Two Continents and the Pentagon Roiled
Feb. 7, 2006: Vol. 2, Issue No. 10
IN THE NEWS
Embassies torched as cartoon furor grows
DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Furious Syrians set fire to the Danish and Norwegian embassies on Saturday as protests over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed showed no signs of abating despite calls for calm.
—Rasha Elass, Reuters, Feb. 5, 2006
Joint Chiefs Send Rare Protest letter to 'Wash Post' Over 'Reprehensible' Toles Cartoon
NEW YORK — A Tom Toles editorial cartoon published in The Washington Post on Monday and on its Web site has drawn a very rare and very strong protest letter to the editors from all six members of The Joint Chiefs of Staff, E&P has learned.
—Joe Strupp, Dave Astor and Greg Mitchell, Editor & Publisher, Feb. 1, 2006
What do Islamic fundamentalists, EU Newspapers and the U.S. Military high command have in common?
Nobody knows when to back off.
What's going on in Europe and the Middle East is an unnecessary tragedy and a PR catastrophe.
What's going on between the Pentagon and The Washington Post is déjà vu all over again.
What can businesses learn from everybody being mad as hell at each other?
The History of Cartoons
The American political cartoon was drawn by Benjamin Franklin.
However, the father of the modern political cartoon was Civil War battlefield artist Thomas Nast (1840-1902), who's beloved by children for his rendering of Santa Claus that inspired Clement Clarke Moore to write the immortal "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."
In 1868, Nast's savage cartoons of the corrupt New York Tammany Hall politician, William Marcy ("Boss") Tweed, were so effective that Tweed ordered his henchmen to "Stop them damn pictures. I don't care what the papers write about me. My constituents can't read. But, damn it, they can see the pictures."
As a result of Nast's campaign, Tweed was voted out in 1871 and jailed.
The European Cauldron
On Sept. 30, 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten printed 12 viciously satiric cartoons that mocked the deepest held beliefs of Islam and in effect, implied that all Muslims are violent extremist fundamentalists. It's considered blasphemy in Islam to show images of the Prophet Mohammad. Yet these crude caricatures show him in various situations and outfits, including wearing a bomb for a turban.
In order to proclaim their freedom to publish under right of free speech, newspapers throughout the EU (exception: the U.K.) have reprinted the portfolio.
"GOING ATOMIC OVER A COMIC" screamed the headline across a two-page spread in last Saturday's New York Post, for a story that graphically detailed demonstrations, protests and arson across Europe and the Middle East.
Where Thomas Nast's cartoons dealt with politics, this is about religion, wounding the most deeply felt and emotional depths of a devout believer's inner and private self.
Aren't the Danes—and the European newspapers that reprinted these hurtful cartoons—just as bigoted toward Muslims as the German newspapers of the 1930s were to the Jews, setting the stage for Kristallnacht, the Holocaust and their own destruction by the Nazi war machine?
Have these people no memory? What are they thinking?
Editor & Publisher has pointed out that U.S. newspapers, for the most part, have had the good sense to stay out of the fray by not publishing these deeply offensive images.
One exception: The Philadelphia Inquirer of Feb. 4, 2006, that reproduced the bomb turban cartoon with the following sanctimonious caption:
The Inquirer intends no disrespect to the religious beliefs of any of its readers. But when a use of religious imagery that many find offensive becomes a major news story, we believe it is important for readers to be able to judge the content of the image for themselves, as with the 1987 photograph by Andres Serrano of a crucifix in urine. On that basis we reprint this cartoon.
If an image of the prophet is blasphemous—especially a caricature with a bomb for a turban—then ipso facto the Inquirer dissed the religious beliefs of its readers. Yesterday, two dozen outraged Muslims picketed the Inquirer building. Publisher Amanda Bennett, with the sensitivity of a rhinoceros, said, "I told them I was actually really proud of them for exercising their right to freedom of speech."
What's more, just the day before, the Inquirer dissed Islam by running an incendiary cartoon by Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Auth.
Yes, it's poignant, but not smart in this overheated climate. As The Times of London pointed out, the 12 Danish cartoonists, in fear for their lives, are now in hiding. I'm very glad that my dear wife and all my colleagues at the Target Marketing Group have moved to new offices a goodly distance from their prior quarters directly across from The Philadelphia Inquirer building.
The Pentagon-Washington Post Cartoon Brouhaha
On Jan. 24, 2006, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld dismissed two separate reports that stated the United States Military was overextended. One report was by congressional Democrats; the other was a 136-page white paper by former West Point graduate and military analyst, Andrew Krepinevich, who said the Army's manpower needs "clearly exceed those available for the mission."
"This armed force is enormously capable," Rumsfeld said in a Pentagon press conference. "In addition, it's battle hardened. It's not a peacetime force that has been in the barracks or garrisons."
The Washington Post, no fan of the Iraq War, responded with a heartbreaking cartoon by Tom Toles showing a physician telling a bandaged quadruple amputee, "I'm listing your condition as 'battle hardened.'"
Two days later, Post managing editor, Philip Bennett, was startled to receive a letter signed by all six members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They called the Toles cartoon "beyond tasteless" and said it did "a disservice to your readers and your paper's reputation by using such a callous depiction of those who have volunteered to defend this nation, and as a result, have suffered traumatic and life-altering wounds."
They were right, of course. But was it smart to send the letter?
Willie and Joe
Did the Joint Chiefs know their World War II history? Were they aware of the dust-up between the U.S. military's daily newspaper, Stars and Stripes, and the fiery General George S. Patton, Jr.?
