Cartoon Ethics: The Washington Post’s Stupid Elephant Trick

Trainwreck Cartoon

The above cartoon, by reliably liberal op-ed cartoonist Mike Luckovich, who draws cartoons for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, was run in the Washington Post this Saturday. It immediately reminded me of why, in a previous post, I suggested that the simple-minded, factually misleading art of editorial cartoonists needed to be retired. I wrote:

“Cartoons, by their very nature, deal in caricature, exaggeration and extremes for metaphorical and humorous effect. The practical effect of this, however, is that the opinions expressed through cartoons are also “supported” in a manner that would be outrageous in a written opinion piece. I know: you can’t hold a cartoon to the same standard as an op-ed. Fine—then don’t put it on the editorial pages.”

This, if anything, was worse than the Tom Toles cartoon that provoked that commentary. This Democratic talking point—more like ducking point–got graphic representation the day following another wave of bad news about the dysfunctional Affordable Care Act and how thoroughly it has been botched by the Administration. Right before Christmas, the Post’s front page carried an infuriating story about how, after waiting two years before considering how to set up the Obamacare website, the Administration chose a company that even cursory due diligence would have revealed as untrustworthy and incompetent:

“Not considered in the 2011 selection process was the history of numerous executives at CGI Federal, who had come from another company that had mishandled at least 20 other government ­information technology projects more than a decade ago. But federal officials were not required to examine that long-term track record, which included a highly publicized failure to automate retirement benefits for millions of federal workers.”

Republicans caused that trainwreck? The same day the cartoon ran, this was in the news:

The Iowa Department of Human Services says problems with the federal healthcare website has led to a delay in processing policyholder information and is asking 16,000 Iowans to reapply for Obamacare using the state website or call center.”

And did Republicans force the President to lie repeatedly about how the law wouldn’t take away anyone’s current plan or doctor? Indeed, they warned that what happened would happen, and were attacked and ridiculed while the media bolstered the President’s disinformation campaign. That, as much as the website, has made the public perceive Obamacare as a trainwreck. The mean old GOP elephant is to blame for that? As I noted in the earlier post, an editorial cartoon shouldn’t be permitted to spread falsehood and misunderstanding, and a respectable newspaper shouldn’t actively engage in the blame-shifting and denial process, which is the full-time occupation of Affordable Care Act defenders these days.

Then I searched for the cartoon on line, to determine who drew it (his signature was illegible in the size published), and for the first time, was able to read the date. The cartoon was drawn on July 29, 2013! This was after the “trainwreck” label was being wielded by Republicans because Democratic Senator Max Baucus used that term to describe his—as it turned out, accurate—assessment of how the Administration’s public information campaign was going, not the law itself. Yes, the Republicans were working to impede the progress of the ACA then, because they were convinced the law would lead to disaster. Still, Luckovich’s cartoon, while partisan, was hardly unfair or misleading—in July.

Now, however, it assumed a different meaning. The date wasn’t noted by the Post: I thought it was a new cartoon, which means I thought Luckovich was engaging in MSMNC-style historical air-brushing. The cartoonist wasn’t, however.

Was the Post? Was it deliberately using Luckovich’s dated cartoon to bolster its desperate Obama-defending readership with the baseless accusation that the GOP was really behind the law’s current travails? Or was it just being careless, reckless, inattentive and unprofessional–you know, like most of the news media. most of the time?

I don’t know. I do know that the Post owes its readers and Luckovich an apology, the former for treating them like idiots, and the latter for making him look like one.

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Sources: Opposing Views, Washington Post