In my post on the matter, I called out to Barry Deutsch, a.k.a. Ampersand, an accomplished political cartoonist and blogger who has graced this space in the past, for his professional reaction to the controversy over the Boston Herald’s Jerry Holbert suggesting, in a cartoon about the recent Secret Service debacles, that President Obama would use watermelon-flavored tooth paste. He was kind enough to register a rapid, and typically thoughtful, response.
Here is his Comment of the Day on my post, “9 Observations On The Boston Herald’s “Racist” Cartoon”:
Keeping Holbert on or not shouldn’t be decided based on a single appalling mistake. First, because it’s a better world if everyone gets a second chance when reasonably possible. (I can think of exceptions – airline pilots who show up to work drunk shouldn’t get another shot, for instance – but as a general rule I want employers to err on the side of mercy.)
Second, and more important, firing people for one stupid mistake sends a terrible message to all the other cartoonists, and would lead to worse cartooning in the long run. If cartoonists (and columnists) believe they can lose their careers based on a single day’s single stupid error, that will encourage meek, boring cartoons.
Wouldn’t he be afraid of ever criticizing Obama again, and wouldn’t that render him useless?
If the goal is to avoid meek, overly cautious cartoons, then it’s better to retain Holbert than to fire him, for the reason I state above.
If six months from now Holbert has turned out six months of terrible cartoons, then let him go at that time based on his terrible work. Pre-emptively firing him based on speculation about his future work maybe declining is wrong.
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I generally agree with your post.
A friend of mine did a long series of cartoons representing the US government as various sorts of monkeys and apes. He quit doing that series once it became clear Obama was going to be President. That was the right call to make; good political cartoonists avoid images that carry racist baggage when dealing with Black public figures. The question isn’t “is the cartoonist’s heart pure?,” but “is there an obvious horrible reading of this cartoon that the cartoonist could reasonably have avoided?”
Also, agree with you that Liberal America’s cutting out the caption was appalling. I wrote the editor, but probably she’ll ignore me.
I’m back. In general, I would subscribe to the “no one mistake” standard that Barry is suggesting, just as I have defended that standard in other fields, like talk radio. My problem with this instance, and thus Holbert, goes back to my secon observation: I can’t think of an explanation for the gaffe that shouldn’t disqualify him on the basis of trust. I never thought about trust like this before (thanks, Barry), but it when it’s gone, it is legitimate to “pre-emptively fir[e] him based on speculation about his future work maybe declining.” We keep people in jobs because we have reason to believe that they will perform competently. When we have reason to believe the opposite, that’s a good reason to let them go find another job. Yes, forgive one bad act, if there is no reason to think the individual will do it again. Is that true in this case?
I have serious doubts, because I don’t understand why Holbert did this in the first place, and the only reasons that I can come up with argue for sending him packing: 1) he intentionally made a racist joke about the President; 2) he is disturbingly ignorant of racial history and Jim Crow symbolism; or 3) he was lying his head off in his apology. I think 1) and 3) require dismissal. 2) would shake my trust in his qualifications to register trenchant political commentary. What else doesn’t he know?