Buck-buck-BUCKAW!   The New York Times

Well, that was a breath of fetid air. The New York Times just announced that it has made the decision to remove political cartoons from all future editions of their “international” editions. They did this in response to outrage of the recent publication of an editorial cartoon that portrayed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a rather unattractive wiener dog, on a leash being held by a yarmulke wearing Donald Trump. The criticism was that the cartoon was blatantly anti Semitic.

I am not going to argue the issue of whether the cartoon was anti Semitic or not. That way lies madness. There is a larger issue at stake here. The New York Times is supposed to be a legitimate news publication, and editorial political cartoons are a legitimate medium for public discourse. They have been around since the earliest days of the print journalism business, and will be around for the future, whether the Times chooses to display them or not.

This act of journalistic cowardice over the criticism of a single editorial cartoon is unthinkable. But that’s the problem, it isn’t just this one cartoon. Over the past couple of years, the Times has come under fire for publication of some of their cartoons, and been forced to either pull the cartoons, print apologies, or both.  But pulling the cartoons is not a viable solution to the problem.

The Times official explanation was that it was a single editor, “working without adequate supervision” So, rather than to remove, reprimand, or provide proper supervision to the single editor, the solution to the problem is to penalize the entire editorial cartoon staff? This is blatant nonsense. Was the same lone editor also responsible for the previous discretionary faux pas? And whether he or she was or wasn’t, wasn’t the mere repetition of the event a strong indicator that there was a problem that needed to be addressed?

The major issue here is one of the power of effect. Think of it in personal terms. How often have you simply been flipping through the pages of a major newspaper, scanning the headlines and general content. Have you ever crossed the editorial pages? How many times have you skimmed over the headlines of the editorials, barely taking note of the content underneath, and yet your eye was immediately drawn to the cartoon on the page. It didn’t have to be in color, the mere image in a field of print snagged your attention. And you not only looked at the image, you read the caption underneath, or the word and thought balloons contained in the image. Maybe it amused you, maybe it infuriated you, maybe you agreed or disagreed. But the damn thing made you look at it, and it made you think!  And that was the whole point of it being there in the first place. That is the power of the editorial cartoon.

In the “Boss” Tweed days of Tammany Hall, the corrupt officials and their backers couldn’t care less what the newspapers wrote about them, they were nothing but words, and words can be manipulated, and messages massaged. But the images 


of Tammany Hall editorial cartoons were things that even illiterate citizens could see and understand, and Tweed and his cohorts hated any one of them more than all the words that could be written.

Is this going to set a new normal for the Times? If they publish a photograph of a celebrity packing a few extra pounds, and then take incoming for “weight shaming” from adoring fans of the celebrity, is the response going to be to stop publishing photos of public figures? In this era of social media and instant response, The New York Times is going to find itself under fire from someone, somewhere. To cave on this issue only invites others to see how far they can push the Times into compliance through protest.

But the biggest reason that this is a mistake is that it won’t work. So what if political cartoons no longer appear in the international edition/ If they’re appearing in the US editions, anyone who looks up the US edition from online, no matter where they are in the world, is going to see the cartoon. And be offended by it if they so choose.

I sincerely hope that The New York Times revisits and reverses this decision very quickly. The news isn’t always convenient, or politically correct, and neither are opinions, but if you’re going to be in the business of disseminating it, then you have to be prepared for the possibility of occasionally ruffling a few feathers, and taking appropriate action when necessary. But craven capitulation should not be an option.

  • June 11, 2019