Friday, September 10, 2004

Funny Pages

Most newspaper editorial cartoonists break to the liberal side of the political field. That's not surprising, given that their profession merges artistic sensibility, humor, and journalism. (And we all know conservatives are dour, talentless illiterates.)

Just consider the current row over Art Spiegelman's new book, which equates Bush with bin Laden in terms of a threat to Art's life, claims himself as a "victim" of 9-11, says his grief was hijacked by everyone else's, and whatnot.

Well, people who think like that will buy that book, and people who don't, won't. And some wonderful illustrated works have been published in memoriam of the victims of 9-11 without the Marxist-Chomskyite solipsism. But the editorial page cartoons that run in the daily newspapers don't even have that balance. Spiegelman is one of the icons of that craft, but the difference between him and his ink-stained admirers in big city newsrooms is mostly a matter of professional position, not politics.

If you look at the flow of editorial cartoons, the absolute lack of anything like a "right" view in the selection that most newspaper editors are given every day is really pretty stunning. Ten years ago, when I was an editorial page editor, I had to hunt high and low for anything like a conservative perspective. I might find one a week.

I was a liberal myself at the time, an independent who leaned Democrat, but my readership was overwhelmingly Republican, and I did like to present a balanced page to them. Among columnists, we ran Ellen Goodman and Molly Ivins as well as George Will and the flaming Buchanan wanna-be Cal Thomas from the L.A. Times.

In this season -- with the heat of an election year and the war in Iraq -- the total Michael Moore mentality of the editorial cartoonists strikes me as way over the line. A good editorial cartoon thinks, it makes you think just to look at it. I haven't seen anything like thought for a long time. Just party line attacks made as visual and vicious as possible. The pictures are ugly. The anger is intense. Here's the selection that moved for our editors today:

  • A Toles cartoon with God looking down at a Florida swarming with hurricanes and suggesting it's punishment for the Florida Election Commission's role in elevating Bush to the White House.

  • Bush holding a big, big gun that says "Bush's War."

  • A snarling Dick Cheney holding a big, big gun saying "Cheney campaign."

  • A snarling Putin, holding bombs and a gun, and wrapped up in a snake labeled "revenge."

  • Rows and rows of U.S. flag-draped coffins, a bouquet on each, and the caption, "... they'll be greeted with flowers."

  • A Danziger cartoon with an empty jet cockpit strewn with beer bottles and "Sorry, Lt. Bush doesn't feel like going to war. Somebody else please go in his place" scrawled on the side.

  • A Canadian cartoon with Bin Laden looking up from a newspaper with a big headline that says "Iraq U.S. body count now over 1,000," saying, "Holy smokes, I better get cracking. Bush is catching up to me."

And that's it. That's not a sample; that's the whole list sent to my paper by the syndicate we use. I know my editors, and their only concern will be to determine which makes them laugh hardest at Bush. They bring that one out and show it to the resident Chomskyite copy editor for approval. If he laughs, too, it runs.

If I had to sum up the decision-making, it would be, "What would Michael Moore run?" Though I never heard them put it in so many words. Only the reporters and my fellow copy editors put it in so many words.

On top of that, we run "Doonesbury" and a big ol' weekly "Opus" that most people on staff don't really claim to get, except that it's usually somehow anti-Republican. Oh, well, there's always Cox and Forkum and Day by Day, but don't expect to see those in my paper in the foreseeable future. By which I mean, "not in my lifetime."