California Daily in Hot Water Over Editorial Cartoon

By: E&P Staff

The Imperial Valley Press has just learned a valuable lesson: having a veteran be the subject of a political cartoon is very risky business.
 
The Valley Press, a daily newspaper published six days a week in El Centro, Calif., on Saturday ran a political cartoon depicting two youths looking at a poster of congressional candidate and veteran Nick Popaditch, who wears an eye patch. Popaditch was a Marine gunnery sergeant who lost the sight in his right eye in 2004 during the battle for Fallouja in Iraq.

In the cartoon, one kid says to the other, “Who does that remind you of?” The other responds, “A James Bond super-villain? A bald pirate? Uncle Fester with an eye-patch?” The intent, according to Brad Jennings, the newspaper’s editor, was to poke fun at misinformed voters, particularly young people.
 
Only readers didn’t take it that way.
 
The paper was besieged with calls from veterans and others offended by the cartoon who took it as an offense to veterans. 
 
In an editor’s note Tuesday, editor Jennings apologized to those who were offended by the cartoon, saying he made the “wrong call” in allowing it to run. But he was unapologetic about his paper’s mission to beset public officials.

“Newspapers are not meant to coddle public officials or public figures — and as a candidate for Congress, Popaditch is a public figure,” he writes. “He is fair game for public comment, even public comment that makes some people uncomfortable. We poke and prod and question. If he gets elected, that will continue to be the case.

“I support our cartoonist’s right to portray public figures in any way he chooses to do so,” Jennings continues. “He has the First Amendment right to do so, and we have the right to publish it or not. People have the right to then react to it as they see fit.”

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