STEVE BOUSER: Cartoons Will Never Make Everybody Happy
This builds on a couple of postings from the "Editor's Note" blog on thepilot.com.
Let's talk political cartoons.
A good place to start is with a Southern Pines reader who complained in a letter a week ago that the previous Wednesday's opinion page seemed confusing and conflicted.
"In the editorial," he wrote, "you criticize Howard Coble for voting the wishes of the people he represents by voting against the bailout, and right beside the column you publish a large cartoon by Borgmann calling the bailout a pig in a poke. Which of the two accurately reflects your opinion?"
There seems to be an assumption here that a newspaper would only print opinions that it agrees with, or that harmonize with each other. Nothing could be further from the truth, at least in the case of The Pilot. Fact is, we try hard to include the widest possible range of views on our opinion pages and let the reader make up his own mind.
That's why every Sunday sees a column by liberally inclined Dusty Rhoades running side-by-side with one by outspoken conservative Allan Jefferys. Our letters columns, "The Public Speaking," encourages and features a broad spectrum of expressions. We go out of our way in many cases to designate letters that strongly disagree with our editorial stances as "Lighthouse Letters," reprinted with prominent display. The more opinions, the livelier.
Which brings us back to the subject of editorial cartoons. By any objective measure, those that we -- and most papers -- run cannot generally be said to reflect the same kind of balance that we strive for in our print content. In this election campaign, clearly, a great many come across as, if not sympathetic to Barack Obama, then at least antagonistic toward the McCain camp. This understandably bugs many of our readers in heavily Republican Moore County.
The Pilot generally prints only one locally generated cartoon a week, by Mark Brincefield. We buy the rest from syndicates. For years, our two primary sources have been Mike Peters of the Dayton Daily News and Jim Borgmann of The Cincinnati Enquirer. Both are Pulitzer Prize winners. We also sometimes reprint cartoons by Duane Powell of The News & Observer of Raleigh.
Two factors brought all this to a head a month or so ago: (1) For a while there, I was growing increasingly uncomfortable (even before the complaints began to come in) with the fact that seemingly every cartoon we received made fun of Sarah Palin in ways that sometimes seemed downright unfair and vicious, even if she is an easy target. (2) It was announced that Borgmann was retiring, causing us to start shopping around for a replacement or replacements.
Ideally, we would love for our cartoons to show as much of a range as our columns do, but it's not always that simple. Though conservatives understandably resent some of the cartoons we run (such as the Peters one that showed Palin being asked about her foreign policy views on Turkey and Greece and replying, "Preheat oven to 350 degrees"), liberals complain that right-wing cartoons are often mean-spirited, such as one published elsewhere that showed Obama standing outside an abortion clinic atop a dumpster full of bundles representing aborted fetuses, attacking them with a bloody baseball and saying, "Just in case any of them are still alive."
Cartoonists, by personality, are typically irreverent types who love to puncture the balloons of the pompous, rush to the defense of the dispossessed and react instinctively against whoever's in power. That often translates as "liberal," but it's not just Republicans that cartoonists love to skewer with their pens. Remember how mercilessly they lampooned Bill Clinton? On the other hand, cartoons that defend the power structure, of whatever party, often come across as kind of smarmy. And again, seldom funny.
In that regard, I'm reminded of the warning that Josephus Daniels, longtime editor/publisher of The News & Observer, included in his will. He said he wanted The N&O of the future to "devote itself to the policies of equality and justice to the underprivileged," adding: "If the paper should at any time be the voice of self-interest or become the spokesman of privilege or selfishness, it would be untrue to its history."
We'll be trying out some new cartoonists as we go along. We'd like them to be balanced, but we'd also like them to be funny. Two new names you've been seeing lately, both from Universal Press Syndicate, are conservative Glen McCoy (at the top of today's page) and Stuart Carlson (down there, perhaps appropriately, in the left corner). We may experiment with others. Let me know what you think.
Steve Bouser is editor of The Pilot. Contact him at email@example.com
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