Friday, August 21, 2015

Rall Entando al Fine

Ted Rall continues his series on How I Got Fired And Nobody Cared at this week, coming around to the failure of his fellow cartoonists to leap to his defense.

"You guys suck" was Rall's header for an August 9 screed on the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) listserv blasting the AAEC's silence on his case -- described as deafening in another cartoonist's posting, the first on the topic, on July 28. (Postings on the listserv are supposed to be confidential, but since Rall has brought the discussion out into the open, I think the cat is out of the bag.)

Between July 28 and the publication of the AAEC statement on August 11, there was a lot of back and forth on the listserv over whether Rall had proven that his case was any worse than that any of the scores of other editorial cartoonists who have lost their jobs in the last 20-30 years, none of which have produced official statements from the AAEC. Of course, hardly any of those cartoonists were sent out the door with an editorial calling them liars.

So far this year, the AAEC has condemned the killing of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and editors, condemned the arrest of Malaysian cartoonist Zunar, condemned the shootings at the "Draw Mohammed" confab in Dallas, called for Maine's Governor LePage to apologize for telling a cartoonist's son that the governor would like to shoot the boy's father, and, of course, called for an investigation into the tape the Los Angeles Police Department gave to the L.A. Times editors to get Rall fired.

On the other side of the coin, I can't recall any instance of the AAEC officially criticizing any cartoonist by name -- although accusations of plagiarism have resulted in heated discussion on the listserv, a few well-known cartoonists leaving the association, and eventually, a code of ethics (see the update at the end of this story). There was plenty of internal discussion whether or not the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and the Texas anti-Islam cartoon contest were defensible, but in the end, the Free Speech absolutists won out.

We cartoonists are used to having our work criticized; we love praise, of course, but see criticism as a sign that our cartoons have succeeded in sparking conversation. Bill Sanders, for example, devoted three pages of The Sanders Book (1977) to hate mail. Today's editors, on the other hand, see editorial cartoons as little more than a graphic to break up an otherwise gray page. The occasional threat from a reader to cancel a subscription may not get a cartoonist fired, but complaints from advertisers, law enforcement, or the publisher's golfing buddies are likely to prompt an editor to discover reasons to "tighten the budget."

At issue here is not just whether the L.A. Times unjustly besmirched a cartoonist's reputation by calling him a liar, but also whether it should have leapt to conclusions based upon accusations by the LAPD supported only by a poor-quality recording.

I don't know who is qualified to step in at this late date, but a recent cartoon by Matt Wuerker was parsed by Politifact (and found "mostly true"), so perhaps we should let the Tampa Bay Times judge whether Rall's or the LAPD's pants are on fire.

Postscript:  (The Times defends its actions here, including a link to a recording from the LAPD purporting to document LAPD's failed attempts to contact Rall after his initial complaint about his treatment.
(But according to one of Rall's colleagues, J.P. Trostle, "As someone who has known Mr. Rall for almost 20 years, and was calling him frequently during this time period (as we finished collaborating on the book Attitude: The New Subversive Alternative Political Cartoonists), I can assure you that that is NOT Ted Rall’s voice on the answering machine, nor was it the greeting message he was using at time — which means the LAPD was calling the wrong number.")

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