Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

May 2, 2013

Commentary: Cartoon lampooning Gov. Perry and West explosion hurt the wrong people

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — I have a point to make. So please bear with me as we travel to an alternate reality so I can make it.  

Okay. We're here. Now, imagine that in this alternate reality that you come across a newspaper, start reading it, and discover an editorial cartoon.

In the first panel of this cartoon is a smarmily-drawn President Obama in a dark suit, standing at a podium and quoting from his May 2009 speech about Guantanamo Bay and Terrorism.

“In the midst of all these challenges, however, my single most important responsibility as President is to keep the American people safe,” the president says. “That is the first thing that I think about when I wake up in the morning. It is the last thing that I think about when I go to sleep at night.”

Then, in the next panel, the Boston marathon bomb explosively detonates behind him.

The president's silhouette is outlined in the huge, overwhelming blast. In this panel, President Obama exclaims, “Oops!

Kind of insensitive, don't you think? A little too soon after Boston? Perhaps hurtful to the victims of the Boston blast?

Could it be the person who conceived and drew this fictional cartoon was doing so with mean intentions? I'm sure Boston residents think so.

But hey, maybe this talented newspaper artist wasn't just being mean. Maybe he had true and ethical concerns about a lack of progress he perceives President Obama is making in the War Against Terror.

After all, this creator of which I speak is a professional with a lot of respect. He has crazy street credibility. Not to mention, he specifically outlined his reasons for creating the cartoon in his accompanying blog.

Unfortunately, no one will see or read this blog because the cartoon was mercilessly copied, pasted and dispersed throughout the Internet, ad infinitum, ALONE.  

The cartoonist, a Pulitzer prize finalist incidentally, is very secure in his belief he has done the right thing with this cartoon. He has the full support of his editors, publishers and various and sundry other journalism bosses.

These bosses totally backed the cartoonist's play — going so far as to scoff and question President Obama's motives when he wrote letters to their newspaper demanding an apology for the insensitivity the cartoon displayed.

Additionally, this cartoonist was beside himself at President Obama's reaction.

"The president is just trying to change the argument about terrorism," the fictional cartoonist argues. "I'm STUNNED he would do so."

Okay. Example over.  

Return with me to our reality so we can discuss something that actually happened.

In my fictional example, I was, essentially, lampooning a lampoon. It was a fictional counterpart to the April 25 cartoon from  Sacramento Bee editorial cartoonist Jack Ohman, who used his bully pulpit to criticize "loose Texas business regulations" believed to be responsible for the April 17 explosion of a fertilizer plant in West.

At least 14 people died and 200 others were injured in that blast.

And Mr. Ohman has refused to apologize for the work.

“I knew it was close to the edge, but I went with it, and I don’t go with things I can’t defend,” he told the Poynter Institute. “I’m defending this one because I think that when you have a politician traveling across the country selling a state with low regulatory capacity, that politician also has to be accountable for what happens when that lack of regulation proves to be fatal.”

 The first panel of his cartoon is bad enough. It portrays an exaggerated, paunchy version of Texas Gov. Rick Perry smirking like the Dukes of Hazard's Boss Hogg, voicing catch phrases “Low Tax!” and “Low Regs!” as he tries to lure California businesses to Texas.

The second panel shows the fertilizer factory explosion in West that took at least 14 lives. The governor's  silhouette is at the forefront of the blast.

What was Ohman thinking? Couldn't he have gone about creating the cartoon with a tad more sensitivity?

YES, Gov. Perry has demanded an apology for the cartoon.  To which Ohman responded he is “stunned” and believes Perry is trying to change the regulation argument.

I've got my own word for Mr. Ohman: Astonished.

I am astonished the level of insensitivity of his cartoon and I am astonished at the unwillingness of he and his editors to entertain the notion — as all journalists should  — that this work went too far and might have done more harm than good.

I'm also astonished Ohman is acting so defensive at  the governor's apology request.

After all, isn't defending Texas the job of the governor? What else was he expecting? A "Thank You!" letter?

Mr. Ohman: I submit to you that if anyone deserves an apology from you it is those affected by the West explosion — the injured parties and the families of those who died.  Not the governor. Not me. Them.

Also, is there some law enforcement or legislative body out there that has concluded our governor has complete culpability in the West tragedy? Please. Enlighten me.

Also, Mr. Ohman, aren't you from the Sacramento area of California? Aren't Californians kind of peeved at Gov. Perry for trying to draw business from your state to Texas?  Doesn't the fact that you, your newspaper and your state have — as we Texans might say — “A dog in this hunt”— render your logic and rationale suspect?

I see no good that has come of your work. I do, however, see a lot of bad. You have inspired other, less-creative cartoonists closer to Texas to “rip off” your idea and create their own versions. This doesn't further any journalistic investigation. It simply gives these artists in the journalism industry enough fodder to meet another day's deadlines.

I read your comments online and I do get the impression  you were sincere in your attempts to address what you saw as a legitimate issue.

But wasn't there any other way to get your point across other than placing readers directly in the heart of such a horrific explosion — coming so quickly after the bombing in Boston? At a time when there is so much happening all at once that it seems the very world might be unraveling?

Mr Ohman: I'm not making any demands. I do not have righteous indignation in this matter. I'm not insulting you or disrespecting your 35 years of service to the field of journalism.

I'm simply asking you and yours to entertain the notion that you might have gone too far, you may have missed any point you were trying to make and hurt the wrong people.

Mr. Ohman, Gov. Perry's demand for an apology was him doing his job. And I believe your refusal to even consider a dialogue with him about the damage inflicted by your cartoon was you not doing yours.

Ben Tinsley, a Jacksonville Daily Progress reporter and columnist with over 25 years in the journalism industry,  covers crime, politics, business and many other beats for the Jacksonville Daily Progress. Wish to submit ideas? Simply contact Ben Tinsley by emailing btinsley@jacksonvilleprogress.com or call him at 903-586-2236. Tinsley can also be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/bentinsley or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ben.tinsley.12