Do cartoonists have a right to offend?
Do political cartoonists have the right or even a duty to offend?
In June this year, there was outrage amongst cartoonists, both in the the United States and in the United Kingdom, when the New York Times decided to stop putting political cartoons in its International edition. This decision had apparently been taken after publishing an anti-semitic cartoon which had offended many of its readers. It featured a blind skull-capped President Donald Trump being led by a guide dog in the guise of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a Star of David attached to his collar. Both figures were positioned in front of a blood spatted background. The Portuguese cartoonist who drew it, Antonio Antunes, claimed the cartoon was not anti-semitic but a criticism of Trump's "blind" support for Israel. However, the New York Times did admit to an 'error of judgement" and in mitigation stated:
'We have investigated how this happened and learned that, because of a faulty process, a single editor working without adequate oversight downloaded the syndicated cartoon and made the decision to include it on the Opinion page.'
Cartoonists here and across the pond were up in arms in what they not only saw as a direct attack on their profession, but also a breach of cherished and long held freedoms to hold those who govern to account. Remarkably, it even led to articles by British cartoonists in the Guardian and theIndependent condemning the New York Times's decision. Washington Post cartoonist, Ann Telnaes even cancelled her subscription to the New York Times. When she informed them of her reason for doing so, they ironically offered her a lower subscription rate. Sensitivities amongst American cartoonists had already been heightened by the recent sacking of Rob Rogers by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after 25 years as their editorial cartoonist. The newspaper, due to a change in ownership, had taken a more pro-Republican outlook and did not approve of Rogers's relentless attacks on President Trump. The Post-Gazette's editorial director defended the cartoonist's sacking by saying he (Rogers) had "just become too angry'. The cartoonist, not surprisingly, saw things somewhat differently:<o:p/>
'My new boss informed me that the paper's publisher believed that the editorial cartoonist was akin to an editorial writer, and that his views should reflect the philosophy of the newspaper. When I was hired in 1993, The Post-Gazette was the liberal newspaper in town... Things really changed for me when management decided that my cartoons about the President were "too angry" and said I was "obsessed with Trump." This about a president who has declared the free press one of the greatest threats to our country. Not every idea I have works. Every year, a few of my cartoons get killed. But suddenly, in a three-month period, 19 cartoons or proposals were rejected. Six were spiked in a single week.'
Then at the end of June, there was a further outcry from cartoonists when Canadian Michael de Adder was apparently let go after 17 years as editorial cartoonist for the New Brunswick Group after a cartoon of his featuring Donald Trump standing over the bodies of two drowned migrants went viral on social media. The remarkable thing was that it was not even published in any of their papers although owners, J.D. Irving Limited, had made it perfectly clear to de Adder that, because of their business interests in the United States, cartooning Donald Trump was strictly off limits. Despite ignoring these warnings, de Adder admitted that this was the reason the newspaper group released him:
"I repeatedly said in interviews that it could be my "anti-Trump" presence on social media that was possibly to blame for the situation I find myself, and that the border cartoon was merely the "last straw." It possibly hastened the end, and was not the only factor."
Do political cartoonists such as Rob Rogers and Michael de Adder think they have a 'god-given' right to be published or are they, by their own current protestations, suffering from an inflated sense of their own self-importance? For, at the end of the day, newspapers are businesses i.e. independent entities and like any other business, they operate primarily to make a profit for their owners. As Victor Hugo once observed, the freedom of the press has always been limited to those who own the printing presses. In 1960, in The New Yorker, A. J. Liebling, in a similar vein wrote, 'freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one'. Does not the old adage that 'he who pays the piper plays the tune' therefore ring true here? If so, newspapers are fully within their rights to control both the editorial direction and content of the paper and to instruct their employees whether journalists, sub editors, photographers or cartoonists as to what they feel is required. Of course, in an ideal world, journalists and cartoonists would naturally have the freedom to put their own opinions across, but the reality is that every newspaper has its own editorial line, and whatever that line is, it has pretty much to be followed. The fact is, that despite some cartoonists having more 'latitude' than others, cartoonists are not able to set the terms of their own working conditions; the paper does that. The main exception to this rule was the great David Low. In 1927, the only way Lord Beaverbrook could get Low to come to the Evening Standard was to offer him a unique contract which gave him complete freedom in the selection and treatment of his subject matter. However, the paper retained the right of refusal so what was that contract worth? In any case, Low's so-called freedoms as you will see if you read my recent book 'David Low Censored' were often not adhered to by the paper.
