After a weekend of stinging rebukes, the paper’s owner and publisher, who is also a GOP county chairman, pulled the cartoon and apologized on Sunday.
“After some heartfelt and educational conversations with Jewish leaders in the U.S. and abroad, I can acknowledge the imagery in my recent editorial cartoon … was deeply hurtful to members of a culture who’ve been dealt plenty of hurt throughout history — people to whom I never desired to be hurtful in the illustration of my point,” Dane Hicks wrote on Facebook.
The conflict over the cartoon highlights the continuing culture wars over masks, even as the nation sets daily records for coronavirus infections and more conservative pundits and politicians have joined the chorus of experts urging Americans to cover their faces to slow the virus’s spread.
Before apologizing, Hicks had sounded a defiant tone over the weekend, calling his critics “liberal Marxist parasites” and insisting the cartoon was fair commentary on a statewide mask order he suggested was “authoritarian.”
Kelly’s order, which mandates most Kansans to wear masks in public spaces, took effect Friday after a week that saw more than 1,800 new cases and 10 deaths in the state. As of early Monday, Kansas has recorded more than 16,000 cases and 283 deaths.
The mandate does allow counties to opt out, and Anderson County, where Hicks’s newspaper is based, has already done so. But Hicks, the longtime chairman of the Anderson County Republican Party, said in an email to reporters that he was still so outraged by Kelly’s order that he used Photoshop to make the cartoon last week.
After he posted the image to the Review’s Facebook page, it drew swift condemnation, with Kelly calling it “deeply offensive” and Kansas Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley (D) slamming it as “appalling” and “disgusting.” (Kansas Republican Party Chairman Michael Kuckelman later told the Associated Press the cartoon was “inappropriate,” but also defended Hicks’s right to post it.)
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) added his voice to the outrage, calling the image “another disgusting display by ignorant Republicans who fail to understand that their propaganda is costing lives.”
“This thing is like the trifecta of garbage,” Rabbi Moti Rieber, executive director of Kansas Interfaith Action, told the AP.
At first, Hicks also refused to budge under the wave of criticism, asking to whom he should apologize.
“The critics on the Facebook page?” he wrote in a Saturday email to reporters that he posted online. “I would never apologize to them. They’re liberal Marxist parasites.”
Cartoons, he wrote, are “gross over-caricatures designed to provoke debate and response — that’s why newspapers publish them — fodder for the marketplace of ideas.” He criticized Kelly for shutting down the state earlier this year and argued her mask order “would have certainly led to a resurgence in the ‘freak out factor’ with Kansans being reminded of the virus everywhere they turned, resulting in a new wave of economic malaise.”
But on Sunday, Hicks admitted he was wrong to equate government orders to wear masks with the deaths of millions of Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany.
“It is not my intention to heap more pain onto this historical burden, and it’s apparent I previously lacked an adequate understanding of the severity of their experience and the pain of its images,” he wrote. “To that end, I am removing the cartoon with apologies to those so directly affected.”