This post has been updated.
Media-bashing Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz was handed a political gift Tuesday night when The Washington Post retracted an editorial cartoon that depicted his two young daughters as monkeys.
The animated cartoon, by Pulitzer Prize winner Ann Telnaes, sketched the Texas senator in a Santa suit turning a Jack-in-the-box-style crank that made the monkeys dance. A headline said, “Ted Cruz uses his kids as political props” — a reference to a recent viral campaign video in which Cruz and his daughters spoofed familiar Christmas stories.
In a brief statement that accompanied the cartoon while it was online for several hours, Telnaes wrote that “there is an unspoken rule in editorial cartooning that a politician’s children are off-limits. … But when a politician uses his children as political props, as Ted Cruz recently did in his Christmas parody video in which his eldest daughter read (with her father’s dramatic flourish) a passage of an edited Christmas classic, then I figure they are fair game.”
Fred Hiatt, The Post’s editorial page editor, reached a different conclusion: “It’s generally been the policy of our editorial section to leave children out of it,” Hiatt said in a statement that replaced the cartoon. “I failed to look at this cartoon before it was published. I understand why Ann thought an exception to the policy was warranted in this case, but I do not agree.”
Reached by email late Tuesday, Hiatt reiterated that the decision to pull the cartoon was based on his own judgment. Telnaes and The Post were sharply criticized on social media while the cartoon was up — including by Cruz himself, fellow presidential hopeful Marco Rubio and even a former top official at the Democratic National Committee.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) December 22, 2015
Wash Post cartoon featuring @tedcruz’s children is disgusting. The Post saying the kids are “fair game” is even worse.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) December 23, 2015
So forget these nasty liberal cartoonists and all that. Doesn't matter! Don't back down, but don't GET down. :)
— Amanda Carpenter (@amandacarpenter) December 23, 2015
I'm no Ted Cruz fan. But he's right to be pissed about this. WaPo cartoon went too far. https://t.co/gBliO7hn8D
— Mo Elleithee (@MoElleithee) December 23, 2015
(Carpenter is a former Cruz aide and popular conservative blogger. Elleithee was the communications director at the Democratic National Committee last cycle.)
Republican front-runner Donald Trump, who has been mostly palsy with Cruz during the campaign, also weighed in Wednesday morning.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2015
Telnaes deleted a tweet that included the cartoon and posted this around midday on Wednesday:
Fred Hiatt posted a statement- should be where the cartoon was. I'm not commenting anything else, plan to write something about the whole...
— Ann Telnaes (@AnnTelnaes) December 23, 2015
She also kept this one from Tuesday morning live, as of this posting:
Ted Cruz has put his children in a political ad- don't start screaming when editorial cartoonists draw them as well. https://t.co/7hafBacOiK
— Ann Telnaes (@AnnTelnaes) December 22, 2015
Whether you agree with Telnaes’s original reasoning or Hiatt’s overriding rationale, one thing should be obvious to any political observer: This is a win for a candidate who is rising in the polls thanks to support from more conservative Republicans and who has been highly critical of the press — most memorably during the third Republican presidential debate, when he blasted the moderators’ questions as being illustrative of “why the American people don’t trust the media.”
The cartoon episode does two things for Cruz: One, it gives him a piece of evidence to pull out whenever he wants to argue that the loathsome “mainstream media” doesn’t treat him — or conservatives in general — fairly. At a rally in Tulsa on Wednesday, he did just that, telling a crowd of supporters that "if the media wants to attack and ridicule every Republican, well that's what they're gonna do. But leave our kids alone." And he wasted little time before soliciting campaign contributions, hoping backers would channel their outrage through donations.
Two, the Post's retraction makes the anti-establishment pushback of Cruz and his supporters seem effective. Remember, this is a candidate who was recently called a “maniac” by GOP front-runner Donald Trump because he has a penchant for tactics — he read “Green Eggs and Ham” to his daughters during a filibuster in 2013 — that ultimately change little and irritate many colleagues.
Setting the Trump-ish language aside, that is one of the knocks against Cruz: he’s full of principle but short on results. Having The Post yank the cartoon allows him to look like he gets results from those predisposed against his — and his supporters' — worldview.