Malcolm Evans was fired from the New Zealand Herald after refusing to stop drawing vitriolic and offensive cartoons on the subject of Israel after producing a series of cartoons that were deemed anti-semitic. He had already received several warnings from his editor to temper his fixation on Israel but had continually ignored them. This led inevitably to his dismissal. Despite being fired, Evans told me that he still believed cartoonists should be entitled to an independent outlook which could differ dramatically from the editorial line of the paper:
'Yes of course he who pays the piper calls the tune, BUT, given that readers generally regard political cartoons as the personal comment of the author, to have those comments constrained by editorial policy, without the reader knowing, is in my view a fraud on the reader. And so yes, definitely censorship, not to mention a denial of the principle of free speech and the ever-so-loudly proclaimed role of The Fourth Estate in a so-called free society.'
Despite what Evans says, either as an employee or a freelancer, cartoonists can never take their position, or their rights to offend, for granted. That will always be defined and decided by the judgement and the sensitivities of the newspaper editor. Peter Brookes, probably today Britain's most distinguished political cartoonist, is adamant that an editor has complete jurisdiction of what goes into the paper and he/she will decide what is and what is not acceptable. According to Brookes: “No editor needs to put up with a cartoonist who does not take notice of what he says, otherwise what's the point of an editor?” Christian Adams concurs: 'Editorial cartoonists are by their very nature employees of newspapers. They are not, and never have been, an independent voice completely free of editorial control. In the nineteenth century, political satirists produced their cartoons as individual prints, to be perused in coffee houses completely removed from any form of editorial interference, thus being a genuinely free voice.'
Interestingly, the media storms that occurred over theNew York Times decision, the Rob Rogers and Michael de Adder sackings were mainly driven by dissenting cartoonists to make the New York Times, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Brunswick News Group look like they had all curtailed cartoonists's freedoms. In their defence, the New York Times actually only cut the cartoon from the international edition, as, like with the Wall Street Journal, they had never carried a cartoon in their main US edition and they claimed that the decision to do away with the cartoon had actually been decided over a year before. This meant, if true, it had had nothing to do with the offending Trump cartoon. As for Rob Rogers, the Post-Gazette was quite happy for him to do anti-Trump cartoons but they did not want them day after day as Rogers had insisted. Peter Brookes believes it is important to editors that cartoonists do not bore readers by repeating the same theme daily. As regards Michael de Adder, Brunswick News Inc. said in their defence that it was "entirely incorrect" to suggest the company cancelled its freelance contract with de Adder over the cartoon:
"This is a false narrative which has emerged carelessly and recklessly on social media. In fact, BNI was not even offered this cartoon by Mr. de Adder. The decision to bring back reader favourite Greg Perry was made long before this cartoon, and negotiations had been ongoing for weeks."
It does suggest that the negative criticism thrown at all three papers appears just a bit partisan. For when those cartoonists who oppose Donald Trump lose their jobs, it is claimed to be an act of censorship and a threat to free speech, but for those who are generally supportive of Trump are fired there is not a murmur of dissent. For example, when Investor's Business Daily fired the highly talented Mike Ramirez, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist in 2016, nobody complained about any loss of freedom of the press. According to American journalist, Monica Showalter who was also laid off at the same time,'the editorial board took the paper in a different direction, toning down the editorial output to focus on stocks, which was where they wanted to go, and we understood this. We didn't like it, but we understood... It's just the way newspapers work.' It is interesting that the same reaction happened here in Britain. When theMirror,Sun, Express and Evening Standard all dropped the political cartoon from their pages, there was not a single word of criticism from the cartooning community.
