IT’S A LINE that staff and syndicated political cartoonists rarely cross.
You don’t parody or lampoon the children of political figures if they are minors, the common belief goes — much in the same way that White House correspondents generally don’t write about the personal lives of underage members of the first family.
Last week, however, veteran cartoonist Chris Britt decided to cross that line with an image that since Sunday has sparked a blast of sharp blowback.
Britt’s Sept. 28 cartoon, as distributed by the Creators syndicate, depicts 10-year-old Liza Kavanaugh praying about her father, Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh. Kneeling bedside, she says: “Dear God, forgive my angry, lying, alcoholic father for sexually assaulting Dr. Ford.”
The cartoon uses as fodder the opening statement by Kavanaugh during his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday, when he recounted that Liza had said to her mother that “we should pray for the woman,” Christine Blasey Ford.
Kavanaugh’s testimony was directly preceded by that of Ford, the California professor who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in the ’80s, when both were Maryland prep-school students. Kavanaugh has denied the allegations.
The cartoon was posted to Britt’s Facebook page, where the liberal cartoonist responded to some critics before deactivating his account. Britt told The Washington Post in an interview that he had received thousands of comments attacking his cartoon.
“Kavanaugh is the one who ushered his own daughter into the national conversation by telling us his story” about her prayer, Britt said, defending the cartoon. He added: “The cartoon is not about his daughter — it’s about Brett Kavanaugh’s possible heavy drinking, his anger and his possibly sexually assaulting Doctor Ford.”
“That’s what we do in this business,” Britt said. “I based my cartoon on [Ford’s] testimony — I happen to believe what she said. Her testimony was credible and thoughtful, and that’s why I went where I did.”
Many critics of the cartoon objected to his choosing to depict Kavanaugh’s younger daughter, however, and a firestorm began to heat up Sunday, after the Twitter user @vbspurs complained about the work to the Illinois Times, writing that the commentary “contravenes every standard of decency in our society.”
The Illinois Times, however, says that it never published the cartoon. The weekly paper tweeted a clarification to say that while Britt is a regular freelance contributor to the Times, the newspaper’s name “should not have appeared in the cartoon.” Britt said he routinely includes the affiliation in the cartoon, per his agreement with the paper — even if it’s only published by his syndicate. The paper said that it has asked Britt to remove that affiliation from the Sept. 28 cartoon.
As of Tuesday, the affiliation still appeared on the cartoon as published on the website GoComics.com, which had received a handful of complaints by Tuesday.
Britt says that he and his syndicate mutually decided to remove the Sept. 28 cartoon from his Creators.com page, where most of the artist’s recent cartoons mock Kavanaugh and President Trump — including last Wednesday’s visual commentary, which parodies the judge’s calendar entries.
Britt says that he has received multiple death threats as a result of the Sept. 28 cartoon and that he has filed a report with law enforcement. “I don’t mind people being angry with my cartoons,” he said, but people “posting my home address online and [threatening] me” is another matter.
Britt, who entered editorial cartooning in 1990, worked on the staffs of several newspapers in Texas, California and Washington state before being laid off by Illinois’ State Journal-Register in 2012. Since then, he has also worked as a children’s author.
Britt told the Illinois Times in 2005: “People say [editorial] cartoons are biased, unfair and mean-spirited — and they are.”