As an artist who myself, when under fire, has reflexively assumed the Official Editorial Cartoonist's Defensive Crouch, I feel compelled to reach out to the New York Post's controversial political cartoonist to advise -- nay, implore -- him with seven simple words before it's too late. Words that Sean "It's Friggin' Ridiculous" Delonas might embrace:
"Dude, it's time to apologize. No -- seriously."
The media circus may or may not pull out of the station soon, perhaps with Al Sharpton as ringmaster, but that's not the issue, Mr. Delonas. The self-respecting professional cartoonist -- and I sincerely hope that's what you purport, or strive, to be -- knows that the cardinal rule has nothing to do with offending readers (many political cartoonists, in fact, are wired so as to take a certain glee in that).
No, the cardinal rule is not to offend readers for unintended reasons. Out of miscommunication, not mis-conviction. When the villagers show up with pitchforks, your job is to make sure their fury is burning for the right white-hot motives.
In other words: You owe readers a sincere apology for your lack of clarity regarding your infamous chimp cartoon, because clarity of message is Job One. And when you haven't accomplished that -- yet your newspaper offers only an extremely qualified partial apology -- Job Two becomes: Be a bigger person than those who drafted your newspaper's apology.
[UPDATE--THIS JUST IN: Owner Rupert Murdoch is now apologizing for the cartoon, too -- a response that jibes with more than half the respondents in the Comic Riffs poll over the weekend, as well as the roughly 5,000 of you who characterized the cartoon as racist. (Were Murdoch's moles checking in?) So now this step of personal apology, Mr. Delonas, has just been made easier.]
In saying this, of course, I am -- for the purposes of this advice -- choosing to take you at your word regarding your overt intent. Call it suspended benefit of the doubt. But when roughly 2 out of every 3 readers (depending on who's poll you care to point to) believes you intended to invoke President Obama, and you insist that interpretation is "friggin' ridiculous," then you yourself must admit that if nothing else, you've haven't done your job. Simply put: Don't hide behind a muddled metaphor.
Now, I also realize you might view such an apology as a sign of weakness, but consider it quite the opposite: It's a show of strength, of respect for your readers. Because for you, this isn't just about a single cartoon. This is about your career. This moment on the national stage -- and how you respond to it -- may well be how you're best remembered.
Your career, I might add, is noted for its frequency of cartoons that some call "downright tasteless." And that's coming from some commentators on your side of the political aisle -- folks who share your dim view of the stimulus bill. Yet I also know a fellow comics blogger who attended a book signing of yours and spoke fairly glowingly of you. And that gives me hope.
That book, co-created with your young son, delivered the morale: Be careful what you wish for. In failing to offer a bolder, noble apology than your newspaper's, Mr. Delonas, be careful what you reap. Every political cartoonist of any length of service sows some hate. But let that hate be based on the courage of your convictions, not the obfuscation of your opinions.
Your career is now forever checkered by an infamous chimp. But an apology would mean a few less folk would think you the unchangeable chump.
AND SPEAKING OF 'THAT TOON'...
Cartoonist/blogger Rob Tornoe (Cagle.com) has published his reaction to the chimp-toon controversy...
As has New York cartoonist Justin Bilicki:
Are you amused or angered by either of these cartoons? The floor is now yours.