Despite this, cartoonists in Britain are generally in tune with the editorial line of the newspaper they work for. Do cartoonists, as Dave Brown has suggested, "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted"? Well that actually depends on where politically the reader stands. For the cartoon offers what I call a subjective truth. That is that the reader, because of his or her sympathy for the political line of the paper, will generally see things from their own cartoonist's perspective, unlike a reader from a diametrically opposed newspaper who would most likely find the same material offensive. For example, aTelegraphreader would naturally enjoy Patrick Blower's acerbic treatment of Jeremy Corbyn, while aGuardianreader would definitely not and visa-versa apropos the Guardian's Steve Bell's sympathetic approach to Corbyn. As a consequence, readers will rarely be offended by the cartoons they see in their own paper of preference. The same cannot be said for the likes of Christian Adams, who has a 'plague on all your houses' approach, on the Evening Standard. This London evening newspaper has a broad readership right across the political spectrum. Most days on Twitter, Adams is found apologising to readers for causing offence to both those on the left and on the right of politics.
Editors tend to believe that politicians are generally fair game and most cartoonists are consequently given a pretty free reign to ridicule and offend them. According to Christian Adams, 'it is rarely offence caused against a particular politician. There seem to be no real limits on how far a cartoonist can go in lampooning a particular lawmaker.' Steve Bell, most notoriously, was allowed to mercilessly, and personally, offend three Prime Ministers in a row, John Major (underpants), Tony Blair (mad eye and bald patch) and David Cameron (condom) with his depiction of them in his cartoons. All three resented him for it. When Bell repeatedly portrayed John Prescott as a subservient neutered mutt during the Blair years, the Deputy Prime Minister was so offended he actually threatened to head butt the cartoonist. According to Bell: "He said to one of my colleagues: 'That bloody cartoonist, he's bloody drawing me as a dog. I'm not a fucking dog.' When I heard that, I had to carry on doing the dog with renewed vigour." Bell has greater latitude than his colleagues, as he works from home and does not have to show his ideas to his editor. The problem today for cartoonists is that most current politicians actually enjoy being portrayed in cartoons, however much vitriol is thrown at them. This could be because it emphasises their importance in the political arena. As Gerald Scarfe has said: "The sad final truth is that it doesn't matter how hard you hit politicians, most are so arrogant, they would rather be drawn as a warthog than not drawn at all." In an age of heightened public scrutiny with continual and growing abuse either in the press and on social media, most high ranking Cabinet Ministers have now become immune to the vilification. According to Andy Davey: "As for politicians, I don't know that any of them really get offended by a cartoon." Brighty also finds this frustrating:
"What we're up against is the mindset of politicians who are almost impossible to offend. As I've heard time and time again from these people, the one thing worse than us drawing them, is us not drawing them."
The one type of offence that is never acceptable is, of course, if it is libellous. Libel has obviously always been an important consideration for editors. Although they do invariably err on the side of caution and leave cartoons out because of the fear of libel, no cartoonist has of yet ever been successfully sued for it in the United Kingdom. Why is that? Firstly cartoons are visual metaphors and are not meant to be taken either seriously or literally by the reader. Whilst words are explicit, an image can also be easily misunderstood or misinterpreted as has happened in the past where offence has been taken where none was actually intended. George Osborne is of the belief that the whole point with cartoons is that they can say things that words could never do. Political cartoons can be biting, critical, and designed to attack, often with malice and vitriol, but they are almost always an exaggeration of a perceived truth. There can be no libel when cartoons are clearly understood to be parody, humorous or fantasy and therefore they are not capable of having a defamatory meaning. The fact that there has never been a successful libel action against a political cartoonist in Britain proves that point. The closest we have come to this is when a John Kent Varoomshka strip in Private Eye provoked trade union leader Jack Jones into libel proceedings against the satirical magazine and when Stagecoach boss Brian Souter launched a damages claim against Steve Bell for drawing him as a spotty bus-driving sectarian homophobic bigot during the Clause 28 row in 2000. Souter was a devout Christian who financially supported the 'Keep the Clause' campaign, aimed at regulating any references to homosexuality in schools and believed his reputation had been damaged by the cartoonist. Bell did not deny the character he had created called Mr Plooker, who drove a bus and made outspoken anti-gay statements, was based on Souter but said it was valid comment in the tradition of satirical political cartoons. Despite having lodged a writ at the Court of Session in Edinburgh seeking £200,000 in damages, Souter soon dropped the action, claiming he had received "assurances" from the Guardian to the effect that the newspaper had no intention to suggest he supported or represented extreme views. By withdrawing from the action before the case was due to go to Court , Souter had to pay both sides' costs.
