MICHAEL BROWN CARTOON: How the New York Times turned Matt Bors’ satire into real prescience

BECAUSE CARTOONIST MATT BORS is a cultural critic, journalism often finds itself square in his cross-hairs — whether some fellow editorial cartoonists are reflexively drawing the late mogul/Buddhist Steve Jobs at the gates of St. Peter, or news networks are reporting a massive factual error that ends up personally drawing him into a story.

But even the Portland-based commentator and editor of Medium’s The Nib is surprised when his cartoon critique begins to ring of prophecy.

In this case, the eerie foretelling involves an Aug. 18 cartoon he drew about the Michael Brown case — and the wording and approach in a New York Times retrospective that ran nearly a week later.

In Bors’s syndicated political cartoon, titled “Fear of a Black Victim,” two commentaries after tragic crimes are contrasted by race. In the second case, alluding to the Michael Brown shooting death by police in Ferguson, the commentator declares: “We’ve uncovered a selfie of this kid smoking a cigarette.” Then the kicker balloon: “He was no angel.”

So it was more than a bit jarring when on Sunday, the Times’s retrospective said, to quote, that Brown “was no angel.”

“You try to stay a step ahead of reality with these cartoons, using exaggeration and hyperbole to make a point,” Bors tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. “This one ended up being a transcript of reality.”

Chalk it up to striking coincidence, or Bors’s incisive sense of how at least some in the media will react. It’s as if the Times writer were channeling Bors’s cartoon — but didn’t get that it was satire.

The Post’s Erik Wemple noted on his blog that the writer, John Eligon, acknowledged that criticism of his piece had some merit.

Wemple includes an excerpt from Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan’s blog that reads in part: “I understand the concerns, and I get it,” Mr. Eligon said. He agreed that “no angel” was not a good choice of words and explained that they were meant to play off the opening anecdote of the article in which Mr. Brown saw an angelic vision.

However, “The larger issue,” Bors tells Comic Riffs, “is the false sense of balance the Times tried to inject into this senseless killing by mentioning common teenage activities like scuffles, drinking and rap music as some sort of dark path he may have been heading down.”

“By the time I was 18, my non-angelic behavior included stealing, fist fights, drugs, vandalism, graffiti—I even dared to listen to hip-hop,” Bors continues. “Of course, that barely tells you anything about me other than the fact that I was a bored teen in a Midwestern city, but If I had been shot six times by a cop and left in the road for four hours, I doubt newspapers would have made much mention of my CD collection.”

 

courtesy of MATT BORS.
courtesy of MATT BORS.
Writer/artist/visual storyteller Michael Cavna is creator of the "Comic Riffs" column and graphic-novel reviewer for The Post's Book World. He relishes sharp-eyed satire in most any form.
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Michael Cavna · August 25