Editorial cartoonists don’t do high-minded critiques. They’re paid to take shots, cheap shots even, shots that make a lot out of a little. Remember the mileage Herblock used to get just from drawing Nixon’s five o’clock shadow?
But somewhere in the cartoon there needs to be a kernel of fact and conviction. Years ago syndicated cartoonist Steve Kelley took part in a panel discussion I moderated for the Chicago Humanities Festival. He was very funny and I was glad he was there. But his latest cartoon isn’t funny. Worse, it’s weasel-worded.
A reporter’s talking to Hillary Clinton. “Many believe you used an earpiece during the NBC presidential forum,” says the reporter. Clinton responds, “I prefer to think of it as a private voicemail server . . . “
Eric Zorn did what needed to be done on Facebook. He reposted Kelley’s cartoon doctored to read, “Crackpots believe you use an earpiece . . . ”
The earpiece question has been advanced by, among others, the Drudge Report, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and Donald Trump Jr. Yet skeptics have the upper hand, their case bolstered by photo blowups of Clinton’s suspect ear taken at the same event.
But the question isn’t whether “many believe,” or some, or “half.” (When she counted “deplorables,” Clinton at least gave us an amount we could sink our teeth into.) The question is whether Kelley believes. If he does, he should own his conviction. If he doesn’t, he should have drawn something else. We’ve written him asking. If he gets back to us, we’ll put his answer here.
Journalists don’t get to say whatever. We do, sometimes, but then we’re not doing our jobs. Our job is to try to clear up confusion, not take advantage of it.