Apart from the risk of Libel, editors are generally most concerned that their cartoonists do not offend either of the two most important groups that are vital to the financial viability of any newspaper; that is, the readers and the advertisers. Evidence of the latter was witnessed when Steve Bell began drawing David Cameron with a condom over his head. The then editor, Alan Russbridger became very concerned that it would offend those who regularly advertised in the Guardian. According to the cartoonist himself: "When I unrolled a huge condom on David Cameron the editor hated it. The last editor, Alan Rusbridger, said he didn't want to see any more condoms. We had a terrible toing and froing over several months. He wouldn't allow any attributes [to the condom]." However, Rusbridger relented when he found that the papers' advertisers did not have a problem with it. As mentioned, editors can accept cartoonists offending politicians but they are always particularly sensitive to the possibility of offending readers. In the majority of cases, this problem is avoided, because the majority of cartoonists produce their ideas for that day's cartoon in the form of three or four roughs for the editor to see. In this way, the editor can be the arbiter on whether they will offend or not. Most cartoonists work closely with their editors in this way and develop a symbiotic relationship where they instinctively learn what is and what is not acceptable. There is, of course the fact that cartoonists come to the logical conclusion that there is no point in producing a drawing that will never get used. This form of self censorship and understanding of the papers own sensibilities lessens the chance of causing offence. According to Patrick Blower:
'Working for the Telegraph, there is no overt censorship of ideas. However, I do self-censor. I understand the parameters of what the newspaper will publish and submit ideas accordingly. The parameters are unspoken and are mainly dictated by the issue of taste and the emphasis is on restraint. A recent example was the cartoon I drew in response to the Michael Gove cocaine furore: I depicted a roomful of stoned Tories smoking hash but was asked to remove the single character snorting cocaine and replace with a character smoking weed. I thought about it for a short while and concluded that amending the cartoon didn't weaken the it in any way, in fact it arguably made it lighter and funnier.
However, Dave Brown wholeheartedly disagrees with Blower on this point. He believes it is the cartoonist's objective to upset and to offend, in order to get readers really riled up and thinking about the subject in hand. According to Brown:
"As a cartoonist, I work on that margin of what is acceptable: a cartoon needs to unsettle and discomfort the reader a little if it is to penetrate the target and not simply bounce off... Personally, I've always believed if a political cartoonist is not causing offence then he's just not doing the job right. A political cartoon should be more than just a topical gag; it should have a strong point of view, and an individual voice. If everybody agrees with what you are saying then you're not saying much at all."
It is equally important that the cartoonist has an editor that understands him so that they both can, as they say, 'sing from the same hymn sheet'. Chris Riddell believes that the key is to work face to face with your editor in the newspaper office: "Once he says yes to a cartoon, it goes into the paper." It was no coincidence that the greatest cartoonist of the 20th Century, David Low, produced the best work of his career under his favourite editor, Percy Cudlipp. Low explains in his own words why Cudlipp was a cartoonist's dream:
'I was fortunate in having at this time unusually congenial associates in Fleet Street. Percy Cudlipp was that rare phenomenon, an editor who knew what a political cartoon was and how to present it. A writer himself, he had also intuitive grasp of pictorial expression combined with a naturally satiric wit. Unique in my experience of editors, Percy would have been a bit of luck for any cartoonist. He was made for me. We were, so to speak, on the same wave-length. With him ideas flowed. When we met for a mug of tea once a week, sparks flew.'
