide for ourselves what we want to say, and we are responsible for what we say. Editors don’t tell political cartoonists what to say (although editors sometimes stop us from saying things that are offensive).
The Danish cartoonists are illustrators; they are given assignments by clients who pay them for their work. Illustrators draw what they are hired to draw. No one can look at the work of an illustrator and discern what the illustrator’s opinions are. Illustrators usually draw pictures that go with an author’s words; they might be creative and inject their own ideas, but still they are working at the direction of a client. The Muhammad cartoons are not political cartoons, they are illustrations drawn to accompany a newspaper article about press limits, an issue that arose because an author couldn’t find an illustrator for his book about Muhammad.
The Danish Muhammad cartoons are broadly – and wrongly – described as political cartoons by pundits and politicians who don’t understand the difference between one kind of cartoonist and another. The “political cartoon” label unfairly condemns the Danish cartoonists, none of whom would have chosen, on their own, to express any opinion about Islam, press freedom or the Prophet Muhammad.
The perception of the Danish Muhammad cartoons as “political cartoons” is chilling to real political cartoonists who are suddenly perceived as ticking time-bombs that can explode at any time. Editors, who were already uncomfortable reining-in their unwieldy, bomb-throwing cartoonists, are now more timid than ever.
Everyone asks me why I don’t draw Muhammad in a political cartoon – am I afraid to give offense or am I afraid for my own safety? I’ll draw whatever I want; I’ll be offensive if I want to be, but I want my cartoons to effectively convey my opinion, and my opinion about the Danish Muhammad cartoons issue is that the violent response to the cartoons is wrong and is far out of proportion to the provocation. If I were to draw a cartoon depicting Muhammad now, the only message the cartoon would convey is: “Hey, look at me, I can offend you too.” That is not what I choose to say.
Daryl Cagle is a political cartoonist and blogger for MSNBC.com. He is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society and his cartoons are syndicated to more than 800 newspapers, including the paper you are reading. His books “The BIG Book of Bush Cartoons” and “The Best Political Cartoons of the Year, 2005 Edition,” are available in bookstores now.
Reprinting Those Horrible, Offensive Muhammad Cartoons
There are riots around the Muslim world, with embassies burning; and 12 poor Danish cartoonists who now fear for their lives have gone into hiding, under 24-hour police protection, as millions of angry Muslims call for their execution. Anyone who hasn’t seen the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad must think they are jarringly offensive –and since very few newspapers in America have chosen to print the cartoons, what else is there to think?
To Muslims, depictions of people – and especially depictions of Muhammad – are forbidden, so it doesn’t matter if the cartoons make a statement or not; the very idea that cartoons of Muhammad exist is offensive. To a Western eye, there is little that is offensive in the cartoons. News reports refer to the “Danish cartoons including one showing a bomb in Muhammad’s turban,” and even that is an exaggeration, describing the 12 cartoons by mentioning only the one that Westerners could imagine causing some offense. Truly offensive cartoons, which never appeared in the Danish newspaper, have been circulated to Muslim crowds to whip up their angry religious fervor.
The overblown reaction in Muslim countries to the blasphemy of the cartoons is what the story has become, as streets filled with violent protestors demand that the infidels in other countries respect a Muslim taboo. Clearly there are many in the Muslim world that are eager to stoke the fires of a clash of civilizations; they think they have found their popular issue with the cartoons.
Politically correct commentators in the West devote equal time to condemning Denmark’s Jylland-Posten newspaper as they do for the crowds that are burning embassies and inciting even more violence. Almost every newspaper in America has refused to reprint the cartoons, leaving readers to believe that if they saw the cartoons, they would be offended too. In fact, if American readers saw the cartoons we would say, “This? This is what makes them so angry? That’s crazy!”
New and truly offensive Muhammad images are popping up all over the Web. The images show a Muhammad toy on a Lego box, having sex with an underage Lego Aysha girl, Muhammad on products such as urinals and toilet paper, and lots of usage of the original Danish cartoons, revamped to make them more offensive with references to sex, pork, drugs and Danish products that are boycotted in Arab countries.
Not to be outdone, a Belgian-Dutch Islamic political organization, the Arab European League (AEL) has started posting cartoons that they think will be as offensive as possible to the Danish. They describe their effort this way:
“After the lectures that Arabs and Muslims received from Europeans on Freedom of Speech and on Tolerance. And after … many European newspapers republished the Danish cartoons on the Prophet Mohammed. AEL decided to enter the cartoon business and to use our right to artistic expression. Just like the newspapers in Europe claim that they only want to defend the freedom of speech and do not desire to stigmatize Muslims, we also do stress that our cartoons are not meant as an offence to anybody and ought not to be taken as a statement against any group, community or historical fact. If it is the time to break Taboos and cross all the red lines, we certainly do not want to stay behind.”
One cartoon on the AEL site has gotten the most attention; it features Holocaust victim Anne Frank in bed with Adolf Hitler, apparently after having sex, Hitler smokes a cigarette and says, “Write this one in your diary, Anne.” Aside from that cartoon, it appears that the cartoons that the AEL thinks will be most offensive to Danes are anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial cartoons that are not different from what passes as everyday fare in Arab newspapers. Of course, for the AEL to make their point effectively, we’ll need to see the Danes respond by marching in the streets, burning embassies, and calling for the executions of AEL cartoonists.
The proper response to an insult in the press is to respond with more speech, rather than violence in the streets, and the escalating war of offensive cartoons is simply speech. But as the reactions become uglier, readers may believe that the truly offensive images they see on the Web are the kind of cartoons that set off this clash of civilizations, rather than the dull, banal Danish cartoons that they haven’t seen. It is important that readers understand what a small spark set off this religious bomb. American editors should rethink their decision not to reprint the original Danish cartoons.
Daryl Cagle is the political cartoonist for MSNBC.com. He is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society and his cartoons are syndicated to over eight hundred newspapers, including the paper you are reading. His book, “The Best Political Cartoons of the Year, 2006 Edition” and “The Big Book of Bush Cartoons” is available in bookstores and Amazon.com now.