Cartoon Ethics: The New York Times “Eliminationist” Joke

The New York Times is taking fire from diverse commentators on the Right for publishing a political satire cartoon that includes this panel:


It is part of a larger cartoon japing at the supposed aftermath of a harsh winter:


Among the ethics complaints against the drawing:

  • “Aside from its patently offensive notion that those holding different political views don’t deserve to live, the panel in question also lacks a key element in political cartoons that aim to be tongue in cheek — it isn’t funny. Imagine the outrage at the Times if Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, et al., suggested that liberals should die for not agreeing with them. Yes, things would get nasty in a hurry. Has it really been that long since the Tucson massacre and the left’s demand for more civility, at least from conservatives?”Newsbusters
  • “Global warming has made much of the country so cold that the Times is instructing its readers to use giant icicles to bludgeon the non-believers to death.”Ed Driscoll
  • “NY Times Suggests Killing “Climate Change Deniers”Weasel Zippers
  • “So, as WUWT readers well know, I have a different opinion about global warming.Do you think the New York Times  should endorse stabbing me (and others with similar opinions) through the heart like a vampire because I hold that opinion?”Anthony Watts

This is primarily, of course, the backlash from continuing conservative anger and bitterness from the aftermath of the 2011 Tuscon shooting that wounded Rep. Gaby Giffords.  Many liberal pundits, as well as the Times editors, tried to blame the attack in part on so-called “eliminationist rhetoric” from the right, such as Sarah Palin using a target symbol over the photos of vulnerable Democratic members of Congress on her website. Yes, they really did try to make the case that “targeting” elected officials for defeat may have prompted a manic with no political allegiances to really target Gaby Giffords. The smear was transparently unfair and unjustified, President Obama dismissed the idea in his post-shooting speech, and it wasn’t long at all before voices on the left were talking openly (but metaphorically!) about doing violent things to tea party members, conservatives and Republicans. Ever since their adversaries made asses of themselves with the ridiculous “eliminationist rhetoric” attack, conservatives have had a hair-trigger response to any similar rhetoric issuing from the left, and have, as often as not, made fools of themselves by making accusations exactly as silly and unfair as those made by the Times editors in 2011. Sometimes trying to prove hypocrisy makes one a hypocrite. This is such an instance.

The Times cartoon flap is essentially a repeat of the Missoula “Mikado” farce, in which obviously satirical lyrics in a Missoula, Montana production of the 19th Century Gilbert and Sullivan operetta were condemned as a serious call for Sarah Palin to be beheaded. What was particularly absurd about that Ethics Train Wreck, which managed to include  Fox’s Greta Van Susteren and the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto, was that it was the result of shocking literary and cultural ignorance. Nobody familiar with The Mikado, one of the most performed and popular pieces of musical theater ever created, would ever take the lyrics that Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, sings about prominent people “who never would be missed” as a serious threat, or even an insult. Ignorance of The Mikado is as inexcusable in an educated individual as ignorance of  Hamlet. For 130 years, being included on Ko-Ko’s gag list of people he might execute if he ever was forced to actually do his job (he never is) has been an honor, at least to public figures with any sense of humor and self-deprecation. So desperate was the Right to prove liberal hypocrisy (as if a Montana theater company was a bastion of progressive thought), that it made a collective ass of itself. (You can refresh your memory on the Mikado controversy, in which Ethics Alarms was a prime player, here.)

At least ignorance is an excuse. Critics of the cartoon have no such excuse: a cartoon, by its very nature, signals satirical or humorous intent. There can be unethical editorial cartoons, and Ethics Alarms has flagged some: Tom Toles, the Washington Post’s cartoonist, regularly distorts or misrepresents facts to fit his ideological warfare objectives. The Times cartoon isn’t unethical. It isn’t “eliminationist either: I’m not certain whether it mocks climate change skeptics,  those who vilify them, or both. If you argue, as  Driscoll does, that “the Times is instructing its readers to use giant icicles to bludgeon the non-believers to death,” you must also believe that the Times is instructing its readers to play cruel tricks on their dogs, and use icicles as doorstops.

The double whammy of the 2011 slur on the Right by Times columnist Paul Krugman and others and the ongoing denigration of anyone with the audacity to question over-hyped and over-simplified claims that climate change is “settled science” has driven conservatives to make themselves look foolish yet again. Watts inadvertently puts his finger on what’s wrong with the Right’s excessive indignation:

“Admittedly, this is a lame attempt at humor/satire…But, imagine if the tables were turned, and the cartoon depicted global warming alarmists such as Mike Mann or James Hansen in the same role? Our friends would have a collective cow.”

Got it. So if you know that your adversary will respond absurdly to a specific stimulus, this makes your responding in the same manner to similar stimulus reasonable and justified.


Pointer: Popehat

Sources: Weasel Zippers,   Ed Driscoll, New York Times, Anthony Watts, Newsbusters


18 thoughts on “Cartoon Ethics: The New York Times “Eliminationist” Joke

  1. I thought it was super tongue in cheek, that the excessively harsh colds producing the very murder weapon ought to have woken up the would be murderer to the likelihood that global warming (as man has caused it) is a farce.

    Of course, the artist came up short on the victim. With cigar and girth accurate, they managed to forget the monocle and top hat to accurate depict your typical right winger.

  2. I do think it’s kind of a stupid cartoon, but what raises my eyebrow is a layer below what you talk about. Specifically, the “stab a guy with an icicle” joke isn’t problematic to me. No reasonable individual can think it’s serious. My problem is the explosion of rancor that would come from progressives if it were their ox being gored. For example, imagine a hypothetical NRA cartoon about the irony of stabbing gun-control advocates or beating them with bats to show that it’s not just guns that can kill. Can you imagine the outrage, the totally aghast pundits at the insensitivity and impropriety and the violence of it all?

    • Well sure, but again, the logic of arguing that it’s OK for me to over-react because because you would over-react makes no sense at all, even when true. It takes “He started it” to a whole new nutsy-cuckoo level—“Yeah, well, you WOULD have started it…”

    • Yes, it wouldn’t be wise to deny that anti-climate-change-deniers don’t deny their overt and rabid hostility towards the non-denying pro-climate-change-skeptic crowd.

  3. The whole idea comic is silly mocking of chicken-little causes. I liked the slam at the cash-for-clunkers program, too. They duplicated the cheesy art style from old comic book ads, too.

  4. So I read the whole cartoon. Is it indicative of what the Times normally considers wacky, topical humor? Like, you can hand THAT cartoon to an editor and say, “here’s my satirical, political cartoon that can totally compete with things like the Onion that are free” and you can get paid for it by a prestigious newspaper?

    I can’t imagine why the internet is replacing print media. Can’t imagine.

  5. Things weren’t very funny in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics either. At least to most of the citizens. So I’ll pick up a copy of The American Spectator. They probably have some good cartoons about global warming.

    • Jack I hope you read this. This stuff sickens me that people really believe this is rational when its really just about thought control and ultimately leftist political opinion enshrouded in a veneer of “settled” science is fast becoming the intolerant religion of atheist collectivism.

      I don’t doubt a call to imprison conservatives will be heard here in athe decade.

      (Mainstream that is, I know the radical looney left already does)

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