Low like the other great cartoonist of the post-war era, Victor Weisz 'Vicky' both worked very differently from other political cartoonists at that time as they did not support the editorial line of the paper they worked for. Whereas political cartoonists were expected to slavishly follow the editorial line of the newspaper, Low and Vicky had contracts which supposedly gave them complete freedom. Despite this, both men had cartoons refused publication because they either clashed with the policy of the paper or were deemed likely to offend. Vicky actually produced a book of his unpublished cartoons called 'The editor regrets' while earlier this year as previously mentioned, I produced a book entitled 'David Low Censored' which featured many of Low's unpublished and editorially altered cartoons.
Editors feel that cartoons that they consider are either taboo, in bad taste, insulting or indecent are unacceptable because they are likely to offend their readers. Different newspapers have different sensitivities, while some cartoonists, as already mentioned, are given greater freedoms than others. So what are the boundaries? According to Christian Adams:
'What is judged taboo or bad taste wafts and waves with time. It used to be considered in bad taste to be insolent to politicians. It used to be taboo to use mild sexual innuendo or mock the Royal Family. These days, I would say that the only untouchable areas for a political cartoonist are race, religion and disability. If cartoonists do not take this into account their respective editors will undoubtedly insist on changes to any offending cartoon before publication of it.'
Adams is correct here in regard to what is and what is not acceptable as far as taboos are concerned. Before the Second World War, the Monarchy had to be treated with enormous deference in cartoons. Making fun of them by today's standards was absolutely unacceptable. You took a risk in even depicting them. David Low did a rather sympathetic pencil caricature of Edward VIII in the 1930s and was accused of being a 'Bolshevik'! Only in the 1960s did the Royal Family become cartoonable so to speak and now receive the same treatment as politicians although Bell's drawing of the Queen's royal bottom two years ago was still a cartoon too far. Another widely held taboo was showing a politician's disability. President Franklin Roosevelt despite spending his Presidency in a wheelchair was never shown in one. He was always depicted striding around with two good legs. The same was true with Lord Halifax who had an atrophied left arm and no left hand but was always depicted with two good arms and hands whilst Neville Chamberlain's Foreign Secretary. Apart from race and colour, which we will come to shorty, religion can also prove troublesome if not deadly as we saw with what happened at Charlie Hebdo a few years ago. According to Andy Davey:
'Having a right to upset readers is rather academic if someone takes it away from you with violence. The Charlie Hebdo people believed they had the right to offend and in a perfect society that might be justified and possible, but their rights were removed rather peremptorily by two gunmen. The matter of rights was, after that, rather moot. I don't really want to offend anyone for their spiritual beliefs. But it would be nice if people were a little less hot-headed in the fractious times. I prefer debate to death, any day.'
It is not just taking the piss out of Islam that can get cartoonists into life-threatening difficulties with regard to religion. During the Northern Ireland 'Troubles' during the 1970's and 1980's, cartoonist Bernard Cookson made fun of Irish Catholics and the IRA in his cartoons for the Express and Evening Standard. It was certainly brave to do so but probably not the smartest thing to have done. According to Cookson:
"Some years ago I received a number of telephone calls and letters from the IRA's Adams and McGuiness informing me that they knew where I lived and they would come and torch my house and family. I took it seriously and so did my editor (they had his address as well!) who asked me to ease up on anti-IRA cartoons, which I did."
The only time Peter Brookes has caused real offence was when he ridiculed the Pope's remarks condemning the use of condoms, even as a means of preventing the spread of HIV. According to Brookes:
'I did a cartoon of Pope Benedict XVI with a giant condom on his head. The tip of the condom had a pin through it. It was after the Pope declared on a trip to Africa that condoms were not the solution to the Aids epidemic ravaging the continent. My cartoon caused an instant storm but I felt strongly that he was talking through his (papal) hat.'