At issue were the cartoons by the universally beloved Sgt. Bill Mauldin, who routinely depicted two unshaven, GI dogfaces, Willie and Joe, and drew equally unflattering portraits of the officer corps. "I drew pictures for and about the soldiers because I knew what their life was like and understood their gripes," Mauldin said. "I wanted to make something out of the humorous situations which come up even when you don't think life could be any more miserable."
Patton, a stickler for spit-'n'-polish perfection, went ballistic and wrote the editor of Stars and Stripes threatening to ban the publication from distribution to the Third Army unless they got rid of "Mauldin's scurrilous attempts to undermine military discipline."
The commanding general of Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force Europe (SHAEF), General Dwight D. Eisenhower, knew that censoring Mauldin could seriously hurt morale. So he set up a meeting between Mauldin and Patton, and the cartoonist-sergeant was forced to listen to screeching screed (Patton had a high-pitched little voice) about the harm he was doing to Army morale.
Mauldin kept on cartooning; Stars and Stripes continued to publish; and Patton finished his brilliant dash through France and the allied armies brought Germany to its knees.
Takeaway Points to Consider
- The Danish cartoonists—and the EU newspapers that reprinted their work—made mischief with their mockery and blasphemy of Islam. This isn't a smart idea when this religion and culture has elements eager to turn jet liners into guided missiles and themselves into human bombs that blow up women and children in malls, markets, restaurants and, very possibly in the future, newspaper offices.
- In past issues, I've mentioned American newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst's 1895 telegram to artist Frederic Remington in Havana: "You supply the pictures. I'll supply the war." This entire sorry cartoon episode was spawned and exacerbated by the media that should be reporting and commenting on the news, not creating sensationalistic news stories in order to sell more newspapers.
- In 1988, Salman Rushdie's fourth novel, "Satanic Verses," so offended Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, that he issued a fatwa, saying it was the duty of every Muslim to kill the India-born British author. When I heard this, I immediately bought a copy of the book and spent a fruitless hour trying to get through the first 30 pages. I gave up and tossed the book in the trash. Instead of allowing the utterly unreadable book to quietly disappear, the Ayatollah's pronouncement turned it into a worldwide best seller. Rushdie has been on the lam ever since.
- Given the inflammatory subject matter and the violence these cartoons have provoked, do the media really have the right to publish them? In this country, such an act could conceivably fall under Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes's 1919 dictum in Schenck v. U.S., in which he wrote, "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic." I would appreciate it if a lawyer weighed in on this.
- The Joint Chiefs wanted to go on record that they disapproved of the Toles cartoon. But in doing so, they kept the story alive far beyond its one-day shelf-life and provided fodder for the anti-war activists:
- (1) Is the military indeed overextended?
(2) The Joint Chiefs' letter contained the phrase, "who have volunteered." This is red meat for the anti-war crowd. Didn't many of the soldiers in Iraq volunteer for the National Guard, only to find themselves away from their jobs and families for years, getting shot at and blown up in an international war? Were I advising the Joint Chiefs, it would have been my suggestion to drop the "who have volunteered" clause.
- "Today's $1 newspaper is tomorrow's birdcage liner."
- Civility in life, politics, diplomacy and in business isn't a bad thing.
BREAKING NEWS: "IRAN's largest selling newspaper announced today it was holding a contest on cartoons of the Holocaust in response to the publishing in European papers of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed."
—Agence France-Presse, Feb. 7, 2006
Web Sites Related to Today's Edition
Danish Anti-Muslim Cartoons
The First Political Cartoon by Benjamin Franklin
Thomas Nast Portfolio
Thomas Nast's Santa Claus Drawing
Thomas Nast's "Boss" Tweed Cartoon
Tony Auth's Anti-Muslim Cartoon in The Philadelphia Inquirer
Tom Toles's Anti-Rumsfeld, Anti-Iraq War Cartoon
Joint Chiefs' Anti-Toles, Anti-Washington Post Letter
Bill Mauldin Cartoon Portfolio
Update from a Prior Edition, "The Sublime and the Bubba Slime," Jan. 26, 2006
The great Wing Bowl XIV eating contest was held on Feb. 4, 2006, at the Wachovia Center before an early-morning capacity crowd of 20,000 plus. The winner was Joey Chestnut, 22, of San Jose, California, who beat out a field of 27 contestants by downing a record 173 chicken wings. On the previous Wednesday, Chestnut, who holds the world's rib-eating record, placed second in the World Grilled Cheese Eating Championship at Planet Hollywood on Manhattan's Times Square. There he ate 25-1/2 grilled cheese sandwiches, losing out to Wing Bowl XII winner, 98-pound Sonya ("Black Widow") Thomas, who won $8,000 for consuming 26 grilled cheese sandwiches in 10 minutes. Chestnut's Wing Bowl victory earned him a 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitra S worth $20,594 and a $5,500 Wing Bowl XIV ring.
For a revealing slide show of the Wing Bowl XIV festivities, you are invited to visit http://www.realcities.com/multimedia/philly/inquirer/KRT_packages/archive/photodesk/2006wingbowl/.
Note from Denny:
Interestingly, the piece on the unique distribution scheme of the film "Bubble" that ran Jan. 31, 2006, drew the most responses of any column so far. I will run a number of these in Thursday's edition. I really appreciate hearing from you—pro and con—about my work. What's more, if any reader has an itch to write a guest column—with cogent Takeaway Points—I am more than open. Your payment: A $100 honorarium from me to your favorite charity.