Anyone who doubts it should've attended the annual convention of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists last week in Durham, North Carolina. Editorial cartoonist Ann Telnaes (of the Washington Post) described how she was swamped with outraged phone calls, emails and tweets after drawing a negative cartoon about Ted Cruz.
Some of the comments she received were later quoted in The Columbia Journalism Review:
“You filthy kunt…a baseball bat to your head is now due."
“HOW FUCKING DARE YOU CUNT. GET THE HELL OUT OF THE BUSINESS…”
“Bitch, your days are numbered.”
“do the world a favor, go hang yourself”
“I hope you get raped to death”It's a good thing Cruz's followers are so religious; otherwise those comments might've turned nasty.
Cruz supporters helpfully posted Telnaes' photo online so she'd be easier to identify. In the face of this lunatic rage, the Washington Post chickened out and removed the cartoon from its web site, thus vindicating angry jerks everywhere.
Cartoonist Joel Pett (of the Lexington Herald Leader) told a similar story. He entertained the AAEC audience by playing his voice mailbox filled with enraged calls about Pett's cartoon criticizing Kentucky governor Matt Bevin:
The attack on Pett was boosted by right wing social media and went viral. At one point Pett did a little dance onstage to the soundtrack of crazed callers threatening him with harm.
I checked with conservative cartoonist Scott Stantis (The Chicago Tribune) to see if he received similar hate mail from the left. He described how a reader called his home to say that he hoped Stantis's children would be killed. There are morons on both sides of the political spectrum, many of whom have trouble reading complex words but who understand (and resent) the power of pictures.
Once upon a time, editorial cartoons were thought to make a difference by educating the public and showing them perspectives that might change their minds or soften their positions. Cartoonist Thomas Nast was credited with helping to bring down the corrupt Tweed regime that controlled New York in the 1860s and 70s. His graphic symbols resonated with the public (he created popular icons, such as the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey) so much that he influenced presidential elections. Tweed is reported to have cursed, "Stop them damn pictures! I don't care what the papers write about me. My constituents can't read, but they can see the pictures."
Judging from this year's AAEC convention, fewer readers today are interested in being educated and more are interested in reinforcing their pre-existing biases. To achieve this, many seem intent on silencing opposing views. Ironically, these are the people who need education the most. People who once were embarrassed by their own ignorance seem willing today to take aggressive steps to preserve it.
In such a climate, my hat is off to today's editorial cartoonists.