The then leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor said he had been appalled by what he saw as a tasteless depiction of Pope Benedict and that it had been unacceptable to pillory the pope in this way. He led a delegation of Cardinals to The Times insisting that a letter be published reflecting the Vatican's outrage. During the meeting O'Connor declared that: ‘The Pope is infallible.’ The then editor replied: ‘That’s funny. To us, Peter Brookes is infallible.’
Despite there being less taboos around today, it is still common to hear people bemoaning that "everyone takes offence at something". It does appear that, especially on social media the younger generation now takes offence at a wider range of topics whether actually true or not. Christian Adams is of the belief that what is judged taboo wafts and waves with time. It used to be taboo to be insolent to high-ranking politicians. It used to be taboo to use mild sexual innuendo. Dave Brown considers that too many readers have become far to oversensitive to what they see in the news and are too quick to take offence:
"Increasingly people seem to believe they have a right not to be offended, and that anything that more than one person finds offensive should be censored, banned, grovelling apologised for, and the culprit is fired. I, on the other hand, believe everybody should be offended at least once a day, preferably by one of my cartoons. It's good to be unsettled, tipped out of our comfort zones and made to think."
Over the years, there have been a number of cartoons featured in the Britain's Best Political Cartoons series which were originally unpublished or altered because they were considered in bad taste. Some years ago, Steve Bell received a letter from David Leigh, the executive editor of the Guardian on the subject of inappropriate language, and was told the word "fuck" was now strictly forbidden whilst concluding with the PS: "The same applies to 'cunt'." In 2003, Bell had to adapt the "turd count" in a cartoon featuring George W. Bush on the role of the UN. He finally agreed to "remove three splattered turds" from the version that eventually appeared in the printed version of the Guardian but Bell was pleased that all the turds remained in the version that appeared on their website. In 1995, another Bell cartoon was also refused publication because it contained turds as it was based on one of Gilbert and George's shit pictures featuring Michael Portillo and Michael Heseltine. In the last two anthologies we have featured cartoons by Bell that the Guardian refused to publish as they were deemed offensive such as one, already mentioned, with the Queen's naked bottom and Theresa May lying dead in a pool of blood.
Visual metaphors which use weapons to make their point are also considered likely to offend in the present climate and some editors have warned cartoonists to think carefully before using them. Peter Brookes enjoys using the 'stab in the back' metaphor but is aware of the issue of knife crime and how it may be perceived by the public. That is why he is always keen to put it into a different context by using, for example the “Et tu, Brute?” scenario from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, when Caesar uttered these words as he was being stabbed to death. Associate Editor of the Independent, Sean O'Grady, is strongly of the opinion that the cartoonists use of weapons such as nooses, knifes and guns as visual metaphors are in bad taste and thus inadvisable:
"Drawing politicians stabbing each other in the back during a knife crime epidemic is both odd and wrong. I know it's a good metaphor but a cartoon featuring a stabbing makes readers think of knife crime instead of the political point the cartoonist is trying to make. Alternative metaphors are required otherwise weapons appear gratuitous and frankly worthless."
Steve Bell had two cartoons refused publication one soon after the other as they featured politicians with revolvers which, as the shooting dead of Jo Cox had taken place, were considered insensitive by theGuardian editor. Politicians can no longer be seen metaphorically harming themselves in the old school Tom and Jerry type manner. When it comes to this, Patrick Blower believes that there are sensitivities to consider when also considering the 'gender' issue. According to Blower, Theresa May is a prime example:
"In the darkest days of Theresa May's premiership, there was no issue drawing her as an utterly spent force but the Telegraph drew the line at any depiction of physical violence towards her, presumably on the grounds that it strays too close to domestic violence against women."
