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The Great Cartoon War: FOX Rallies to Defend Joint Chiefs, Political Humorists Fight Back

Reported by Marie Therese - February 3, 2006

Yesterday, FOX News Channel was clearly under orders from the powers-that-be to justify a letter of rebuke sent to the Washington Post by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, protesting a cartoon that made fun of Donald Rumsfeld.

Here's cartoonist M. e. Cohen's rebuttal (2-3-06, reprinted with permission):


Being a good FOX News minion, Bill O'Reilly scheduled two guests to "debate" the issue - retired Major General Robert Scales, a military historian and FOX News military analyst, and Nick Anderson, chief editorial cartoonist for the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Scales did the usual I-agree-with-anything-the-Bush-administration-says routine while Anderson's critique was far more even-handed.

The best moment came when Anderson landed one that O'Reilly had to dance on hot coals to avoid.

O'REILLY: Do you think that's a legitimate point of view in the sense that Tom Toles doesn't know how Rumsfeld thinks. He doesn't know. He can't possibly know. He can't read his mind, look into his heart. He doesn't know. So, if he doesn't know, is it irresponsible of him to say that Rumsfeld is callous in the face of death and destruction?

ANDERSON: You know, by the same token you can't look into Cindy Sheehan's heart and see what she's thinking and yet it's perfectly legitimate for you - even though I don't agree with you - but it is legitimate for you to speculate on what's going through her mind.

O'REILLY: No it isn't. I never speculate about what's going through her mind.

ANDERSON: You - you ...

O'REILLY: Never have.

ANDERSON: You accused her of being a tool of the left.

O'REILLY: Never have one time. All I said about Cindy Sheehan was when she describes terrorists as freedom fighters, that is not only inaccurate but offensive to most Americans.

ANDERSON (laughing): I heard you describe her as a tool of the left on the Letterman Show.

O'REILLY: She was - she is - what I said was she is being "run" by the left. And ...

ANDERSON: What's the difference?

O'REILLY: The difference is that her expenses are being paid for, as you probably know, by Code Pink and other left-wing organizations. That is factual. That is what's happening, sir.

ANDERSON: OK. Well, we digress.

O'REILLY: A far diff - no. I know. But it's a far different analysis of Miss Sheehan's conduct that was made by me ...

ANDERSON: But questioning ...

O'REILLY: ... than was made by Toles on Rumsfeld. Alright, let's get the General's point of view and then we'll come back.

The General came back and accused Toles of falling into the same category as Nazi cartoonists in 1920's and 30's Germany, i.e. Scales claimed that Toles created a "caricature" of the soldier. Unfortunately, although he rebutted the General's points, Nick Anderson missed an opportunity here.

The anti-semitic cartoons in Germany portrayed the Jews not as human beings but as oily blaggards with long noses, twisted mouths, money dripping from their clothing, squeezing the life blood out of the German people.

In his simple cartoon Tom Toles did not distort the soldier's appearance in any way, so it was definitely NOT a caricature.

The interview continued as follows:

SCALES: Don't pick on the young men and women who've been maimed in this conflict as part of your parody.

ANDERSON: I agree.

SCALES: All too often the media depicts soldiers either victims or villains, not as human beings. IT'S NOT THEIR FAULT. IT'S NOT THEIR WAR. (my emphasis)

O'REILLY: Go ahead Mr. Anderson.

ANDERSON: Well, first of all, General Pace (sic), are we fighting in Iraq for the freedom to all think alike or are we fighting in Iraq for the freedom to not be offended? When you open the pages of a newspaper and you see an editorial cartoon, you should be prepared to be challenged and that's the purpose of it This country is great because of dissent, not in spite of it.

O'REILLY: General?

SCALES: This is not dissent.

ANDERSON: This is dissent.

SCALES: This is not dissent. You can dissent all you want to about public figures but you should never demean a young soldier or Marine who has died for his country or suffered trauma like this.

ANDERSON: Is it ...

SCALES: There are many, many other ways you can make your - just a second -


SCALES: There are many, many other ways that you can make your point without showing a young soldier lying in a military hospital with his limbs amputated. That is absolutely over the top.

O'REILLY: Go ahead, Mr. Anderson.

ANDERSON: Is it the mere portrayal of an injured soldier or is the point of view that you don't like, General Pace (sic)?

SCALES: It's the portrayal. It's the caricature. My earlier analogy about how the nazi cartoons in the 20's and 30's depicted ethnic minorities .

ANDERSON: I think ..

SCALES: I think it's the same sort of thing because soldiers are people, too, Mr. Anderson, and they're defending their country but also have emotions and so do their loved one and so do their relatives. As far as I'm concerned, if you want to do a caricature of a public figure, that's your business . Leave our young men and women out of it.

ANDERSON: This cartoon is motivated by a sympathy for the soldier, not for a motivation to mock them.

SCALES: I certainly didn't - I didn't see sympathy. I didn't see sympathy at all.


The FOX News spin was that the cartoon poked fun at the soldier lying in the hospital bed and therefore the cartoonist - Tom Toles - was making a statement that was degrading to soldiers. This story was carried ad nauseam all day long, with many hosts interviewing cartoonists, most of whom said the cartoon was within the bounds of acceptability and was clearly anti-Rumsfeld, not anti-soldier. As it turned out, Toles' cartoon was almost virtually identical to several other cartoons that have been published in the past, including this one by Daryl Cagle from December 2004 (reprinted with permission):


So, it would seem that the Join Chiefs lost this debate. One wonders why they chose this particular time to object to a cartoon image that has been done before?

NOTE TO OUR READERS: Check out more political cartoons at PoliticalCartoons.com

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