Thursday, March 15, 2007

Toles Strikes Back

Slightly over a year ago, the Joint Chiefs of Staff took the probably unprecedented, and certainly questionable step of sending a letter into the Post condemning a Tom Toles cartoon.

Reprehensible Cartoon, Washington Post Thursday, February 2, 2006; A20

We were extremely disappointed to see the Jan. 29 editorial cartoon by Tom Toles.

Using the likeness of a service member who has lost his arms and legs in war as the central theme of a cartoon was beyond tasteless. Editorial cartoons are often designed to exaggerate issues, and The Post is obviously free to address any topic, including the state of readiness of the armed forces. However, The Post and Mr. Toles have done a disservice to readers and to The Post's reputation by using such a callous depiction of those who volunteered to defend this nation and, as a result, suffered traumatic and life-altering wounds.

Those who visit wounded veterans in hospitals have found lives profoundly changed by pain and loss. They also have found brave men and women with a sense of purpose and selfless commitment that causes battle-hardened warriors to pause.

While The Post and some of its readers may not agree with the war or its conduct, these men and women and their families are owed the decency of not having a cartoon make light of their tremendous physical sacrifices.

As the joint chiefs, we rarely put our hand to one letter, but we cannot let this reprehensible cartoon go unanswered.

General, U.S. Marine Corps
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Admiral, U.S. Navy
Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

General, U.S. Marine Corps
Commandant of the Marine Corps

General, U.S. Army
Chief of Staff

Admiral, U.S. Navy
Chief of Naval Operations

General, U.S. Air Force
Chief of Staff

Today Toles struck back. Yee-hah! Toles' cartoon refers to the brewing controversy over General Pace's expressing an opinion about the morality of homosexuality and the military.

Since this blog didn't exist - here's a bit of the coverage at the time (which was also at the height of the Danish Islam cartoon controversy).

Joint Chiefs Fire At Toles Cartoon On Strained Army by Howard Kurtz, Washington Post Staff Writer, Thursday, February 2, 2006; C01.

PAULA ZAHN NOW - U.S. Military Up in Arms Over Political Cartoon
, Aired February 2, 2006 - 20:00 ET has a transcript of an interview with Toles.

Tom Toles's Cartoon: Offensive or Incisive? Washington Post Saturday, February 4, 2006; A16 printed reader's letters.

Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor of the Post said in "The Goal Of These Pages," Washington Post Sunday, February 5, 2006; B07

But that leads to an important distinction: The freedom to offend brings with it a responsibility not to offend gratuitously. That is the line that we at The Post were said to have crossed last week. The first alleged transgression was a cartoon by Tom Toles last Sunday. It took off on a comment by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who had denied that the Army was stretched thin and described it instead as "battle-hardened." The cartoon showed a quadruple amputee in a hospital bed, with "Dr. Rumsfeld" saying, "I'm listing your condition as 'battle hardened.' " The chart on the bed identified the patient as "U.S. Army."

On Thursday we published a letter describing the cartoon as "reprehensible," "beyond tasteless" and "a callous depiction" of wounded soldiers. The letter was signed by all six members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, something that doesn't happen often and that certainly got our attention.

Toles is on the staff of The Post and participates in our editorial board meetings, but he operates independently; I don't tell him what to draw. On the other hand, I am responsible for what appears on the editorial and op-ed pages; with Toles, as with independent columnists, it's my job to make sure the gratuitously offensive doesn't appear.

So why this cartoon? I respect the views of the chiefs, and of others who echoed their criticism, and I understand their reaction. But I don't agree with their reading of the cartoon. (Nor, by the way, did many other readers, who wrote to support Toles or take issue with the chiefs.) I think it's an indictment of Rumsfeld, who is portrayed as callous and inaccurate in his depiction of the Army and its soldiers. Whether that's fair to the defense secretary is a separate question. I don't believe Toles meant the cartoon to demean the soldiers themselves, and I don't think it did.

And Fox News weighed in with a moderate article: As Violence Continues, U.S. Cartoonists Refuse to Draw the Line, Fox News Tuesday, February 14, 2006, by Greg Simmons.


Mike Rhode said...

Sorry, somehow I turned the comments off. Let loose the dogs of blogging!

Anonymous said...

Amazing the spin put on these things. It strikes me that the only people who would see the original cartoon in the same light as the Joint Chiefs are the same people the cartoon is actually digging at (hint: NOT the soldiers)