Scott Clissold believes levels of crudeness do not add anything to the impact of the cartoon: 'If you send over four ideas on the same topic, making the same point and all of them may be considered offensive by someone, the Editor will still run one of them but it might be the one that contains less nudity, bodily functions, swearing, blood and guts etc but still makes the exact same point.' Patrick Blower concurs:
"The fact is the Telegraph will simply not publish the kind of cartoons that appear in the Guardian, irrespective of political slant. It would be an exercise in stupidity to send in drawings showing shit or blood, because they would be rejected every time. Moreover, unlicensed freedom to draw anything that goes does not necessarily mean better or more powerful work. Editors play a vital role in mediating cartoons and ensuring that they make their point. Some cartoonists will disagree.They may define themselves as 'auteurs' whose work is sacred and should not be defiled by any third party. Given that newspapers are a collaborative effort, this claim for a special distinction seems indulgent."
Ironically, it is often the case that offence found in cartoons is actually unintended. As already stated, cartoons being visual are easily misinterpreted. Peter Brookes believes cartoonists have a responsibility to think carefully through their ideas so that they do not cause offence inadvertently: “Occasionally their response to a situation can result in a knee jerk reaction which can easily lead to offence.” Some of the most famous contentious cartoons in British history have caused a furore because readers and politicians have misconstrued them. The most famous example is probably Philip Zec's war-time cartoon 'The Price of Petrol Has Been Increased by One Penny – Official', showing a torpedoed sailor clinging to a raft. Zec's intention was to say to his readers that people should use petrol sparingly as it was costing the lives of merchant seamen to bring it across the Atlantic, but because of it's caption, the Government, and particularly Winston Churchill, saw it as being unpatriotic and accusing the Government of profiteering from the lives of seaman. The then Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison, called it 'worthy of Goebbels at his best'. In recent years, both Gerald Scarfe and Dave Brown have got into hot water for unintentionally making reference to the so-called 'medieval blood libel' when depicting Israeli Prime Ministers. The 'blood libel' is a centuries-old smear on the Jewish people that they slaughtered Christian children in order to use the blood in their rituals. The insult was magnified due to both cartoons unfortunately and coincidentally appearing on Holocaust Memorial Day. Stephen Pollard, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, said that not only was the timing of the cartoons
"grotesque" but that it also reflected "the worst anti-Semitic blood libel." Scarfe defended his cartoon by saying: "First of all I am not, and never have been, anti-semitic. The Sunday Times has given me the freedom of speech over the last 46 years to criticize world leaders for what I see as their wrongdoings. This drawing was a criticism of Netanyahu, and not of the Jewish people: there was no slight whatsoever intended against them. I was, however, stupidly completely unaware that it would be printed on Holocaust Day, and I apologise for the very unfortunate timing."
Dave Brown's cartoon showed Sharon eating a Palestinian baby, surrounded by helicopter gunships, while saying: "What's wrong... You never seen a politician kissing babies before?" High-profile lawyer Anthony Julius totally misinterpreted the cartoon, and stated that: "the cartoon associated Sharon, a Jew, with a particularly dreadful crime allegedly committed by Jews, indeed, habitually and exclusively by Jews. It associates him with the blood libel... has an implicit politics, one which supposes Israelis to be murderous brutes, and Palestinians, martyred innocents."
In both cases, neither Brown nor Scarfe intended to make any reference whatsoever to the medieval 'blood libel' but many saw what they wanted to see, taking offence where none was actually intended. Steve Bell thinks this is pretty much the norm when it comes to criticising Israel: "The charge of anti-Semitism is often thrown around when you're criticising the Israeli state for militarism and racism - It's pretty well automatic."
