POLITICAL CARTOONIST and prominent syndicator Daryl Cagle has come into criticism today for two editorial cartoons — or rather, one cartoon with different and ideologically opposed captions.
This afternoon, Cagle tells Comic Riffs there’s a simple explanation: ”I changed my mind.”
The two cartoons from this week address whether the surviving Boston bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, should be read his Miranda rights. On Sunday, Cagle’s viewpoint expressed in the cartoon was that Tsarnaev — like the suspects in the 2012 Aurora theater and 2011 Tucson-area supermarket shootings — did not deserve to be read the rights. By Monday, Cagle published the same visual, but with the caption changed to express that “All of them” deserved to be read their rights.
“I got such a strong reaction from readers against the first version of the cartoon, with many well-reasoned arguments, that I changed my mind — something that doesn’t happen much in this profession,” Cagle tells Comic Riffs on Wednesday afternoon. “So I posted a revised version of the cartoon.
“I learned that Tsarnaev was given his Miranda rights shortly before I posted the revised cartoon,” he notes, “so I doubt that the second cartoon got much ink.”
On Wednesday morning, political cartoonist Ted Rall was among those colleagues who criticized publishing the cartoon — and offering it to clients — with opposing captions.
Saying that Cagle had “sunk to an new low,” the left-leaning Rall wrote on his blog: “Most cartoonists can only sell to one ideological market. For example, I dont’ get much traction with conservative newspapers. ... But Daryl has come up with ‘Cartooning-by-Numbers.’ That’s right: he sells the same exact cartoon to BOTH liberal and conservative papers! All he has to do is change a minor detail.”
Rall characterized the recaptioning not as a changing of a cartoonist’s mind, but rather as a business practice. Ann Telnaes, The Washington Post’s Pulitzer-winning political animator, also commented on the controversy.
“This is a clear case of a cartoon syndicate trying to maximize profits by offering the same artwork but changing a few words to address both ideological sides of an issue,” Telnaes writes on her website, in a piece titled: “What makes an editorial cartoon an editorial cartoon.”
“An editorial cartoon is supposed to have a clear point of view ... ,” she continues. “Otherwise, it’s not an editorial cartoon but just a cartoon. Distributing this kind of work demeans and devalues the profession.”
“The accusation by cartoonists that I posted two versions for marketing purposes, to get the cartoon reprinted by both conservative and liberal papers, is just silly,” Cagle responds. “Some cartoonists are describing this is an insidious, ongoing business plan.
“I’ve changed my mind before, not often, and usually over a longer period of time, but I won’t go back into the archive to delete the old cartoons,” he continues. in a response to Comic Riffs and the Daily Cartoonist’s Alan Gardner. “I posted them, I should live with my history. So both cartoons are up. My old cartoons supporting the run up to war in Iraq are still posted, too — I’m more embarrassed by those.”
Cagle cites history when explaining how his take on the issue changed.
“I remember when the Miranda decision came down in the 1960s, on a 5-4 vote,” he writes in an e-mail to Comic Riffs. “It was controversial for a long time; the only area of the law where ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’ didn’t hold true.
“I got a large enough sampling of e-mails in response to the cartoon ... that I realized the Miranda decision no longer seems to be controversial — it has become a part of our national fabric. Most of the responses conflate reading the Miranda warning to the suspect with the suspect’s overall civil rights; I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a good thing.”
As for accusations that his twin cartoons are a fiscal function, Cagle says: “I think that as our profession has fallen on hard times, and I am perceived to be successful while other editorial cartoonists suffer, that some troubled editorial cartoonists look for any opportunity to bash the evil, cartoonist businessman. I suppose that is to be expected.”
[SEEING DOUBLE: Looking for truth, originality and plagiarism in an Internet world]