Since most of the news media have been making fools of themselves with their over-heated, slanted and often hysterical reaction to the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, it was predictable that the odd corner of the commentariat occupied by political cartoonists would go even farther off the rails. For one thing, exaggeration is a tool of their trade; for another, they traffic in irony, satire and humor, giving them leave to jettison fairness and balance for a good laugh. Nonetheless, political cartoons appear on editorial pages. They express opinions that should be responsible opinions, and to the extent that they purport to represent facts, they are obligated to represent them with at least a minimal level of accuracy.
“America Reacts,” the work of Chattanooga Times-Free Press cartoonist Clay Bennett, appeared on December 18. I missed it; a letter to the Washington Post today complained about the Post re-printing it, which is how it finally came to my attention. I have admired Bennett’s work for a long time— I am critical of editorial cartoonists, but I respect and enjoy the good ones—-but this particular cartoon crosses ethical lines right, left and center:
1. As the Post’s critic pointed out, it unfairly deals in gross stereotypes. “Bennett makes assumptions that guns are more important than kids to men while only women care about children. My husband has guns and loves to go shooting, but no way would he choose guns over his children,” Marie Miller wrote. The cartoon also suggests that only men appreciate guns, and that all men are irrational gun nuts. Adding gender bigotry to the gun debate is not a constructive contribution.
2. The cartoon dishonestly frames the issue at hand as a culture having to choose between children or guns. Plenty of talking heads have made the same false representation, and it is intentional distortion for the purpose of appealing to emotions over rational thought. Or it is evidence of brain damage or progressive dementia.
3. The cartoon is incompetent. What is the point that the cartoonist is trying to make? That women are ruled by maternal-instinct and men are gun happy, rendering both stupid and useless? That women’s values are spot on, and men are mad fools? That every family’s children are really at risk because of guns? Is he advocating gun bans? The message is completely incoherent. It’s just a bad cartoon….on a serious and complex subject that could benefit from a good one.
If all a political cartoonist can contribute to an important national debate is the equivalent of a stink bomb tossed into a room, he should resist the urge.
Pointer: Marie Miller
Source: Times-Free Press