Religion, as we have seen, is a thorny issue for cartoonists. The other emotional minefield for cartoonists is racism. Caricature, in essence, is the exaggeration of people's prominent features such as noses, ears, teeth, eyes hair etc. This has caused problems for cartoonists as political correctness has changed peoples attitudes to stereotyping. In July, Christian Adams was accused of anti-Irish stereotyping (see page ) after he drew the two surviving candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party as leprechauns, chasing a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Adams responded to criticism on Twitter by saying the cartoon was about Johnson and Hunt, "not the Irish". It did however, link the Irish with leprechauns which offended many Irish readers of the Evening Standard. However, the Deputy Editor of Private Eye, Nick Newman thought this was a case of double standards by those who were upset by the cartoon. According to Newman, who draws topical gag cartoons regularly for the Sunday Times:
'The hacks I worked for in Ireland would always say 'no leprechauns' but you can't move at Dublin airport for leprechaun merchandise, blarney stones and pots of gold at the end of rainbows. Is it okay for them to stereotype themselves?'
Last year, Mark Knight, an Australian cartoonist, was accused of racist stereotyping when he depicted Serena Williams having a tantrum at the US Open. Critics such as Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, claimed on Twitter that the cartoon had been overtly racist. The cartoonist denied the accusation, saying he had intended to depict only the tennis player's "poor behaviour". The National Association of Black Journalists in the United States denounced the cartoon as "repugnant on many levels" It stated:
"[It] not only exudes racist, sexist caricatures of both women, but Williams' depiction is
The 1899 children's book, The Story of Little Black Sambo had featured derogatory racial depictions such as characters with thick red lips. Knight said he had "no knowledge of those cartoons or that period" and responded by saying "the world has just gone crazy". Brighty believes the accusation that Knight's cartoon was racist as being absurd: "I'm tired of hearing about these racial tropes. All they really mean is that Mark Knight drew Serena Williams as ugly. People are ugly when they're angry. Serena is, of course, a beautiful woman when she smiles and lights up the court at the end of a game."
If Serena Williams had gone and had her caricature drawn by a caricaturist in Leicester Square, would not the finished effort have looked racist? Are we saying that in order to end racial stereotyping in cartoons, they, cartoonists, should just stick to only caricaturing white middle-class men? If black people, or any other ethnic group, have to be treated differently from white people, is that not, in itself, a form of inverted racism? Surely everyone should be treated equally badly? Steve Bell believes it is all down to what the cartoonist's intent is. According to Bell: 'The fact of drawing, simply copying precisely, or even exaggerating certain physical characteristics of someone of any race, creed or colour does not constitute racism. The intention, meaning and context of the drawing are crucial as to the determination of whether it is racist or not.'
Peter Brookes has no interest in giving offence for the sake of it. According to Brookes: “It’s a mugs game. I want to give offence in the context of what is happening politically on a day-to-day basis and it’s far better to go for targets that people like.” Ben Jennings, like Brookes, always sets out not to offend anyone as he feels to do so, even inadvertently would detract from his message: 'Of course, plenty of times people misinterpret things and see what they want to see and you're never going to be able to completely guard yourself against that, particularly in these volatile times.' Peter Schrank thinks it all goes with the territory and at times cartoonists must accept that at times they will cause offence even when it's not intended:
'Offence is taken as often, if not more so, as it's given, sometimes even when it's not intended. So it's pretty much impossible not to offend, especially in a job where the raison d'être is to poke fun at someone or something. If the object of our ridicule doesn't take offence, then others will do on their behalf. Some cartoonists have argued that we not only have the right, but a duty to offend. I'm not sure I see it that way, and prefer the idea of making the point by poking fun, more than consciously seeking to offend. That said, there are certainly times you 'draw angry', and those are less likely to result in the pithy, and more likely to piss people off. And rightly so.'
Despite the constant concern of editors, cartoonists will continue to try and push the boundaries of good taste, whilst in the process challenging and provoking their readership. I leave the last words to the revolting Dave Brown... I mean like the great cartoonist he is, he and his colleagues will never stop rebelling and holding those who govern us up to ridicule:
'Like the little boy in the Hans Christian Anderson story, unafraid to be thought stupid, the cartoonist is the person who points and says: "The emperor's not wearing any clothes." Though of course, being cartoonists we feel compelled to add: "and he's got a ludicrously small...".'